Former Burnley midfielder Paul Weller on Stan Ternent, the Chris Waddle season, and facing up to serious illness
In Paul Weller’s new book, with Dave Thomas, ‘Not such a bad life – Burnley, Gazza, Wrighty, Waddle and me’, Stan Ternent describes Weller as “fiery, dynamic, single-minded and reliable, and on top of that, he could play a bit.”
He adds: “What I remember him for is bravery and determination, not only on the field of play, but also off it.”
More of that later.
But it is fair to say, while Weller and Ternent enjoyed an, at times, volatile relationship, the respect was mutual.
Weller singles out the former Clarets boss as the single biggest influence on his career: “I think I’d go as far as saying I probably had the most run ins with Stan, and we had some right barneys.
“We’d go nose to nose in the boot room, stare offs across the training ground after he’d stuck me on the transfer list and was telling everyone, pointing at me – it was a good stare off to be fair!
“Throwing boots when he took me off one time...we had so many flash points, but the respect was there.
“He knew how to deal with you, and if you had a barney, the next day it was forgotten.
“You have to be a special person to do that, if you and me had a ruck now, you’d be thinking about it later, next day, it’s on your mind, but he didn’t, he’d come in, and it was ‘alright Weller?’
“That was it, you’re like ‘wow!’, you had to respect him for it, how do you do that?
“But that was one of his qualities, he had your back, he’d protect you...
“I have to say he was my biggest influence, you can pick out so many coaches and players who helped me along the years, Pash (Terry Pashley), (Jamie) Hoyland, (Adrian) Heath, (Vince) Overson, (David) Eyres, all helped me big time, but Stan was the one.
“He wouldn’t tell you how to beat a player or anything like that, he just looked after you, and the big thing for us is he taught us how to win.
“Stan was a winner, he’d say, as soon as you cross that white line, it’s war, and that sticks with me, I say it to my Under 16s at Belvedere, it’s no point going out doing six Cruyff turns – I had this with my lad Finn, he goes on about (Tanguy) Ndombele at Tottenham, who does all these flicks and tricks, but he’s got no end product.
“He doesn’t win his war. You have to go out and win your individual battles, and Stan was so big on that, ‘win your battle and you can then help the rest of the team’.
“He was a big nightmare, but a massive influence.”
Weller was at Burnley from 1991, signing after a trial from Diadora League Worthing, where his manager John Murray – a former Claret – had recommended him to Frank Casper.
He would stay until 2004, helping win promotion to the second tier in 2000, before being informed, the night before his wedding, his services would not be required by incoming boss Steve Cotterill.
Ternent was in charge at Turf Moor from 1998 to that summer, 2004.
And his reign was a far cry from what preceded it, with Chris Waddle’s sole foray into management at Burnley.
Weller, a boyhood Spurs fan, was excited about the prospect, and ended up disappointed to see Waddle leave.
But he admits it was a topsy-turvy year, ending in Burnley avoiding relegation to the basement division in 1998: “It was a mad season, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it because I learned a lot.
“When it’s all rosy in the garden, you just crack on, but when it’s like it was – and it was a rollercoaster, the madness of what they did from day one – to becoming good friends.
“I liked him in the end, I was one of the few who was gutted he left.
“We were in Spain when we heard the news, and quite a few said ‘get the beers in’, celebration, party time, but I was sat there thinking he’d got the hang of it.
“You look at it, he stopped playing himself, stopped mucking around with formations, we beat Fulham, Bristol City – all the top sides – and our form over the second half of the season was good.
“When he realised he had to stop playing the lads he brought in at the start of the season, back to Inchy (Adrian Heath)’s original team, it worked.
“I thought it was crazy. We were top scorers under Inchy, but missed out on the play-offs because we let too many goals in.You’d think ‘I just need to get them defensively set, maybe bring in a centre half’, but to come in and bring (Mark) Fordy and Michael Williams into midfield – they weren’t any better than what we had, (Steve) Blatherwick and (Lee) Howey – not for me, great lads, but again not as good as what we already had.
“The chopping and changing was probably his biggest mistake, playing different formations, playing himself sweeper, then right wing, then left wing...
“We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he went through him playing sweeper, ‘is this a wind up?’ – we were expecting Jeremy Beadle to pop out!
“At Grimsby, he put 11 names up on the teamsheet, when we got there, and said ‘that’s the team, they are the best 11 players at this club’, and walked out.
“I looked and saw I was on there, but Gordon Cowans, the reserve coach, was as well – although he could still play.
“We were trying to work out who was playing where – Chris Vinnicombe wasn’t on there, and I was thinking ‘who’s playing left back then?’
“We went back inside and he was like ‘right, we need to work out who’s playing where now’.
“I thought it was a wind up. He told me to play left back, and said the best 11 players are going to win it for us.
“I was thinking ‘this is madness’, looking at ‘Sid’ Cowans, and he was laughing, you’re thinking ‘what am I doing here?’
“Typically we got beat, but that was the Waddle era.”
Waddle was initially icy with the media, but I found him very easy-going and helpful over the season.
Weller liked him but found he was quite nervous: “Chris was very shy, didn’t talk much, Glenn Roeder would get us in and have a chat with us, and Chris would be 10 yards behind kicking a ball up, not really getting involved.
“I had to do a nightclub opening with him, and I thought ‘this is brilliant, I’m out with Chris Waddle’, but he sat in the corner by himself, didn’t really get involved.
“After the last game of the season against Plymouth, he called me in and said ‘you’re out of contract, here’s a three-year deal.’
“I’d never had a three-year deal, but as he was saying it, he had the papers in his hands, and he was shaking.”I was thinking ‘I should be shaking, you’re a Tottenham legend’, and he said ‘you’re not going to like this offer’, but it was a lot more than I was on!
“That was the last time I saw him, it was a shame, I never got to say goodbye, it was sad.
“I bet he thought, ‘this isn’t for me, management’, he just wasn’t that character.”
However, over the second half of Waddle’s season in charge, Weller had started having stomach problems, as ulcers built up in the large bowel.
It was the start of colitis, and three lots of major surgery to improve his general quality of life, never mind enable him to play professional football again.
He would bounce back to be the club’s player of the year in 2000/01, and he looked back on the time: “The illness, it’s out of your hands, you can’t control it, you’ve just got to get on with it.
“A lot of people said ‘you must have had some tough days and dark times’, but not really, I was young, naive, didn’t know what I was going through – you’re having your bowel out and you’re going to have a colostomy bag, ‘oh okay, that’s fine’.
“When it appeared, flipping hell, it was a life-changing moment. I remember fainting, when I saw my stoma hanging out of my tummy, it was horrible, changing every day.
“It wakes you up. Are you going to play football again? You don’t know.
“They’re telling you you can, you can put this stopper in it, and still go out and play, but I wasn’t sure about that.
“I don’t know whether it was difficult, mental health affects a lot of people, and it’s more publicised now than it was in the 90s.
“I know a lot of people who struggle, but it’s never been me, I’ve always been one to get on with it.
“A lot of people say, that have had mental health issues, that the worst thing people can say, is just shake yourself up, crack on etc, but that’s my mentality.
“You have a bad day, you just get on with it.
“It was like that with the illness. I’m still lucky enough that I was on a three-year contract, I had to get on with it, and if it wasn’t to be, something else would be.
“That was the same when I finished my career, ‘it’s over, I’ll start a new life, get myself a job and crack on’. I had a mortgage to pay, and you do these things.
“I’m not into wallowing in self-pity, but you have to be careful how and who you say that to.”
Not Such a Bad Life, by Paul Weller with Dave Thomas; published by Pitch Publishing, April 2021, RRP £19.99 – available at Burnley FC Clubshop and all good bookshops.
See next week for more from Paul Weller on coming through the youth system at Burnley, how football has changed, and the most memorable season, and goal, of his long career with the Clarets.