Monday, December 10, 2018

The Peter Hucker Interview

Next up in the interview chair is eighties legend and cup final man of the match Peter Hucker. Peter talks about his Rangers career, cup finals, Terry Venables and Alan Mullery. Most kids grow up dreaming of scoring the winner in the cup final at Wembley, what do goalkeepers grow up dreaming of?

PH: Saving them! I wouldn’t say I always wanted to be a goalkeeper but I soon found out that it was bloody hard work running up and down the pitch! My problem was I grew too much so I was too big and clumsy to play outfield even at twelve years old. On top of that I was the only who’d go in goal in the playground and dive about on concrete. I guess that gave me a bit of training for the plastic pitch in later years! You came through the ranks at QPR, how does a young goalkeeper’s apprentiship then compare to today?

PH: Well you have to be a lot bigger today to even get started. I’ve worked for a few clubs doing some coaching in the academies and the first thing they want kids to be six foot three at 15. I don’t understand that. The fitness levels they expect are much higher now too plus you have to be able to kick a ball, which was never my strong point. I don’t think I’d be there today! Do you think goalkeepers are better now?

PH: I think it’s about the same, in fairness they have a lot more to deal with. However I look at the foreign goalkeepers that are in the game now and they make great stops but they don’t actually catch the ball very often, in my day that wouldn’t have been allowed. How much of an influence was Phil Parkes to have around?

PH: Oh massive, I learned everything off of him. He always had time to help you out as a kid, all the players at QPR did. I don’t think there was one pro who didn’t have time to help you. I still see Phil about now and again. He was one of the great goalkeepers of his time and he should have got more international recognition that he did but in those days there were a lot of good English goalkeepers and it was difficult getting in the set up. Today there are so many foreign goalkeepers around you can’t fail to get in the England squad. People say how spoiled we are with great English goalkeepers but there are only five! In my day there were twenty and probably twelve of them could have done the job. You made your debut at Shrewsbury in the last league game of the 80-81 season, the three all scoreline suggest it was quite a game, what do you remember of it?

PH: I remember it cost me a little bit later in my career. During that game they tried to score by kicking the ball out of my chest, I went down and the ref gave a free kick and from that we got the equaliser. I’m not sure but I think that point might have sent them down. Years later I went to Millwall and the assistant manager to Bruce Rioch was the old Shrewsbury manager from that game. When they decided to release me this guy stated that incident with the free kick as one of the reasons for letting me go. I remember thinking “you sad little bastard” to have held that grudge all that time. This was over ten years had past! I can’t even remember the guy’s name, that’s how much he means to me now. That was May 1981 you didn’t get another chance until January 1982. Was that a frustrating time or were you happy to learn your trade?

PH: It was and it wasn’t. Everyone was telling me I’d hung around too long and I’d walk into the first team at other clubs but I was quite content at the time learning off other people. The management at QPR were telling me “you’re only twenty two that’s not old for a ‘keeper” then everyone else is saying “no, no you need to move on” so it was a bit unsettling. I went out on loan a couple of times. There were rumours that I was going to be on my way but at the end of the day it was a really good club at the time so I was perfectly happy. It was actually the FA Cup match against Middlesbrough that was your first appearance that season, what were Rangers hopes going into the tournament?

PH: We never dreamed that we would get to the final. The tie with Middlesbrough was a home game so we hoped to get something out of it and we were disappointed with a draw but that’s about as far as our ambitions went. I remember going up to their place for the replay and we didn’t expect to get anything but once we started the game things turned round, it’s always great to win in extra time! In the reply against Boro you had to face a penalty twice, what are your memories of that?

PH: He scored the first one and then had to retake it. I was just happy to have another crack at it. It doesn’t affect you at all, I wasn’t a bad penalty stopper overall, my theory was I’d just go for it and if I went the wrong way so be it. I think I generally used to go the right way and that’s pretty much all you can do. I had my mind made up both times with that particular one, but he scored them both. As a goalkeeper you don’t feel pressure trying to save a penalty you can only be the hero, everyone expects the forward to score. What stage did we actually believe we could do so well?

PH: [laughs] The semi final! As a game it was a real anticlimax, both teams were trying to snuff each other out but we got the break. We really fancied that game and as I remember we were actually disappointed to have played so poorly. At the end of the day though the performance doesn’t matter as long you get the result. As we went through the competition there wasn’t a team we didn’t think we could beat, it wasn’t the hardest run in the world but you have to take each game as they come. The finals were great occasions for QPR and we did ourselves proud but was there still an element of disappointment?

PH: Well the first final was like winning it for us, I don’t think they totally outclassed us but they created more chances and we were dead and buried with three minutes to go. You can imagine people at the time thinking “well done QPR you got this far now off you go back to the second division” so to get that goal at the death was fantastic. We went and had a party – they didn’t, I think that says it all. In the replay we were really disappointed, we were by far the better team and should have won it easily but the chances wouldn’t go in. How long does it take to get over something like that?

PH: There are always “what ifs”, what if I’d gone the right way for the penalty, what if that chance had gone in but we were the underdogs and we weren’t even supposed to be there. It would have been worse for them if we had won! Going into the next season and we romped the league, did doing so well against Spurs give us that extra desire to be in the top division?

PH: To be fair I think that was all down to Terry Venables. He’s the finest manager I ever worked with. He had a great spirit and always had something up his sleeve. He told us at the start of the season that we had no problems, we’d walk the league and we did! That’s how we faced every game and we were far superior to every side in that division. We had a great set of individuals who balanced into a great team. How does the feeling of winning a league compare with a Wembley Final?

PH: Difficult one! They are both different. In a way the league was a bit of an anti climax. We won it at a canter and with games to spare so we were left with games to play that didn’t mean much.  Whereas with the cup you have the whole day to enjoy and that great atmosphere you only get with the cup. How much of a challenge was a plastic pitch for a goalkeeper?

PH: It was a pain. Believe me everytime you hit the floor it hurt. Every week I would literally rip my legs apart. I would go to bed with huge great burns, they were horrible! I preferred grass. At the end of the day that’s what goalkeepers like - diving around in the mud! One of the best games ever at Loftus Road was the 5-5 draw with Newcastle. I bet you didn’t think you’d pick the ball out of your net five times in a game and still get a point?

PH: Amazing game! Mixed feelings for me though, it was a great comeback but as a goalkeeper you never want to concede five goals! To be fair I think the crowd got us back into that game, they practically scored the last three themselves, I can’t remember playing in another atmosphere like in that game. Would that be one of your favourite all time games at QPR?

PH: No! I liked ones where I didn’t let goals in! I didn’t like conceding even if we won four-one that one goal would always bug me. Mind you I wasn’t the best at keeping clean sheets, I remember Theo Foley when I was in the reserves at QPR and he was the reserve team manager used to say “Oh we’ve got Hucker again, we’ve got to score two lads!” What memories do you have from your season in Europe?

PH: I remember that we had an absolute, total wanker of a manager in Alan Mullery. What else do you need to know?! He was a pratt, he was useless, he still is and always will be. He didn’t know anything about management, he didn’t know how to handle players, he didn’t know how to handle the club and he was tactically naive so we were beaten before we started. Appointing him was the biggest mistake that Jim Gregory ever made.

Thinking back to that UEFA Cup tie where we went out to Belgrade, we had a great result at home to win six-two and if you can’t protect a four goal lead in a second leg you want shooting – and Mullery wants shooting. I won’t accept any excuse other than that result was 100% the manager’s fault. It was an absolute nightmare and best forgotten. I’ll give you an idea about his football knowledge, at the end of that game having conceded four and gone out on away goals he chased us down the tunnel shouting “come back, come back it’s extra time!” He didn’t even know the rules of the game.

Looking on the positive side it was a great achievement to qualify in the first place but that was down to Venables and if Terry had still been the manager we would have got much further. I felt very let down when he went. I know you don’t turn down a chance like Barcelona but I think he had a chance to do something special at QPR. He had huge backing from Jim Gregory so it was disappointing to see him go. What made Terry Venables so special as a coach?

PH: He had new ideas all the time, whenever someone started combating the way we played he’d come up with something different. We used to have seven or eight variations of each free kick the trouble is most footballers can’t remember more than two! I remember in training one day Ian Stewart was practising this corner over and over again, he kept whipping it to the near post and Terry Fenwick kept heading it in and Venables is shouting at him “far post Stewey, we’re trying to work the far post” after Ian had tried it about six times Venables looked over and said “Oh fuck it Stewey just do what you want”. The whole atmosphere at QPR was bubbling all the time he was there and it made it an absolute pleasure to go into work. What’s gone wrong for him at Leeds then?

PH: I don’t think that is his strength. He thrives on taking young players, giving them ideas and creating an atmosphere around a club, I don’t know how well he can do that at Leeds. He’s gone in there and they must be entrenched in David O’Leary’s style so if you go in, make changes and it doesn’t work I can imagine all the players thinking “well it worked the way we used to do it”. How did he compare to Jim Smith?

PH: I really liked Jim; he was a great manager of players, more a motivator than a tactician but very good at what he did. He knew how to get the best out of people. So what went wrong under Jim Gregory with you?

PH: I had a disagreement with Jim Gregory and he told Jim Smith not to play me. I was actually due to play in the Milk Cup Semi Final but I did a double page newspaper spread about Gregory and I never played again. I liked Jim very much but occasionally he thought he was a king and could walk all over people and I wasn’t that type of person. I won’t say what it was over because he isn’t here to defend himself now but what he said to me was unfair and I needed to get it off my chest. It’s a shame because it soured everything for me, that’s when I lost my respect for Jim and I lost a bit of love for the club too. I’d enjoyed going to work everyday for a great club so it was a shame. You missed out on the league cup final as a result of that then but you were still around the squad, there must’ve been a very different feeling after that game than in 1982?

PH: Totally. There was so much politics going on with certain players and certain people and it’s sad to say but there were a lot of people connected with QPR who didn’t want to win that game. Some of them were delighted when we lost which I found very sad but that’s what the club was like at the time. There was a lot going on off the pitch that supporters might not be aware of but clubs go through those stages. What was your most embarrassing moment?

PH: I’m sure if you put it up on the site, people will remember quite a few! The worst one I can remember was a game against Blackburn at home. We were one nil down and had really struggled to get it back to one all. There wasn’t long left to play and they crossed a ball in and it hit the back stanchion and bounced back into play over the bar. I’d stopped, thinking the ball was out of play. One of their players headed it in and the ref gave the goal. Apart from a few people close to the goal no one could understand why I was standing there like a total lemon! My great belief is not to worry about it because you can’t change what’s happened, worry about the next one. All goalkeepers make mistakes; the best ones make the least. Look at David Seaman, he makes the mistakes but he still makes the least. Do you still follow Rangers today?

PH: The last game I went to was against Grimsby I think it was one nil to them after Rangers had totally dominated the game, all I remember is it was bloody freezing! I always follow the results though, they are the first club I look for and it’s been very sad to see how they’ve fallen. At the end of the day that was down to total mismanagement at the top. When they went down they tried too hard to get back up, they kept players they shouldn’t of and bought more in and then of course the money ran out. Now they have realistic people with realistic ideas all the way through the club and that’s what you need if you are going to turn it around. Plus in Ian Holloway they have a manager who actually believes in what he is doing and wants to get the job done. The problem is they are shit leagues and they are very hard to get out of. Who wants to go to the middle of nowhere on a Tuesday night? The players don’t, believe me, but that’s what you have to do to get out of those divisions. They say there are the hardest leagues to play in and they are. it’ll take time and patience to get out of them. What are you doing with yourself these days?

PH: I run my own coaching company, Peter Hucker Soccer Schools. We go into schools and set up football clubs, we can meet and train anything up to 1,000 boys over a week. We want every kid that that comes to play and enjoy the game. We don’t care if they aren’t any good, the whole idea is they just enjoy themselves. We try to evenly match the teams so they can have a good game regardless of their ability. We have kids who don’t even know what foot to kick with but that’s what real grass roots football is about and it’s very rewarding to see these kids progress and improve. We also do corporate soccer competitions for big companies like BT and Marks & Spencer’s. Basically if someone wants anything football orientated then we can organise it for them. I’ve been doing that for about ten years all told. Have a look at our website!

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