Paul Vaessen: Terry Neill & Brian McDermott remember
By Les Crang
Concluding our series on the sadly departed hero of Turin 1980
The author of our series of articles this week spoke to Paul’s manager and one of his team-mates from his time at Arsenal to follow up on the story. Here are the results of those interviews…
Terry Neill interview
On January 16 of this year, I finally got to interview Terry Neill, Arsenal manager from 1976-1983 at his local pub. He kindly gave me an hour of his time and many stories of his time at Arsenal, both as a manager and player. He discussed his friends there, his signings and Paul Vaessen. I would like to take the opportunity of thanking him for making time for me and offering to help on any future interviews. It was a pleasurable and enlightening hour for an Arsenal fan, and also a pleasure to meet the man who was manager when I first supported started supporting the club all those years ago.
I asked some questions concerning Paul Vaessen, but Terry also gave me some other anecdotes. Some of them are pretty funny too.
LC: Jon Spurling wrote in his book ‘All Guns Blazing’, ‘The '80s are also fairly easy to carve up, beginning with Paul Vaessen’s historic header against Juventus in Turin and Mickey Thomas’ last-gasp goal from the gods in '89. Both goals are enduring images.’ Terry, is this how you see the period?
Terry Neill: For me it was a great victory having drawn 1-1 at home [in the first leg]… I’d had to deflect attention away from the team, after a [disappointing by European standards] 1-1 result. To deflect attention from the team, I attacked Juventus and Bobby Bettega’s [whom he later said was a friend he still kept in contact with] challenge on O’Leary..... I even appeared on Bobby’s show in Italy before the match. He knew what I doing. Attacking Juventus to protect my team, so by the time of the match no one remembered the result. To me it was water off a duck’s back. Juventus criticising me was just mind games. Fergie most likely learnt from me. When the team played in Turin it was with supreme discipline and organisation.
So when and why did you put on Paul?
Well, we’d played well, but 0-0 was no good and we had to win. I didn’t want to go out with a whimper. So I spoke to Don [Howe] with 15 minutes left. We agreed to throw on Paul, I can’t remember for who [David Price], but he was a big lad and an unknown quantity to them.
So what do you remember of the goal?
What I remember was [Graham] Rix whipping a great cross. Everyone remembers Rix for missing the penalty in the shoot-out. But Rix always put in great crosses. Paul was at the back post and waited, with time for the ball, and nodded in. A typical Rixy cross.
What happened after the final whistle in the stadium?
We celebrated, but my abiding memory is of the Juventus manager Trapattoni coming in and shaking our hands. Totally magnanimous in defeat. Sad Juventus lost. We are still friends to this day. A tremendous touch.
What is your memory of Paul Vaessen?
Paul was a good promising young player. Tall, powerful and full of prospects.....But not long after the Juventus game, he got his knee injury. Look, my job was for Arsenal FC. I could not be a guardian to every player. It’s unfair on other players. I got criticism from people for not looking out for Paul, but I was not his keeper. I can’t be all things to all men. It comes down to the individual.
When Paul left the sanctuary of Arsenal, the togetherness of Arsenal, he went to a place of no standards [to underline this, Terry and Frank McLintock keep ties in their breast pockets, since they are representing Arsenal, as Bertie Mee would tell them]. We had spoken to the doctors but his knee had gone. He wasn’t the same player he had been before; we tried to get him to other clubs and even had Crystal Palace lined up [something I never knew].
[Terry then explained his own experience of the footballer’s life, how short the career can be and how it may have affected Paul Vaessen in losing his own career to injury. Terry pointed out how he invested his energies in doing a engineering course whilst an apprentice, the importance, back then, of looking out for a future career. In other words, Terry had seen careers come and go, but you still needed to work afterwards. It seems Paul didn’t realise this until too late].
Paul Vaessen said after the game that the team went wild, with John Hollins driving a buggy stark naked around the hotel. What was your recollection?
It was a joyful night. A superb night. No rubbishing the place [the ‘we are Arsenal’ ethos again]. I remember sitting with the players until 3.30 a.m. The staff at the hotel were superb, but they made a lot of money that night. I’m still waiting for [his long time friend] Ken Friar to give me the bar bill. I came down the next morning, and some of the players were still there. Not drinking beer, they’d moved onto the wine. The expensive stuff too. On my bill. But look, they bloody deserved it.
When did you learn about Paul’s death?
A few days, I expect. The press were looking for quotes. What could I say? It was all very sad.
Paul felt he was barracked mercilessly, especially against Winterslag. What’s your view?
(Terry looked me in the eye as if I was mad) Well, last time I looked I thought we lived in a democracy? You pay your money in the stadium, you are welcome to boo. It is their right. Winterslag? S**t team. S**t Pitch. S**t game. I remember the game [I read this story, but Terry told it better] as the barracking was constant. Right behind the dugout I could hear them. So I think - I’ll tell 'em to get behind the team. I come out the dugout, and half a brick hits me on the head. Terry looks up and an Arsenal fan shouts ‘F**k off you Irish c**t, get 'em playing.’ [I can’t see this happening at the Emirates]
Were you upset at the brick?
No. I was an idiot for doing it and trying to calm them.
Brian McDermott interview
Reading manager Brian McDermott was at Arsenal at the same time as Paul. He agreed to answer a series of questions by email. My thanks to Angela Corrado for making this possible, and of course Brian McDermott for his time.
LC: When did you first meet Paul?
Brian McDermott: I met him in 1975/76. I was an apprentice; he was a schoolboy
What kind of player and person was Paul Vaessen?
Big strong, and tall; athletic striker – target man really – old-fashioned target man as a youngster. Excellent at holding the ball up – and could score a goal. He was a very confident boy, and coming from what was really, in comparison, the country I was coming from, he had no problem in a difficult environment. His confident demeanour meant he got to play in the first team at a very young age.
In an interview with Jon Spurling in 1996 you said to him how you used to get barracked by the home fans but never as much as Paul did? I’ve heard and read he was harshly treated against Winterslag, but was it really that bad?
I for one was fortunate enough never to get barracked by the Arsenal Highbury crowd – Paul for some reason did, in particular one game at home to Winterslag. I played up front with him that game and it was audible that the crown wanted Paul to be substituted with a vast majority of the crowd shouting ‘Vaessen off!’. As a player, generally you don’t hear too much from the crowd, but on that occasion it certainly registered with me.
When Paul retired in 1983, did you speak to him about leaving? Terry Neill describes Arsenal as a ‘sanctuary’ and that after Paul left this, life became obviously harder. Would you agree?
I never spoke to Paul after he left. We were what I would call football acquaintances and I had no dealings with him at all afterwards. Following his life since he left, it was quite obvious the injury he sustained which put him out of football left him in a situation, which meant his life was and was becoming very difficult.
Did you hear from Paul after he retired?
No, never heard from him. Last time I spoke to Paul was probably the early '80s. Shortly after he died, my memories and thoughts were just ones of sadness, really, and a waste of a young life. At a very early age, he had what people would perceive as everything – scoring one of the most famous goals in Arsenal’s history against Juventus. All in all, it’s fundamentally a sad story and you would like to think in this day and age, with the help that players get on retiring at early ages, that this would not be repeated.
Postcript - I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ian Castle for encouraging me to write this series of articles. I've written this story for many reasons. So Paul Vaessen might be remembered by younger fans, that football’s not the be all and end all (I say it every Saturday before 3pm too). But what I got out of this was some great comments on Paul. But best of all I got this from a relatives of Paul's. That really makes it worthwhile.
It is nice to know that there are people who have taken an interest in Paul's life and I will ensure that Paul's family is made aware of your interest... like I say I've read the first two parts on the onlinegooner and it was nice to be reminded of some things - the goals against Leeds and the curling shot in to the top corner against Wolves were my fondest footballing memories of Paul as I stood on the North Bank. The Wolves game in particular because he spotted me in the crowd before the game.
Les Crang has been a fan since 1980. He tries to attend games regularly at the Emirates and is a member of AISA. He is presently having ongoing talks with both the club and AISA as to whether a charity donation in Vaessen's name could be set up and perhaps even a Forgotten Heroes section added to the Museum. If you feel this would be a worthy idea, please contact Arsenal at email@example.com.
8th February 2013
User Comment and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Steve Williams 10:26am 8th Feb 2013
Thanks Les for a reminder of this 'forgotten' ex-player. I guess the 'real' story is what happened after he left the 'Sanctuary' of Highbury. I'm sure a follow up would be a great read. Steve Welsh Gooner - Post No. 34280
Croker 10:48am 8th Feb 2013
Well done Les. Thanks for all your research and for reviving my memories of listening to Paul's goal in Turin on Radio 2. What a a very sad story. It's one every young Prem League player should be told so that they appreciate how truly fortunate they are to be playing today. - Post No. 34282
Robert Exley 12:08pm 8th Feb 2013
I'm a bit worried about Terry Neill's tale that the players were drinking all night long after the Juve result. They Ron Atkinson's WBA 3 days later and then 48 hours after that Liverpool in the SF 2nd Replay. Discipline like that is probably the reason they ended up potless that season - Post No. 34283
JER 12:25pm 8th Feb 2013
Really good series of articles this has been. Poignant and thought provoking. Different from the usual stuff on here. Perhaps the current boo boys might think twice now when they start on Santos and Ramsey, but I doubt it. - Post No. 34285
Tony Evans 12:28pm 8th Feb 2013
To an older Gooner like me these have been a very interesting series of articles, Les, and a sad reminder of how a promising young life can go so completely off the rails. - Post No. 34286
Jason B 12:31pm 8th Feb 2013
Sad story of how someone had so much to live for but died so young.I like the idea of a forgotten heroes section in the mueseum.Perhaps an idea for a feature in the matchday programme next season. - Post No. 34287
Ron 12:32pm 8th Feb 2013
Robert - All of the other teams were as much on the booze themselves wheber games came round. Booze culture ruled supreme then, win lose or draw, potless or Cup winners. - Post No. 34288
Kilkenny cat 12:49pm 8th Feb 2013
I have a big affection for the team between 78 and 81. Coming over from Ireland in the early 70s as a five yr old,this was the team I saw on a regular basis,with my dad,who was always a massive fan,back home. Terry Neill was a good man,who loves the club,and respected the fans. I was on his side,when 2 warring factions nearly came to blows,after the west brom defeat in 83. A week later he was gone. A lot of memories have been stirred by these articles this week. A shame about Paul,a legend for the goal in Turin. Run up and down the stairs like a madman,mum was worried,dad was laughing. - Post No. 34289
sparksy 13:21pm 8th Feb 2013
One of the better articles ive read on the OLG. This was around the time i started going over to Highbury, so don't remember too much about Vaessen, other than what happened to hime after football. Sorry tale. - Post No. 34290
Robert Exley 13:37pm 8th Feb 2013
Ron - yeah I'm aware that the booze culture reigned supreme back then and sports science was in it's infancy. Also with England in Espana 82 when they won all 3 group games, then spent their time boozing and sunbathing and surprisingly looked whacked in the 2nd phase. When you look at the '79-80 run in though, the amount of times Arsenal played 2 games in 48 hours, the last thing they need is players on the piss all night long, especially when they still had Liverpool to beat in the semis. Even if all sides were doing it, not all sides were challenging for two cups and playing a 70 game season. West Ham weren't playing Juventus and Liverpool just days from the Cup Final and looked fitter and more alert in the '80 Cup Final - the last thing you wanna be doing is handing them even more of an advantage - Post No. 34292
maguiresbridge gooner 13:43pm 8th Feb 2013
I think the word that has been used most in all the reply's to your series is, Sad. And indeed it is a sad story, i think the humor was lifted with Terry's quip, i come out the dugout and a half brick hits me on the head (not funny at the time)but i'm sure it raised a laugh in the interview.Keep us informed of developments about forgotten heroes section in the museum. - Post No. 34293
johnnyhawleyloovinggooner 14:03pm 8th Feb 2013
every young player who signs for Aresnal should be sat down and totd to read pauls story. this is proper stuff Les apart for one thing. You should of made Terry bring The Don with him, then kidnapped them, brought them to our defenders training sessions and they would of had some real training!! - Post No. 34294
Max 15:01pm 8th Feb 2013
Thanks for these well-researched, informative and moving articles. - Post No. 34295
Ron 16:20pm 8th Feb 2013
Robert - Very true mate. I went to that WHU Cup Final. Talk about having lead in our boots! Arsenal were like heavy duty drey horses. - Post No. 34296
Dover Mick 16:27pm 8th Feb 2013
Brilliant series and so interesting fir those of us around during his career. - Post No. 34297
PerryG 16:34pm 8th Feb 2013
Thanks Les for putting the effort in and producing some good articles on an ex-players truly tragic demise. A book would be a fascinating read and best of luck if you go through with it, Vaessen was around just before i started following the team but my brothers reminisce warmly of his cameo on that famous night in Turin. - Post No. 34298
Radfordkennedy 16:38pm 8th Feb 2013
Just as a matter of interest what would be the criteria to qualify as a forgotten hero - Post No. 34299
CanadaGooner 16:50pm 8th Feb 2013
sounds like a classic "brother's keeper" story. Gazza's another. Perhaps if there are supposed heroes that fans and clubs care about, football charities should be helping them in getting their lives back together (jobs in football or similar areas). SkySports already line the pockets of several ex-footballers working as pundits etc (perhaps some of the less fortunate ones like Paul should get help in getting other jobs - not necessarily as glamorous). But in reality, there are millions of ordinary people out there who were never heroes, have never played football, and also have to survive everyday living. ex-soldiers working as bouncers or security guards etc. Sometimes society can be deemed cruel, but at the end of the day, every individual has to take responsibility for their own lives. Some do it better than other (Beckham will carry on selling perfumes, while some like Paul Vaessen turn to crime, squalor and meet an untimely death). therein lies the tragedy - Post No. 34300
Les Crang 17:06pm 8th Feb 2013
Response to Radfordkennedy. Well, thats really up to Arsenal Fc. It would be nice. I mean Wilf Coppling? Frank Swift? Tommy Caton? Petrovic? Mancini? It'd be more interesting I think for Arsenals fan base. I'm trying though. - Post No. 34301
Adam Ant 17:07pm 8th Feb 2013
Thanks for a great series of articles. RIP Paul. Forever Young. - Post No. 34302
James 19:00pm 8th Feb 2013
Terry Neill the king of the Blarney he could give Wenger lessons on talking bull.In my 45 years a Gooner only Howe was a worse manager than him. - Post No. 34304
maguiresbridge gooner 20:46pm 8th Feb 2013
JER,I certainly hope it never does, but if the same fate befell santos or ramsey or any of our over paid pampered premadonas, that did Paul they would receive the best support, help, care, and treatment, money could buy,unlike Paul,i'm sure they're already millionaires and no doubt have the best insurance money can buy, and would never need to work again, so if their playing crap (and in the case of santos that's most of the time)they should be well capable of taking it from the boo boys.And as one of our ex managers has said in his interview,well last time i looked i thought we lived in a democracy you pay your money(far to much as it happens)in the stadium,you are welcome to boo, it is their right. - Post No. 34305
chris dilley - Nottingham Gooner 21:17pm 8th Feb 2013
Great article, we'll done. Shame on Arsenal. Fabulous memory being allowed to stay up to listen to the Juve game on a scratchy old transistor radio - Post No. 34306
Les Crang 11:03am 9th Feb 2013
As mentioned at the end, it would be nice if any of you contacted arsenal to see if something might be done in Paul's name. Especially when we play Juventus in the next round (hopefully). Response to maguiresbridge gooner, yup Terry certainly lightened the mood on a sad subject. He might not be regarded highly by some fans, but, like Charlie George, he bleeds arsenal and was quite saddened by Paul's demise. - Post No. 34310
Farnborough Gooner 17:35pm 10th Feb 2013
Thanks for doing these articles they were very interesting. Have you thought about putting them into an e-book? - Post No. 34339
LES Crang 18:31pm 10th Feb 2013
Farnborough Gooner. Nope, somebody is releasing a book on Vaessen this year i heard, so I think you'll get a fuller story their. But glad it was informative - Post No. 34341
QuartzGooner 5:18am 11th Feb 2013
@Les Crang Thanks for writing this series. Why not write about about "Arsenal's Other Heroes" and then tie it in with a museum exhibit? Good reciprocal publicity. Many players have a good chapter of a story to tell, but perhaps not a whole book? Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, Lauren, Nutty Winterburn, Lee Dixon, John Lukic, Pat Rice? - Post No. 34344
Les Crang 9:29am 11th Feb 2013
Quartz Gooner. Its an idea, but I really not sure I could get access to the players and whether Arsenal would see the advantage. I mean have you been to the museum? Its smaller than the one at highbury and there's not even the bus like at highbury in the museum...... - Post No. 34348
El Bodgeo 13:11pm 11th Feb 2013
Robert Exley, are you the last remaining active member of the 'Terry Neill Out' campaign? - Post No. 34358
Joe S. 21:53pm 11th Feb 2013
I don't know why Terry Neil is held in such high esteem by many on this site. His was a double act with Don Howe and the two of them focused on playing a conservative brand of football which was more about avoiding defeat than aiming for the top. Their choice of player, ie Talbut, McDermott, Sunderland epitomises this negativity. While more ambitious clubs such as Forrest and Villa had players like Woodcock, Francis , Morley and Robertson at Arsenal the skills of the Irish contingent was often negated by an over relience on defensive midfielders who seemed to clutter the attack. What Arsenal really needed at the time was a flying winger to provide extra options out wide.My favorite Terry Neil anecdote is attributed to Alan Ball who describes Terry Neil setting up a platoon of toy soldiers at his first training session and trying to motivate his bemused players with an us vs them mentality.You can imagine how the veteren campaigners would have responded to this cutting edge motivational ploy. - Post No. 34375
25th May 2015
Online Ed: Gunners find their goalscoring touch in time for Cup Final