Whether it was playing on the pitch, or partying off it, Terry McDermott gave it his all. The Liverpool legend lived life to the full and he remains a larger-than-life character
The scraps they got in together. The things they did together.
The foreword for Terry McDermott’s new autobiography is written by Kevin Keegan. Once you’ve read it, you can easily see why McDermott chose Keegan and why Keegan was honoured to oblige.
Forty years ago this month when Keegan played his last game for Liverpool, a European Cup final against Borussia Monchengladbach, McDermott helped ensure he got the proper send-off by scoring the opening goal of the night.
Twenty-one years ago when Keegan famously slumped over an Anfield advertising hoarding as Stan Collymore made it 4-3 for the home side against Keegan’s title-chasing Newcastle, McDermott was the man nearest to him, equally devastated, in his capacity as assistant manager.
His loyalty extended far beyond that though. When Keegan decided to go for a vasectomy, McDermott accompanied him to the hospital. When they got there, Keegan persuaded McDermott he might as well get the snip himself.
“I didn’t even tell the wife,” McDermott laughs about it now, though not as hard as Keegan did after their operations. When Keegan arrived home, he told his wife Jean that he was going for a lie down but that when McDermott — as he did invariably— rang, to tell him he’d gone out for a four-mile run.
Reading McDermott’s book and the autobiographies of other former Liverpool players, you wouldn’t have been surprised had McDermott jumped up and headed out the door for a similar run.
In his playing days they wouldn’t have put it beyond him. About the only thing that matched his remarkable popularity and scoring prowess were his powers of recovery. In the glory days, Liverpool partied hard and no one harder than McDermott; Ronnie Whelan in his own book recounts how he would find himself after a nightclub in a snooker hall at 3am and McDermott cleaning him out for a few quid while the naive Dubliner could barely see a ball, let alone pot one. The following morning McDermott would be running harder and faster than everyone.
“Terry Mac was skin and bone,” Whelan would write “but he was a tremendous footballer and an incredible athlete... [He] was a real larger-than-life personality, liked by everyone at the football club, always laughing and joking.”
That’s still very much the McDermott you’ll meet today. He’s 65 now but still lithe and sprightly, even though he had a mini-stroke before Christmas which caused his speech to be temporarily slurred. If anything, that health scare and consequent operation has reinforced his zeal for life.
“Instead of saying ‘We might do this’, we will do it.”
He’s still going to go to Anfield on match days like tomorrow’s visit of Southampton. He’ll still travel to places like Hong Kong as he did last month with Carole. He’ll still back horses. And he’ll still have the odd drink.
McDermott’s fondness for a beer is a recurring theme throughout his lively, entertaining book, with multiple escapades recounted.
Most are of the humorous variety. The season before his big move to Anfield, McDermott was due to play for Newcastle on New Year’s Eve away to Arsenal. Manchester United were staying in the same London hotel before a game against QPR and after most of the United players had gone to bed, their manager Tommy Doherty spotted McDermott and Terry Hibbitt in the lobby. Initially they declined his offer to have a drink but relented when he said, “Half a pint won’t do you no harm, lads.”
Doherty was right. Half a pint didn’t. But, as McDermott recalls, “the other seven and a half did.” The following morning when they staggered down for breakfast, their manager Joe Harvey was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, livid. He’d heard back that Doherty had rang Bertie Mee, the Arsenal manager, and told him that they were almost certain to win after the state he had got the two Terrys in the previous night. If he could, Harvey would have dropped them, but in those days you could only carry two subs and it was too late to bring down some reinforcements from Newcastle. Later that afternoon, United would lose 3-0 at Loftus Road. Newcastle would beat Arsenal, with McDermott man of the match and Hibbitt scoring the game’s lone goal. McDermott could only think of calling for another toast upon that. “Cheers, Tommy.”
His brief spell with Cork City is also fondly recalled, his book omitting the episode when the club received a hoax call after a match saying his wife back in England had just given birth to their first child (after breaking more than one red light to get to a phone box, McDermott would learn she hadn’t yet given birth).
A then 33-year-old McDermott played only seven games with City in their inaugural season in the league (1984-85), before heading to the sun and sand of Cyprus, but the Leeside nightlife would leave quite an impression on him. His first weekend over, he was taken out by team manager Tony Allen on a pub crawl of Kinsale to meet some business people supporting the team. He started out on a Coke. Then a shandy. Then half a lager. Then he was asked if he’d have another one. McDermott reminded them he had a game tomorrow but was told, “You have your bed, you’ll be fine.” By 7pm he was on his 10th pint, calling out for that bed. The next day he played, survived, and flew back to England with a big brown envelope in his bag. The perfect weekend.
Some nights out didn’t finish up so well — and could have ended up a lot worse. One night during his time at Liverpool he fell asleep at the wheel after a night on the booze and crashed into a barrier outside a services station; by some miracle he was still alive and still facing the right way so he drove home. Twice he’d be banned for drink driving during his playing days.
“I cringe now about some of the things I got up to,” he writes in his book, aptly titled Living For The Moment. “I was just completely daft.” But, he says, it had no long-term consequences. Once he married Carole in his early 30s shortly after leaving Liverpool, he would cop on and calm down on that front. A bit like Niall Quinn, he managed to stay on the right side of a fine line when other hard-drinkers like Tony Adams and Paul Merson didn’t.
Back in his Liverpool days, he could also justify it. Didn’t matter that he could have been killed. He was winning, performing, scoring. McDermott was that rare thing, especially for a midfielder: he was both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. In his foreword, Keegan reckons McDermott’s 10 best goals would be better than any other player’s 10 best. And that maybe the drink helped him. “It was like fuel to him.”
“If it would have affected my performance, I wouldn’t have taken a drink,” says McDermott himself. “But it never affected my game. If it did, I wouldn’t have got away with it for so long. Some players would come in for training and say they had a bit of a cold or a sore throat or they might not even come in. But with me, it didn’t matter what state I was in, I’d come in for training every day and run as far and as fast as anyone else.
“Some players wouldn’t go out after a Tuesday. Again, I was a little bit different there. I’d still go out on a Thursday. But if I hadn’t been producing the goods, the fans would have turned on me. And Bob Paisley would have turned on me. The likes of Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans would have been telling me, ‘Hey, you’re out of order.’
But that never happened. And when they were starting out, I’d bring the likes of Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan out with me. It obviously was a good upbringing I gave them because they didn’t go on to have bad careers, did they?”
It was just different times, a different world. McDermott grew up in a Liverpool household too poor to buy its own football; instead he’d take his sister’s doll, unscrew its head and use it to kick around the place. At his first club, fourth division Bury, he and his teammates would have to paint the stand and train in a car park. Even when he moved to Liverpool he had a teammate in Jimmy Case who finished his apprenticeship as an electrician while he was on the books at Anfield. Any time McDermott or a team-mate had trouble with their lights or anything electrical, they’d ring Case to have a look. Imagine a current Liverpool player calling Jordan Henderson over to fix the TV, or to go on the piss the Thursday before a big game?
McDermott attributes some of his frivolity to just how serious and cruel life was for his brother. Charles was born a ‘blue baby’ and having never received the necessary treatment at the time, was essentially in a minimally conscious state all his life.
“He’d recognise you but he couldn’t communicate with you,” says McDermott. “He didn’t have a life at all. You honestly wonder who is your God when you put someone like my brother in the state he was. But maybe it was from visiting Charles I’d realise just how lucky I was.”
Behind the smile there was grit and determination. McDermott was one of the last two members of his Kirkby schoolboys side to be picked up by a football league club (the last was Dennis Mortimer, who would go on to captain Aston Villa to the European Cup the year after McDermott won the trophy for a third time). When he was finally signed up, it was only with a fourth division club, Bury, and the pay was so low, he still had to work back home, stacking wood, a job he despised.
“I wanted to make it badly because I had nothing else,” he says. “If I wasn’t going to be a footballer, what was I going to be? I was either going to be on the dole or in a dead-end job.” Looking back, Bury was the making of him, the way Scunthorpe was for Keegan, the way Chester was for Rush. He got to play first-team football. He got blooded, even if that meant being bloodied at times. Compare that to the cosseted Academy system now. McDermott had two sons, Greg and Neale, that went through the Newcastle system, from seven years of age right up to 22. They stagnated in the reserves. His own pathway, a Bury, would have been better for them.
“If I had to do it again I’d say to them, ‘Start at a lower-division club where you’ll learn to grow up and you’ll get a chance to play.’ We all want to play with a Liverpool or Manchester United or a Newcastle but you’re better off going to a club where you’re going to be appreciated and where they’re going to make you a better player so they can sell you on. That’s how they survive. In the top divisions, their revenue is from TV money and gates. They don’t need to blood young players. They’re afraid to risk throwing in a young player. A manager is not going to wait for a 17-year-old to develop because by the time that player has developed, the manager will probably have been sacked.”
McDermott knows well just how fickle life can be on that merry-go-round; 25 years ago he got the call from Keegan to be his assistant with Newcastle, and up until two years ago was still serving in a similar capacity for Lee Clarke at Huddersfield. He was there when Keegan walked out of Newcastle — twice — when Dalglish was sacked, when Sam was sacked. And that’s just at St James’ Park. He was there the night when Super Cali went ballistic and Celtic were atrocious, and consequently, the Celtic crowd went ballistic as well. At 11.30pm that night, there were still thousands outside Celtic Park waiting to lynch John Barnes and his management team. McDermott only made his escape by putting on a bib and pretending to be a steward before scrambling to his car.
But still, he loved it. Being around the game. Players. Helping them and his mates, the managers. He wasn’t a coach per se. He had no qualifications in that area. But he felt he brought something else. Honesty. Good instincts. Confidence. Credibility.
“There are other things to being a coach than setting up a drill or putting on a training session. I was good at communicating with players and talking to them. I had the experience of doing that and that’s because I had the experience of being at Liverpool so they took notice. There are people in jobs that have never played before and I can imagine some players are going, ‘What have you ever done?’ You couldn’t say that to me or Kenny Dalglish.
“I used to get on very well with players. Players trusted me. I would always be honest with them. If I thought they were in the wrong, I might say, ‘Listen, I could go to the gaffer and give you a bollicking with what you have been up to. Instead I’m going to turn a blind eye but I’m going to be in trouble if he finds out and if you do it again I will go to him.’
“I’m not going to go to Michael Owen and tell him that he needs to do this, that and the other. He doesn’t need me to know how to score a goal. What you might say is ‘Michael, we trust you. You score, we win.’ Or there might be a young player and you’ve to explain to them, ‘What an opportunity you have to play for a club like this and here you are messing around, always in trouble. You do this right and you can look after your parents and brothers and sisters. You can buy your mother and father a house each like Michael Owen has but you have to do it on the pitch. And you do that by calming down.’”
Communicating with players, mind you, became more difficult over the years.
“Back in our day at Liverpool it was a lot easier to win games because we knew what the likes of Bob Paisley and Ronnie Moran were saying. Avi Cohen was the only fella from abroad and he spoke great English. But when the manager gives a team talk now, there’s that many foreign players, half of them don’t know what he’s on about.”
He’ll be at Anfield tomorrow. He still lives in Newcastle and follows the fortunes of that team closely but with all this work at Liverpool, he feels he has the best of both worlds. During the week he might give a few guided tours. On match day he might be working in hospitality or doing some media.
What Liverpool will show up, he just does not know, as much as he loves Jurgen Klopp’s approach. But you can be sure of what Terry McDermott will be there. One smiling, laughing, grateful to be still there, grateful to have ever been there at all.
Terry McDermott, Living for the Moment: My Autobiography, is published by Trinity Mirror Sport Media
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved