Interview: Terry Butcher, Inverness manager and former England international

It’s cold, it’s wet and Inverness are bottom of the league. But Terry Butcher is absolutely loving it

IT’S FRIDAY morning in Inverness, with skies so dark and grey and threatening it is more like the Middle Earth of Tolkein’s creation than the city of Terry Butcher’s dreams. It’s been raining, heavily. Now it’s blowing and it’s snowing. The ploughs are out. They’re coming around the Longman roundabout in a convoy, moving aside only to let an ambulance through. All lights and noise, the ambulance almost collides with a Mini. There’s hard braking and rage. Chaos in the gloom.

Caley Thistle’s homely stadium is an oasis. You walk in the door and there’s Butcher, a bundle of positivity and warmth and humour, ready to turn every negative into something better. Yeah, sure, it’s foul out there, he says, but the upside is that he’s in here, nice and warm, while the ying to his yang, Maurice Malpas, is still away over yonder at Fort George training the young lads and getting rained on. He laughs at the thought. Maurice isn’t going to be happy when he gets in. “Dear oh dear,” he chuckles. “This’ll be good.”

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Malpas appears later, frozen to the bone, soaked to the skin.

“Hi Maurice, you wet?” says Butcher, deadpan.

Maurice doesn’t answer. “What’s for lunch?” he eventually asks.

“Soup,” says Butcher. “It’s good. Go and stick your toes in it.”

In the corner of the room sits Butcher’s wine. French, mostly. Nothing from Argentina. “Oh God, no,” he says. “I don’t do Argentinian. Malpas, yes. Malbec, no.” He keeps the Rangers’ bottles next door. Six of them, decent vintage, brought up when they were in Inverness in August. “I told Ally [McCoist] that given the state of the finances at Ibrox we might not even get a cork from them this year, but it looks like nice stuff. We’ll have it at Christmas. A little drink for the staff, just to say thanks.”

He’s smiling now. He’s saying what a great name Tom English is. Weird name for an Irishman, right enough, but he wouldn’t mind swapping. “I’d love a name like that. Imagine if I was called Terry English. That’d be cool, wouldn’t it?” He hardly needs a name to state his nationality, though. He might not have the paeans to Bobby Moore on the wall of his office like he had when he was manager of Motherwell – “Maurice ordered me to take them down” – but the wisecracking is sharp, the pride in his homeland hammed-up to hilarious effect. The Victory Shield match between Scotland and England is on at the ground later in the night. Butcher tells all the Scots at Caley that he’ll be there with his England scarf on, sitting all alone in the far stand, isolated from Caley’s Tartan Army but waving his rattle at them. (England won 4-2, so you can imagine the slagging on Friday night into Saturday morning).

He has new knees since we last sat down together, left knee done in 2008, right knee in 2010. He hitches up his tracksuit legs to show you how good they are. Crackin’. He does some karate kicks with sound effects – “Hi Ya!” – to illustrate the kind of stuff he is capable of now that he wasn’t before, when he was stooped and a martyr to the pain. “These are great. I can kick all sorts of doors now.”

And, of course, he has had cause this season. Three red cards for his players, three unjust decisions, three appeals to the SFA and, finally on Thursday, a victory when Greg Tansey, sent off against Celtic last Saturday, was exonerated at Hampden.

He takes a folder from a drawer and says: “Have a look at this.” It’s his presentation to the SFA’s disciplinary panel, all typed out with little notes to himself in capital letters. One says: ‘Do Demonstration Now’. “Oh yeah, that was funny. That was my cue to show them what Greg actually did, so I was up out of my chair and jumping about and showing them what happened. Took me jacket off and everything. I was knackered after. Had to sit down and get my breath. I was leaping about the place. I couldn’t have done it without my new knees. It was funny, but it was serious. You look at the three red cards we’ve had this season and you wonder is it a conspiracy but, of course, it’s not. We’ll leave the paranoia to somebody else. If the three had been for Rangers or Celtic, though, it might have been another refs’ strike.”

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Behind the laughs is a deadly seriousness, a passion for the club and for the city he has made home. A passion for the country, too. He’s lived here, off and on, for 20 years and adores everything about it. “Myself and Rita [his wife] are happiest here,” he says. “I’m fiercely English. I mean, I’ve literally been a bloody Englishman, but I’d go to war for Scotland. I would. There you go, there’s your headline, eh?”

Caley are bottom of the SPL, but he’s not bothered just now. He has a new team and they’re bedding in. Good players, honest pros, who will get their rewards soon enough, he says. He has total faith. Won’t be long before they go on a run. He knows it, the players know it, the fans know it, too, he reckons. But it hurts when they lose, especially in the manner in which they have lost some games this season. Hurts more than it ever did because of this responsibility he feels.

“If we lose a game now I find it harder than before. You get all the frustration and the anger.

“I should be getting better and be able to cope with it, but I’m not and I can’t. I think I’ve signed all these players and the staff, well, I’ve brought them here as well. You feel responsible and you want them to succeed so badly because they work so hard and when it doesn’t happen you feel frustrated and anger and you try to analyse it and then you over-analyse it.

“On Saturday, after the match, I was in the dugout and I couldn’t speak. I had a cup of coffee. Maurice brought it to me. I flung it away, I was so annoyed. Then all the reporters came over and Hugh Keevins was there with his radio microphone and he was doing the limbo trying to get in to me. It was the funniest thing ever. Had you spoken to me at 11 or 12 o’clock that night I would still have been as angry. I find it hard to let go.”

He thinks back to the SPL game against Motherwell late last month. “Bizarre. We’re ahead 2-1 and looking good with 14 minutes left to play and then we lose two goals and one player to a red card. I just sat there in the dressing room and said ‘Bloody hell lads, can anybody explain that to me. Anybody?’ You’re in the eye of the storm. It’s like a tornado. Being a manager in this league is like being in a washing machine. At times you go around slowly and everything is calm, then next second, Jesus, you’re spinning like crazy, then you’re drained and you fill up again and you’re off, spinning like mad.

“It’s a continuous cycle. And then when the doors open you fall out and you think, ‘Christ!’.

He has a two-year-old Schnauzer at home, a cute little fella with the incongruous name of Fritz. “It’s his kennel name. Don’t worry, I have an English badge on his collar. The flag of St George is on there. Oh yes. Whenever we lose, I do the walk of shame on Sunday with the dog. Last week it was the walk of pain. When we got into the [Scottish Football] Hall of Fame (the first Englishman to be inducted) it was the walk of fame. Every walk is different.

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“My landlord is a farmer, a great guy who lives nearby. The place where I walk is the Great Glen Way and the morning after we beat Kilmarnock 6-3 he put a note up on the route I take: ‘Walk of shame: Cancelled’. Sensational, that. Absolutely brilliant. Nobody else would have had a clue what it was about, but we did. I loved it. Great people here. Wonderful.”

A few hours in his company steels you for the harsh weather outside. He sends you away with a smile, feeling better about your lot. He’s talking about the innate honesty of the SPL and why it deserves more credit, why the Premier League in England is more glamorous, yes, but hard to stomach at times with its money and its inflated sense of itself. “You don’t get to swan about here, do you? Carlos Tevez wouldn’t last long. We didn’t make a bid for him anyway, so that’s fine. Hehehe. I’m doing a column for the Sunday Mirror when I go home. It’s about John Terry. He’s struggling at the moment. But do you know what John Terry’s problem is? David Luiz. Ever seen David Luiz defend? Oh dear. Ever seen him walk? He’s like Charlie Chaplin’s great grandson. Anyway, I’ll write my 450 words and then it’s down to Edinburgh for Hearts. What’s happening there? Makes you wonder about the stability of the club. Good players, though. Top lads. It’s a mad league we’re all in. All sorts of things happen. There’s not many leagues like this anywhere in the world you know.”

Not many like Butcher either. He’ll be out the door with Fritz this morning. Walk of shame, walk of pain or walk of acclaim. Whatever it turns out to be, he’ll be there, one man and his dog on the Great Glen Way. Thinking and plotting. Not a bad old life.