Home » From Tranmere to India with an Economics degree in between: Steve Coppell interview

From Tranmere to India with an Economics degree in between: Steve Coppell interview

by Alex Browne
Steve Coppell

Former Manchester United winger, Steve Coppell, has given an interview detailing his playing and managerial career that eventually took him to the sub-continent.

The former United winger played 396 games for the Red Devils (source: manutd.com) and delighted the Old Trafford crowds of the 1970s and early 1980s with his “thrilling runs and slick skills” down the right wing whilst donning the famous number seven shirt.

The former right winger experienced the lows of losing the 1976 FA Cup final to then second division Southampton but then the ultimate high of stopping the juggernaut of Liverpool winning the treble in 1977 by winning the famous old trophy at Wembley with the Red Devils against his boyhood club.

Coppell told The Daily Mail that he opted to start his career at then amateur side Tranmere, instead of accepting professional deals.

This was mainly due to his desire to study Economics at Liverpool University. Coppell was then faced with a difficult choice when Manchester United came for his signature in 1975. The Liverpudlian winger credits the then United manager, Tommy Docherty, who allowed him to complete his degree whilst marauding down the right wing for the Old Trafford side.

The Liverpudlian states that Docherty’s exact words were “football will chew you up and spit you out. A degree is for life. We’ll work around it”.

The exciting winger explains the move happened so quickly that he didn’t even have a pair of boots for his United debut, he had to borrow a pair from fellow player Stuart Pearson. Coppell soon repaid the favour by providing an assist for Pearson in a 4-0 win.

The player would go on to represent Untied in an awe-inspiring 206 consecutive league games between 1977 and 1981. It is a club record that will surely never be beaten. It is ironically cruel that the flying winger’s career would then be cut short prematurely at 28 years old with a kick on the knee while on England duty.

“It turned out to be a snapped cruciate, but we didn’t know at the time,” Coppell said. “I remember driving back to Manchester after the game. My leg was killing me”. The former number seven would try and play on but only ended up needing more surgeries and eventually had to call it quits in 1983.

“In October 1983, I had to accept it was the end. I remember being on the phone to my room-mate Ray Wilkins crying my eyes out”.

During rehab in Amsterdam, he toyed with the idea of becoming an Economics teacher but he just couldn’t switch off from football. He took a job as Crystal Palace manager and stayed at the London club for 12 years in total over four separate stints between 1984-2000.

Highlights included getting the Eagles promoted and reaching the FA Cup final, losing to Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1990, which would be Ferguson’s crucial pressure-releasing first trophy for the Red Devils after four barren years. Coppell’s Palace also finished third the following season which remains the South London club’s highest ever league finish.

What the former winger is most proud of however, is what some of his former players have gone on to do after their career. He claims his former striker, Ian Wright was incredibly inarticulate as a player but has gone on to be a much loved pundit on the BBC. Coppell also praises the managerial careers of former players, Alan Pardew and of course, Gareth Southgate, the now England manager.

The man from Merseyside would go on to manage five other clubs before accepting a director of football role at Crawley Town and later Portsmouth. However, the former England international got bored of driving the same motorways up and down the country. He claims he had heard fellow manager, Peter Reid, had accepted a role in India and he was compelled to try it out.

He would spend three years there from 2016-2019 and would most famously manage the Kerala Blasters, who are owned by cricketing god, Sachin Tendulkar. Coppell claims he loved the experience and the chance to live an entirely different type of life. He also explains about the presence and influence a man like Tendulkar had at the club.

Coppell said of the imperious former cricketer, “he was mild-mannered and charming but you were still aware of his influence. I wanted to send a couple of players home for disciplinary reasons. Sachin asked if he could deal with it. He met the players and there was no repeat”.

A fascinating, rollercoaster of a career, which took the exciting winger from Tranmere to India with an Economics degree in the middle. Not many former players can tell a tale like that.

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