Everton and England legend Peter Reid has just been sacked by Plymouth Argyle. Bet he wishes he'd stayed in Bangkok. I caught up with up back when he took a year away to manage the Thai National team. Riots, sunshine, martial arts masters? He had 'em all.
It’s an Autumnal Saturday tea time in Bolton, Lancashire and two of the English Premier League’s least glamorous football clubs are fighting out a 1-1 draw. In the visiting team’s dug out, Stoke’s 53 year old assistant manager Peter Reid, looks out across the pitch and pinches himself. Between them the two squads have players from as far away as Jamaica, South Korea, Slovakia and Senegal. Back when Reid signed his first contract for Bolton thirty five years ago football teams had their fair scattering of Scots and Welsh and the odd Irishman but it was rare anyone would need to take a plane home at the end of the season.
And yet that is just what Reid himself has done, reluctantly bringing to a close one of the more unusual periods of international football management, when he traded in his position as manager of the Thai National team to take up the number two position with premiership Stoke.
“it’s fair to say my return was greeted with slightly less fanfare than my first day in Bangkok” he admits. “It was so hot, a heatwave almost, there were photographers everywhere, flashbulbs popping away and there were serious political riots and then the second item on the TV news was my arrival. They love football and a lot of them might have not known exactly who I was but they knew I’d managed in the English Premier league and played for England so that would do.”
It is commonplace for European coaches to trot off to the far reaches of the earth to manage unusual teams but few quite so high profile as Reid. In England he had achieved success as manager of Sunderland and Manchester City, giving them their last top 5 finished in the early 90’s, before saving Leeds United from relegation. After Leeds came a less productive spell at Coventry before he settled into a comfortable seat as a World Cup analyst for the BBC. Watching him talk about football it’s easy to see why Reid is popular. He has a pithy enthusiasm for the game and a bluntness that you imagine must go down well with players. He has a rough and ready passion that carried him through a playing career that lasted for over 500 games. In 1985 he was voted Footballer of The Year by his fellow professionals, reflecting his success in winning both the League Championship and Cup Winners Cup with an all conquering Everton team.
“I still have nightmares about Maradona, genuinely. I wake up worrying about it. You just couldn’t get near him."
In many ways Reid represents the traditional blood and thunder traditional English footballer. The died in the wool Scouser who grew up in working class Huyton and scaled the heights of the game without losing any of his down to Earth ways. And so it seemed unusual that in an era when English clubs have been importing sophisticates like Sven Goran Eriksson (loves classical music) and Fabio Capello (collects fine art) to manage their teams we should be exporting Peter Reid (likes listening to Oasis by a swimming pool in his trunks).
This was how we found him six months ago as he relaxed in a modern Bangkok hotel the morning after an acceptable draw with Middle-Eastern power houses Iran.
“You could say I’m a tracksuit manager, only it’s too hot for a tracksuit,” he said by way of explanation. He was stretched out on a sun-lounger by a hotel pool showing his war wounds. His legs have been opened up, taken apart, rebuilt, and he’s got the scars to prove it. It’s as gruesome as the scene in Jaws where they compare wounds. “And in here,” he said, pointing to his shins, as I’m starting to feel sick, “there’s metal pins. Feel em.”
He had left his home in Bolton with the best wishes of his friend Sir Alex Ferguson ringing in his ears, to take up a challenge with more than a few cultural differences. One of his midfielders was a Thai Kickboxing champion with over a hundred professional victories to his name.
“During the King’s Cup, the King of Thailand who’s a keen fan and very popular was actually in attendance. A lot of the decisions were going our way, I guess there should have been a neutral ref. Anyway the Danish players took exception and it all boiled over and they were flying into each other. Me and Steve Darby, my assistant coach here, had to just jump on the kick boxing lad and sit on him, physically restrain him, because if he’d got among them he would have knocked a lot of them out. I’ve watched him train and it’s frightening. And a lot of the other players practise kickboxing too.”
Reid’s challenge was not only on the pitch but also to raise the popularity of the national team at a time when most Thai eyes are fixed firmly on the EPL. Next door to his apartment Manchester United had their own branded nightclub, in association with their ‘official pizza and vodka partners’.
“I had just turned down the Iranian national job for personal reasons,” he told us.
“I had job offers in England which I didn’t fancy and then this one intrigued me. I had played over here when I was with Everton in ’84 when we won the FA cup wand I always remember them being really skilful players and it being a fascinating country.”
His enthusiasm for the job had helped him quickly win the Thai people over.
“What I’ve realised is, it’s very important to follow their manners and customs, and if you’re aware of this, then they will appreciate it,” he explained, looking like a cross between Sid James and the late Sir Bobby Robson.
“I don’t know why they took to me but the players have been great.”, he said. “I have a laugh. I’m not one of those serious coaches. I think any walk of life if you’re in work, enjoy it and do it with a smile on your face. The culture and the personality of the people they are wonderful and it makes you want to do well for them...”
For those Thai fans who attend national matches there is no shortage of enthusiasm. High pitched screams accompanied a miraculous save or a shot into the side netting. The attendant media seemed more interested in autographs and pictures than probing questions. The people genuinely seemed to love Reid but despite his national team improving in the end he found it impossible not to come back early to join the management team at Stoke City. A decision rumoured to have been brokered after Liverpool had appeared during a pre-season tournament in Thailand. Maybe it was Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher's accents that had sparked a homesickness.
"Watching him talk about football it’s easy to see why Reid is popular. He has a pithy enthusiasm for the game and a bluntness that you imagine must go down well."
As the last of the fans trailed away from Bolton’s stadium Reid is able to look back on his year in the east with satisfaction. Many people work abroad at some point in their life but few get the chance at his stage of life.
“They didn’t have a Beckham or a Ballack yet but they had a lot of young lads who aspired to be like that standard of player, and there is genuine talent there. You know I took the national team out to train in the provinces, down to the Islands and upto Chang Mai, so the people of Thailand could see their own national team close at hand. That was important, to let them realize it was their team.”
His return coincided with England qualifying for the 2010 World Cup Finals, something he’s very excited about. Not least because the national team has a genuine chance to help him cast out some of his own demons. His own international career is still very clear in his mind, especially his inability to stop Maradona scoring one of the World Cup greatest goals ever when he dribbled round six England player before knocking the ball in during the 1986 quarter final in Mexico. It was the same game as the Argentinians infamous hand of God goal where he punched the ball into the net which sent England crashing from the competition. “I still have nightmares about Maradona,” he admits now “Genuinely. I wake up worrying about it. You just couldn’t get near him. So I’m hoping Capello’s team will give us something new to cheer about next year.”
For now though he’s swapped the scorching temperature and swimming pools of Bangkok for the dark nights and chimney filled skyline of the Potteries.
“Being an international manager is great but the pull of working with Stoke City, a famous old club back in the Premier League, was just too great to turn down. I would have liked to have somehow divided my time between the two jobs but logistically it was just too difficult. I still have many friends over there. I spent last Christmas day with my wife and daughter by a pool enjoying the weather and listening to Radio 5Live. This year I’ll be going with Stoke back to Man City another of my old clubs, they’re now the richest club in the world and owned by the Abu Dahbi royal family. It’s a truely international game, if you’d told me any of this would happen a decade ago I would have laughed at you. We’ll be facing the £120million pounds worth of new players they’ve just bought and it will be raining. I must be daft.”
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