Terry Venables obituary: Polarising figure for his five decades in football

Depending on your perspective, he was a forward-thinking tactician or a wheeler-dealing wide boy with murky business interests who promised far more than he ultimately delivered

Born: January 6th, 1943

Died: November 25th, 2023

Terry Venables, who has died aged 80, was a polarising figure for most of his five decades in football.

Though his haul of silverware as a player and manager was relatively small, he left a lasting impression on the English game in particular. After eventful stints coaching Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur, his profile peaked when he oversaw England’s gripping but unsuccessful Euro 96 campaign on home soil.


Venables’s admirers hailed him as a forward-thinking tactician whose silver-tongued Cockney charm added to the gaiety of the nation. His detractors regarded him as a wheeler-dealing wide boy who promised far more than he ultimately delivered, and whose murky business interests cast a shadow over his career.

Terence Frederick Venables was born on January 8th, 1943 in the Essex town of Dagenham, to an English father and Welsh mother. A useful inside-forward, he signed apprentice forms with Chelsea aged 15 in 1958. His entire playing career was spent with four London clubs: Chelsea (where he won the League Cup in 1965), Tottenham, QPR and Crystal Palace. He later managed all of them except Chelsea. He was capped twice for England in 1964.

Venables’s brief time playing for Palace, a third-tier outfit at the time, gave him a route into management. Upon retiring, he became the flamboyant Malcolm Allison’s assistant coach, taking over in 1976 when Allison accepted a lucrative offer to manage Galatasaray in Turkey.

On a shoestring budget, he got Palace promoted to Division 2 in 1977, then to Division 1 in 1979, at which point the hype machine went into overdrive, with Palace’s young team hailed as “the team of the Eighties”. Ultimately, that hype was unwarranted: Palace finished 13th in May 1980, and five months later Venables left for QPR, with whom he would lose the 1982 FA Cup final to his future employers Tottenham.

In the summer of 1984, Venables was the beneficiary of good fortune, landing the Barcelona job because the Catalonian club couldn’t contact their first choice, German coach Helmut Benthaus, who was holidaying in Canada.

The British tabloids swiftly dubbed Venables El Tel. Barcelona were selling Diego Maradona to Napoli to pay the bills, so Venables replaced the hell-raising genius with Scottish striker Steve Archibald, to much ridicule. He had the last laugh; Barcelona claimed the 1984-85 Liga title, their first in 11 years, and Archibald scored freely.

But Venables’s failures in European competitions proved his undoing. Just months into his reign, Barcelona catastrophically lost 4-1 at home to French side Metz and tumbled out of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup.

In his second season, he reached the European Cup final, but on a tense night in Seville his team completely froze against a well-drilled Steaua Bucharest. The game finished goalless and went to penalties, where Barcelona missed all four of their kicks.

Venables endured another European humiliation the following season, at the hands of Dundee United. Never fully forgiven by Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez for the Steaua disaster, he was sacked in September 1987.

Unfazed, he bounced back at Tottenham, signing big names like Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker. A memorable FA Cup win in 1991 glossed over the team’s generally mediocre league form.

Within weeks, tech tycoon Alan Sugar purchased Spurs and appointed Venables as chief executive. The awkward arrangement ended with Sugar firing him in June 1993, having grown weary of the sleaze around his business activities.

In 1997, a Premier League investigation into financial “bungs” to grease the wheels of transfer deals paid particular attention to Venables’s 1992 signing of Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest. The following year, the British department of trade and industry would disqualify him from serving as a company director for seven years, finding him guilty of bribery, deception and financial manipulation of his nightclub Scribes West and Spurs itself.

Despite numerous warnings by politicians that he was unfit to manage England, Venables succeeded Graham Taylor in 1994, in advance of the country’s hosting of Euro 96. England looked poor at the outset of the competition, drawing dismally with Switzerland and labouring to beat Scotland – but everything came together when the Netherlands were hammered 4-1 on an unforgettable evening at Wembley.

England then squeezed past Spain on penalties, but fell agonisingly short against Germany in a titanic semi-final, again on penalties. As he’d already promised, Venables resigned after the tournament, bemoaning the scrutiny of his financial affairs. Most of the English football press continued to eat out of his hand, a testament to his immense personal charisma.

The rest of Venables’s career was an anticlimax. Taking the Australia job, he initially spent so little time Down Under that he was accused of “guiding the Socceroos by remote control”, and resigned after their stunning implosion in a World Cup play-off against Iran in Melbourne in November 1997.

A year as Portsmouth chairman coincided with financial disaster for the club, though not for Venables; and forgettable periods managing Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough were followed by a sacking at Leeds United.

Venables’s time as assistant to Steve McClaren during England’s non-qualification for Euro 2008 was his final job in football, though he remained an occasional presence on ITV as a plain-speaking pundit. He suffered from Alzheimer’s in recent years, and died last weekend. He is survived by his wife Yvette, and by two daughters from a previous marriage.