Our interview with SCFC legend, TC.

Reality bites hard when I’m playing homemade top trumps with my lad. No league titles. No FA Cup. One shiny but solitary League Cup.
“Why haven’t Stoke done better Dad? How come (insert Wigan/ Coventry/ Portsmouth/ Barnsley etc) how won the FA Cup and we haven’t? It’s rubbish.”
Yes, son. “You weren’t even born when Stoke won the League Cup, Dad. Swansea and Birmingham have won more stuff. That’s rubbish as well.” Yes, I know, son.
“But don’t worry – look at the founded - 1863. We win.”
“Are we the oldest then?”
“Yes – kind of. Definitely older, then Forest anyway.”
“Okay, That’s good.” Except that our old age also means we’ve wasted more time failing to top up the trophy cabinet.
It also really hits home when you speak to Terry Conroy.
ONE trophy in over 150 years of action, pain and fleeting moments of joy. From a Stoke City who have spent SIXTY-TWO years in the top flight. That leaves us 19th out of the 65 who have enjoyed/endured at least one spell dining at the top table.
Fifty years since the boys of 72, then. The wind. The roof. The sales. The break-up of a team that coulda-shoulda-woulda. Another dream crushed. It hurts Conroy like it does all of us but at least he has the memories and the pride to take the edge off. Today, we speak only about the final itself.
In the Daily Mirror match report on that special day of Saturday March 4th 1972, Derek Wallis claimed that this triumph ‘was bound to have a profound influence on Stoke City’s future. Now that Stoke have taken their place in football’s hall of fame, other and more glittering prizes may be within reach.” Derek, I’m gutted. Silverwhere? More like. As those of you old and lucky enough to be there will know, Wallis got everything else right: The ‘courage’ and ‘character’ of our team on a day we didn’t perform at our best. Huge credit given to the heroism of Denis Smith: ‘I don’t know how many Smiths were at Wembley today. But I do know that one of them was a source of irritation and frustration for Chelsea. The aggressive blacksmith of a player whose tackles were delivered with all the fearsome finality of a hammer-clanging anvil.”
Gordon Banks and George Eastham receive worthy mentions but Conroy is singled out as the decisive factor on the day: “the only forward confident enough to take on Chelsea defenders and keep the match within his team’s grasp.”
Some say we make too much of that day in 1972. Not a chance. It happened and we should be thankful it did. TC and his teammates did something that will live forever. We should see it as something to add to, not something to hold us back. An inspiration.

You grew up in post-Second World War Dublin. What was it like?

Well, I was one of 10 kids, so you could say that it was a bit crowded. I was always a skinny kid. I was one of 10: Alphonsus, Laurence, John, Rita, Peter, Michael, Vincent, Marie and Paul.

Were you football mad as a kid?                                                                                                                        

Most kids round my way were. I just loved the street football scene. You would have to dribble well and take the knocks or you’d lose the ball and not get it back for an hour! It was actually illegal to play football on the Irish streets but we tried our best, anyway.

There was a local detective by the name of Bradley who would circle the area on his bicycle trying to catch us in the act. Did he have nothing better to do?! We nicknamed him ‘Soap.’ I have no idea why. Perhaps because he was squeaky clean? I’m not sure.

On one occasion, we were playing footy near the school at the end of our road and up came the shout of “Soap! Soap! Run!” So, we all scattered because we knew he would take you to the main prison in Dublin. The older lads were used to this and when he was chasing us, they threw his bike onto the school roof! I can’t imagine he was happy when he found out but we escaped that day!  We were about 10 so we were scared stiff!

I mention this story in my autobiography.

Now wait until you hear this………About nine months ago, and a few years after my book came out…….As with every Tuesday morning, I was walking around the lake at Trentham Gardens with loads of the old Stoke lads – Banksy and Smithy were there as always.  One morning, this fella came up to me – clearly a Stoke fan – and told me he’d read my book and enjoyed it before informing me that Sergeant Bradley, ‘Soap’, was his Step Dad!  I was shellshocked and couldn’t believe that something 60 years ago would crop up like that in Stoke-on-Trent! I drifted off in a daze to join the others.

I told my wife about it later that day and she told me to look out for him and find out the whole story. A few weeks later, a familiar face is coming towards us and I got talking to the bloke. We had a lovely chat and it turns out his mum moved to Stoke and married this Bradley man but he has been a true Stokie for decades. His mother and Bradley have long since passed - but what an uncanny experience. I was then walking around with Banksy in dreamland. It’s not often I am lost for words but I was. What a small world!

You played as a youngster for the famous Home Farm club before joining Glentoran. How come you ended up at The Victoria Ground.

Lads, it was all to do with the weather……Fulham were supposed to sign me, indeed the clubs had agreed terms and it was even in the newspapers that I had signed for them, but Waddo outflanked them after a game I was supposed to be playing in was called off.

I’d travelled from Dublin to Belfast as I had to get a cup replay (for Glentoran) out of the way before I could sign for Fulham. But it snowed and snowed, and when I got to Belfast it was called off, so I then had to catch the train home to Dublin. I had given myself twenty four hours to make my mind up. Little did I know that George Eastham tipped Tony Waddington off that I was going to move to England and so he came over to Ireland. It transpired that Waddo actually caught the same train as me back to Dublin from Belfast. He was very persuasive - Waddo made Stoke sound like heaven - he literally hijacked the deal and I decided to sign for Stoke.

I was happy to sign for Stoke as I didn’t really want to move to London as I thought that would be too big a city for a young Irish lad like me. Waddo told me that he’d put me up in a “two star hotel in Stoke”. And he was true to his word…..I was put in digs, and I was the only guest in the hotel…..and when I lay on my bed and looked at the ceiling that first night all I could see were two stars through the roof, ha ha! In fairness, I was a bit homesick for a while, but the lads at Stoke looked after me.

Who was your best mate whilst you were at the club, Terry?

John Mahoney was, and still is. He’s down in Swansea now. I got on with everyone, but I’d have to say he was my closest friend whilst I was at Stoke. I was a sociable lad but didn’t drink. I’d just have a fizzy pop whilst the others drank. We socialised a lot and were a close-knit group.

We’d train and then have lunch together in the social club at the ground. Supporters would be in there having something to eat too, but it was very different back then……all the players lived local to the cub too, which I think helped with the team spirit.

Why did you make it Terry whereas other kids didn’t?

I think it was mentally where I was possibly stronger than others. Many kids got trials at 16 but I never did. I was still very small and skinny and had a growth spurt a year after, but I was learning my trade at Home Farm who had a great youth set up, and so I was playing against big blokes. You had to grow up quickly and look after yourself, or you’d sink.

I think the old Central League or Pontins League as it was also called was a great place for youngsters to make their way and get a footballing education. I think that should come back in some way.

What do you remember of your debut?

1868 against Leicester. Peter Shilton was in goal for them. We won 3-2 and I scored….

It was the winner wasn’t it?

Ha, ha, it might have been……I remember back then Waddo was always worried about me. Skinny and so pale, he used to send me to the hospital every other week - up to the North Staffs where it was full of Stokies as I walked in for blood tests. Waddo was sure I was anaemic. Yes, I looked like a bottle of milk, but I assured him that I could run all week. I was one of the best in training but Waddo still wanted reassuring.

We had Olympic runners training us and they knew how fit I was. I could keep up with them as I had tons of stamina. Waddo would make me have steak and a pint of Guinness but he mostly left me to my own devices. He trusted me. He had some fiery characters in the team and squad, but he treated us well. He knew that we trained hard and he had no real issues.

You had quite a few injuries…

Yes, I had a few cartilage injuries, some through tackles, some not. The first one was after a tackle from Man City’s Alan Oakes - but he didn’t have a bad bone in his body. During the operation they opened up the joint totally, and I saw a video of a similar operation a few years later, and if I had seen it at the time I would never have had it done. They basically used pliers!  I still have the cartilage in a jar!

Injuries were so much different in those days. The pitches, the tackling…..it made you tough. But I really wouldn’t swap my career back then for one nowadays. Here, have a look at this……

(Terry than goes into a large bag and brings out a huge frame with his original Stoke City contract inside. It shows his starting salary and sundries, and is a fascinating look into the life of a footballer in the 60’s).

To 1972…….What was the mood in the camp after the epic semi-final win over West Ham?

The beauty of it was we had no time to dwell on it or get carried away. We were playing game after game constantly. The full realisation of what we’d done came when the players and the wives were all out together on a Saturday night. We had a few beers at the social club in Stoke late on – about 11pm -  and we saw the fans queuing for Final tickets. It was freezing.

A huge snaking queue had formed on Lonsdale Street. Some were clearly planning to camp overnight to secure their place on the big day. It hit home then. Tickets were not on sale until after ten o’ clock the following morning. We all knew then what a big occasion it would be. It was a huge wait. The club had waited over 100 years to reach Wembley and after that semi win over West Ham, we had to wait another six weeks for the final.

Tell us about the week leading up to the final…

Waddo was clever and a master at man management. He wanted us to get away from any hype so he took us away on the Monday to escape any distractions. We stayed at Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. He gave us a large mount of tickets each – a lot of tickets - so we could give them out and nip it in the bud, so weren’t worried about letting people down in the days leading up to Wembley.

Training was kept simple as usual. Lots of 5 a side, and few sprints after the warm-up. Training was very competitive between teammates. Banksy thought he was a world class centre forward - he was never in goal until the weekend! There was no ref to keep an eye on things so things would sometimes boil over. But in a good way most of the time. Team talks were collectors items. He put trust in us to do things our own way and police ourselves.

What do you recall of the morning of the match?

Nothing changed. The same routines. Waddo thought his work was done in the recruitment, the team selection and the culture he created. He didn’t need to remind us of our jobs or to motivate us. We were experienced and he put the responsibility onto us.

As a team, we managed ourselves out there. No one shirked or he would get it both barrels from the fella next to him.  Waddo created a great blend of characters. Then he kept it simple. Waddo was like Cloughie in that way. In fact, they were very close pals and took each other to their club’s European away fixtures.

How were the nerves as the match approached?

Personally, I was always very laidback - that was just my temperament. The size of the occasion didn’t bother me too much. But there was definitely an air of tension and nerves on the bus with some of the lads. Jackie Marsh and Mike Pejic were a bit younger than me – they were on edge. It was special day but a normal football match ultimately. At 25, I was just old-headed enough to sleep well and relax. I just wanted the kick off to arrive. They might have been favourites, but we were not in awe of Chelsea one bit. We though it was a 50/50 game. We didn’t see ourselves as underdogs for one minute

Players often talk about the atmosphere reaching down into the tunnel….

I had no idea what to expect. It was an experience in itself. It was a cauldron of noise down there. As you emerge and it hits you, you first look for your family. It was good to see Stokies in good numbers – you don’t want to be outnumbered in a final. The welcome reached a crescendo and it gives you a huge lift. The adrenaline kicks in right then.

Talk me through the first-half. Something tells me you might just remember it!

Scoring at goal at Wembley… in a final... after four minutes. You just can’t prepare yourself for that can you?

It was like a dream. I went into a daze. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw my name in lights. It overwhelmed me. For a few minutes, it was like an out-of-body experience. I gave the ball away a couple of times. I think it was Marshy who gave me the bollocking I needed to wake up. After that, I played well. My energy levels felt brilliant. I was up and down that pitch, non-stop. I was the main outlet for the team.

On that big pitch against a good side, that was needed. Chelsea were probably the better team on the day and my job was to give the team some relief at times. I felt constantly involved in the game. I did my defensive duties like we all did – that came so naturally to that group of players. On top of that, I then tried to carry the ball whenever I could. They equalised just before half-time which gave them a massive boost – but, believe me., our belief wasn’t shaken. In that changing room, we had belief. It was just a case of starting again. Waddo told us we would win it…..

How did the second-half go?

It went well on my wing. The full-back marking me went off injured and then I gave his replacement a torrid time. They had to move Ron Harris over to try and deal with me, but I had the pace on him. My levels of stamina really aided me that day. Jimmy Greenhoff was injured but absolutely hated the thought of going off. He was adamant he wasn’t going off He stayed on until George stabbed home the winner before John Mahoney replaced him.

When the final whistle went I was totally exhausted – just relieved there was no more running to do. That pitch was so sapping - it drained you. Soon, it began to sink in……

So, the walk up the steps tested you then?

By that stage, you are floating up the steps. I was lost in the noise and colour - you don’t really pay too much attention. Maybe an older player would remember to savour the moment? The Duke of Kent handed us the trophy and then came the roar – wow.  The lap of honour was simply wonderful – a thing to really enjoy.

Was it a night of wild celebrations?

It was actually very relaxed and modest - typical of Waddo and that Stoke team. There was a spot of dancing. It wasn’t even planned. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, really. It was a laid-back evening, with the beers flowing, but all very calm. A few supporters got wind of our location and walked in, no security and they just blended in, chatting to us and the wives at the bar. Imagine that today! Waddo was at ease with all that – after all, we often used to bring stranded supporters back with us on the coach after away game. The manager was entirely in touch with the working man.

What about that unforgettable homecoming?

Waddo expected a low key return to Stoke. We all did – we thought there would be nice reception from the locals, but we had no idea about then scale of it all.

Again, we were not aware of any plans so it was a huge surprise. Nowadays, word would have got to us on phones – that’s what made it extra special. On the train back, when we were slowing down and the first sight of the crowd came into view at Barlaston – some of the lads thought there must have been an accident. It was so off the cuff - perfect for that team. It was lovely for Waddo and for all of us. The tour around the city was special. Just like in 2008, it was great - really heart-warming to see the whole city come out to greet us. Denis and Bluto were really emotional around their home of Meir. Pej and Marshy had their moments as local lads as well.

I bet the following 50 years have flown by…

They certainly have. We are all looking forward to the anniversary celebrations in March. It’s always great when we get together in the company of the supporters.

After losing members of the squad, it becomes very precious to us. Looking back on it now, it was a hell of a ride. It’s no wonder our league form suffered – we effectively played half a season of cup games that year. We were a small squad, a tight unit who just kept going. We had another couple of years of good form in the league before you know what happened. It was just nice we had that trophy to symbolise the ability of that team and influence of the manager.

…….And what it meant to the fans……..

The season faded after that League Cup success - we only scored 2 goals in the last 9 games of the 71/72 season... were you all knackered?  

I think so. In the end we were just happy to survive and finish 17th. We put so much energy and so much focus on both cup competitions.  There replays after replays after replays. All in all, those cup days added up to about 7 weeks of football!  

The Arsenal Semi Final defeats will never be forgotten – what was it like for the players? The first thing to mention is this – what the hell was a fella dressed as a doctor in a white coat doing selling ice cream in a football stadium at night in mid-April?!???!!

As for his part in the offside decision, you couldn’t write a film script as unlikely as that could you? Seriously, Arsenal were the one and only team we did not like. And that’s not to appease today’s fans and their new rivalry with Wenger and co. They were everything we were not – flamboyant, fashionable and always fancied to do well. I used to hate Charlie George when we played against him! He was the embodiment of Arsenal – flashy and famous for it! We were the working-class club – the underdogs grafting for our lives while some of their lads behaved like celebrities.  

Some years ago and quite soon after my health scare, I bumped into him at The Emirates. He was a matchday host, doing similar duties, to those I do in the Waddington Suite. He saw me first, headed right for me and gave me a hug – I was surprised he recognised me. I’d had zero contact with him for about 40 years. He was lovely and asked how I was, he was worried about me. I couldn’t believe news of my near miss had reached that far south! I got stuck into him straight away about the offside goal farce and he was shocked – he had no idea. Imagine that story now – it would be on social media and Sky Sports News 24 hours a day!

He admitted that luck was on their side – he knew he was off side by 4 yards when he passed the ball to goalscorer John Radford. But he was complimentary about Stoke and good company. God, I wish we hadn’t worn our white kit that night! The linesman later admitted he got it wrong. It felt at the time there was a conspiracy to stop Stoke winning either cup competition – I think back to the worst clock ever the year before when it went to 7 minutes injury time – that never happened then! And there was the clear foul on Banksy.  But we got that trophy in the end!

Did you enjoy the 2008 rebirth of the Arsenal hate?

When the Pulis versus Wenger stuff emerged, we all loved it. It was the greatest show on earth! The Delap throw-ins, the atmosphere and the animosity – brilliant stuff at the Britannia wasn’t it? There were elements of the 72 team in that Stoke side – the work ethic, the humility and togetherness. Pulis knew our club’s history inside out. He would grill us oldies and he loved listening to our stories from the 70’s. He would always make sure his team were extra fired-up when Arsenal were in town.  

As well as scoring the 1st ever Stoke goal at Wembley, you bagged our first ever European competition goal...

Yes - I got the first at home to Kaiserslautern, just after half-time and we won 3-1 at the Vic.

It was all set-up for us to progress until they forced us to play the second leg a fortnight later! 4-nil loss. Knocked out. Nightmare. Big John Ritchie came on as a sub as play was stopped for treatment for an injury. Their centre-half tried to intimidate him straight away with a dig in the ribs and John’s smacked him – the German lad was floored.  

As for Ajax, they came over here and we couldn’t cope with their offside trap – they kept catching 6 of us at a time!

What about the Butler Street roof disaster?

None of us had clue of the real significance of it. We were just focused on the next game and where it would be played. But it became fatal to our team and all we’d built. Losing one key man is tough, but when it becomes, 2, 3, 4, you’re in trouble and there is no going back. Jimmy Greenhoff to Man United was horrible for all of us.

All the lads knew that. Jimmy was deeply upset about leaving. Waddo was heartbroken. From nearly winning the league title in 1975 to relegation two years later. A sad and dramatic demise.

What do you recall of promotion back to the top-flight under Alan Durban in 1979?

By then I was aged 32 with plenty of miles on the clock and a lengthy injury list behind me. I only featured in about 6 matches that season – it was clear I was being phased out. It was hugely frustrating at the time but looking back now, Alan was probably right in his thinking. In my head, my ideas and skill were as sharp as ever. What I didn’t accept easily was that the electric pace had gone and my legs were not quite what they were. That extra yard and ability to accelerate away from a defender just became a challenge for me.

I still enjoyed the thrill of promotion and I was so happy for the whole club and the whole city, but I missed out that day when we did it late on at Notts County. I wasn’t even there. I had it on radio while I was doing the gardening at home! It was a 12 man squad in those days and I wasn’t even on standby. I wasn’t bitter. I loved the club and had more than played my part in a great era. Besides, I always focus on the good times over the bad in life and there were far too many positives from my time at Stoke City for it to get me down.  

We’ve had a long history of dribbling wingers at Stoke City...Stan, yourself, Chamberlain, Beagrie, Hoekstra and Etherington - but they seem to be dying out...

I had a long, loping stride and I was quick over 10-20 yards so my first instinct was always to beat the man nearest to me. I only ever opted to play the ball backwards as a rare and last resort. The difference then was clear - no one rollocked me for losing the ball unless I lost it 5 times in a row. 6 or 7 times out of 10, I would beat the first man at least so I was encouraged to play my natural game. I think that has been lost in football today.

Teams play with fear, and managers are scared of losing – it’s big business and jobs are on the line.  Remember, we wingers from yesteryear played against full-backs who had a licence to kill! They were allowed to attack you for the first 20 minutes and you did well to survive. It was all fine though as they would buy you a pint after the game!

It’s a shame how it’s gone because a winger getting to the by-line and pulling the ball back is a beautiful sight for any fan. They help build a tempo and if one thing matters to the atmosphere at Stoke, it’s the tempo the team play at. I do watch some games across the leagues today and think they are sterile with a lack of attacking threat. The intensity isn’t always there. It erodes the enthusiasm of the fans – that’s what happened towards the end of the Mark Hughes era. The fans were not on their feet and the play was too slow.

How do you remember the Victoria Ground?

I’ll never forget the feeling it gave you on Wednesday night games. The blinding floodlights and smoke in the air. Just magical. There was always an electric atmosphere because you were so close to the fans. You heard it all.

On my travels over years I meet up with old opponents and many of them remark how much they hated playing at the Vic. They found it intimidating. I wish we realised then how much power we had over them! It still gives me immense satisfaction to know we had that impact on teams.  I’m not surprised the atmosphere affected the opposition because it affected us – in a good way most of the time. There was always a lively little mob over in the Butler Street Paddock. There was a cruel selection of men in there, believe me! As a winger, they’d be on to you after the first couple of mistakes. If my teammate Harry Burrows was on the other wing, he’d want to swap sides to avoid the paddock and I‘d shout ‘no chance!’

When I met up with the Irish squad, they all knew about the Vic. Even the great Leeds side knew we would give them a game at our place. Jonny Giles and I would talk about it. He told me how much Leeds hated coming to the Vic. He knew he was on the wanted list – in the black books of John Ritchie and Alan Bloor. He wasn’t wrong. As I left for the week’s international duty, Waddo would shout to me “Good luck and don’t get injured, Terry.”  Big John would then shout, “And tell that little sod Gilesy, I’ll have him next time we meet!”

Away from football…and the biggest battle you have ever had wasn’t on the football pitch…..

You’re spot on. My whole career and life were put into perspective when I was at death’s door in 2011. It was typical that its coincided with the season where we got to our first ever FA Cup final, ha ha!!!!

No, to be serious…..I’ve always been a very fit bloke, as I’ve mentioned before. Everyone knows I love a laugh and a joke, but I can honestly say that humour was at the back of my mind on the 20th March 2011. I remember it was a Sunday, as I was in church for the St Patrick’s Day celebration. My lovely wife Sue was in Australia visiting my middle daughter Niamh at the time. We had hammered Newcastle at home 4-0 the day before and I was as happy as Larry, but I felt some back pain in church but didn’t worry too much at the time…….but it got worse and worse and became unbearable.  I later found out that one of the organisers of the event, a lady called Maureen Cooper had found me slumped outside - and she and others there were a huge reason I’m here talking to you lads now.  

The proximity of the hospital to where I was also a massive reason I’m here today, too. I don’t remember too much else from that day, but I do remember being wheeled into hospital and a number of Stokies there at the time enquiring about me as I went past them, which was lovely, but I was literally unable to even acknowledge them.

I was given a 10% chance of surviving the operation, and during the next few hours I was given the Last Rites twice! At this point lads, I have to give so much love and credit to the vascular surgeon who operated on me - a great fella called Laszlo Papp. I owe my life to him. I survived an AAA - an abdominal aortic aneurysm, or in laymen’s terms, a swelling of the aorta - and I’m so lucky to be one of the one in ten that do so. It’s totally changed how I look at life, and made me so grateful for what I have. My family have always been everything to me, and that’s been reinforced. I’m a very lucky, very happy man!

Finally Terry, why did you decide to live in Stoke-on-Trent after playing all over the world?

I came over in 1967, and Stan Matthews had always been a massive influence on my career. From seeing him when I was a young boy playing in Dublin in 1958 for England against Ireland in a World Cup qualifier, I was transfixed with Stan. Him coming to Dublin really caught everyone’s imagination - so I always had one eye on Stan and Stoke City before I joined.

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire is a great area. The people are what makes it great. I like them and they seem to like me. Life is about people, that’s what makes life great. I couldn’t wish to live in an area with better people. And they laugh at my jokes!!!!!

Lee Hawthorne