Having now worked in the sport for 13 years, I have to say that this book is definitely a must-read. It provides a lot of insight on varied aspects of the sport that you may not necessarily expect while also providing a fair amount of entertainment. It has not gotten a lot of hype because Ward doesn’t throw anyone under the bus in a way that would garner English tabloid attention. But it does have plenty of inside stories on partying and the culture of the game as it began transitioning into the big-money business it is today.
But the meat of the book really provides a lot between the lines for those seeking an intellectual look at the game. The main items of interest are:
- Expanded story of Clough & Taylor (The Damned United)
- The financial health of English football in the 70s & 80s
- The end of the NASL / height of the indoor game
- Culture of the player lifestyle during his career
- Being on the National Team bubble
- Recognizable names still currently in the North American game
Published in England, the book can be purchased at PeterWardSoccer.com
For a book that is only 230 pages or so (minus pictures and acknowledgements), it packs quite a lot as Ward’s career really intertwined with so many interesting aspects of the game. Although a bit dry at times as game results are chronicled, the author Horner does well to provide a full picture of not only Ward’s career, but where it fit in the larger picture of the English game at the time...
An Expanded Look at Clough & Taylor
A lot of knowledgeable soccer fans and industry insiders saw the movie The Damned United, a film about Brian Clough and Peter Taylor’s ill-fated 44-day spell managing Leeds at the height of the club’s fame and success in 1974. The picture was an entertaining look at the personalities of the two men and, in particular, Clough’s peculiar managerial style and complicated psychological issues with his peers and desire for respect. Ward’s career path paralleled at the same time that the two men were at the forefront of English football management and often coupled together as Ward found himself playing for the infamous duo.
Ward provides insight into the way Clough and Taylor were not only on the sidelines, but behind the scenes in training, the locker room and the front office. He painted a picture of how differently each interacted with current players and those they were negotiating with to sign and their respective clubs. Something he experienced first-hand as he was treated like a yo-yo over the course of about four-five years as Taylor liked and wanted Ward on the team and Clough was less than enthused. It created for an interesting time at Nottingham Forest, a stint that included the second split between Clough and Taylor and would see Ward go on loan in 1982 to join Taylor back at Brighton, where the two first paired up seven years earlier.
The English Game Before ‘Big Money’
One of the themes that wove throughout the book during Ward’s career in English football that I found interesting was the financial side of the game. All American sports fans are fully aware that the big-league players of today are obscenely paid in comparison to the old-timers that played the game before the big-time television contracts of the eighties changed the financials of sports. But I feel as though many people look back at English soccer differently; that because it was the big sport and the game was so popular and successful from the sixties to eighties that the financial health was good.
Ward laid out a different picture, often times entertaining in hindsight, of clubs struggling to fit players into small budgets and looking to local businesses to supply perks on the side to keep players happy and in place. The scenario is a far cry from today where money is practically thrown around in the millions to land even second-rate players at second-tier clubs. The big difference is that while the clubs back during Ward’s career were trying to stay afloat, a lot of teams today are submerged in enormous debt to the point where selling a player or two is not going to solve the bottom line dilemma.
NASL During its Demise; Indoor at its Height
A lot of people - mostly those who watched from the outside - talk about the final days of the NASL around the internet. Some of it is knowledgeable, most of it is not. Obviously Ward was not completely privy to the front-office news at the time, but he does provide an account of what it was like for a player during the final years of the league, particularly those from abroad. His initial loan move to the Seattle Sounders under head coach Alan Hinton was the start of an American (and briefly Canadian) playing career that saw him bounce around the United States as clubs, both outdoor and indoor, battled financial stability while at the same time he fought off the decline of his career.
It was an interesting situation for Ward because he had been honored as the league MVP, but he found himself a couple times in limbo as he was initially under contract with Forest, and then got caught in the midst of a financial deal across the Atlantic that was a mess.
Hinton noted the first scenario saying, “Cloughie was quite happy to do me a favor and let Wardy come to us on loan but when we reached the Final he phoned up and said ‘Where’s my player?’ Peter’s loan had run out because it only lasted until the end of the regular season. Cloughie was being mischievous and threatened to have Peter sent back to England before the Soccer Bowl.”
Said Ward of the second situation, “Although Seattle had signed me on a permanent deal they only paid Forest thirty percent of the money up front. When Seattle went bust, it left Forest without any chance of getting the rest of the money, so Forest told me that I had to go back there. I told them that there was absolutely no chance of that happening and that they couldn’t make me go back, because they didn’t hold my registration.”
The situation, as detailed in the book, was rather complicated, but resulted in a move to the Vancouver Whitecaps where he first experienced the indoor game, which led to an expansion of his career when the NASL folded shortly after the subsequent outdoor campaign.
This is where Ward’s biography now ventures into a third variation of the game. He chronicles an indoor career that wove through stints on both rosters of league rivals Cleveland and Baltimore, which created some interesting situations. He also notes his return to the outdoor game in Tampa, where he joined a new Rowdies side that was a member of the APSL, the early years of what was the USL First Division (now USSF Division-2), bridging a gap between Clough and today’s game in the United States in an interesting and entertaining fashion.
Names You Know
Obviously, Clough and Taylor are without question the most famous of the individuals discussed throughout the book as they were among the most influential in Ward’s career, along with Hinton and the Brighton duo of chairman Mike Bamber and manager Alan Mullery, who helped Ward guide the club’s promotion to the top flight.
But as the second half of the book transitions to his time in North America, many of the people Ward interacted with - players and managers - are familiar names today as they are still or have recently been involved with the game. Some of the mentions and accompanying stories are flattering; others not so much.
Laurie Calloway (longtime USL-1/PDL coach)
Neil Megson (championship USL Sounders coach, brother of Gary Megson)
Brian Schmetzer (championship USL Sounders coach, MLS assistant)
Chance Fry (longtime USL player)
Alan Hudson (father of Real Maryland USL-2 coach)
Carl Valentine (longtime USL player, Ottawa PDL coach)
Fran O’Brien (Tacoma PDL coach, father of pro players Leighton & Ciaran)
Kai Haaskivi (former Pittsburgh USL coach/GM)
Louie Nanchoff (Cleveland PDL co-coach with brother George)
Pat Ercoli (famed Rochester USL coach)
Jay Hoffman (longtime women’s coach, club and international)
Preki (longtime MLS player and coach)
Kenny Cooper Sr. (father of current US bubble player)
Peter Vermes (MLS player and coach)
Culture and Lifestyle of the Player
Throughout the book, Ward provides an in-depth look at how he lived his life and how that mirrored or differed from his teammates, whether it was in England or North America. Over time, that obviously changed under the circumstances and as family became an increasingly larger part of the picture.
Ward details the quirky and comical moments that occurred between the players along with the numerous alcohol-involved adventures and carousing that occurred off the field throughout the book. In addition, he depicted the varying ways in which teams were managed, including the way Clough and other coaches handled road trips and training. One charming story included how Ward craftily avoided cross country training in Brighton.
Mullery’s account: “I don’t think Peter enjoyed the cross country over the Dyke and things like that. He was a bit browned off when I used to run them up the hill at Waterhall – I think he was sick the first time I made them do that. I could see in his face that he didn’t enjoy it but he got through it. I found out about him and Joe Kinnear hiding in the café and soon put a stop to that.”
Ward’s account: “Our cross country training run used to take us by one of the shops that I would walk Rachel (his daughter) past so I told Joe that I knew the people in the shop. We would hang back from the rest of the team when they were running and then dive into the shop and have a sit-down and a drink. We would wait for the other players to come back around on their way back and then join up with them again looking as fresh as a daisy. We didn’t feel quite as clever when Mullery found out, though.”
Continuing on the previously-discussed theme of the financial side of the game I mentioned earlier, Ward details his pay throughout his career in the book. He begins from what he initially earned under his first professional contract to the height of his career at Forest through to his final days playing in America. This included how each deal affected him and, eventually, his family. While it pales in comparison to today’s English football wages, it is comparable to what up and coming players experience in the United States today, making it an interesting read.
One of the other interesting items about the culture of the game during his career was the frankness that often occurred between players and managers that a lot of stars and coaches today shy away from, such as taking the blame for a poor performance. After having proven himself a standout player in England, Ward was in his first season playing for Seattle and although he was playing well, he was not finding the back of the net.
Hinton details what may have been a changing point for the team, “We had a horrendous start to the season and, against Tampa, Peter had missed some really good chances when he was clean through the middle with only the goalie to beat. After the game, we had a team meeting because I wanted to try to find out what was going wrong. It had gone on for half an hour when Peter got up and said ‘Coach, let me ask you a question. Would we be having this team meeting right now if I was scoring all the chances that I was missing?’ I said, ‘No, we wouldn’t’ and Peter replied, ‘Well it’s down to me then, and I take responsibility for the bad start we have had. If I had been scoring we wouldn’t be in this position.’ I said, ‘Peter, I admire you for taking the responsibility – meeting over.’”
Ward would go on to earn the league MVP award and the Sounders would reach Soccer Bowl ‘82, where ironically, because it was held in San Diego, the awards ceremony was hosted by Bob Barker of the Price is Right. Fast forward over 25 years later and the new host of the Price is Right, Drew Carey, was the leading public figure in the ownership of the new MLS Seattle Sounders (although he is a minority investor). Small world, huh?
On the Bubble
These days, the favorite past-time every four years, and now nearly non-stop, on the internet seems to be speculation and debate about who should be on the National Team for the World Cup, no matter what country you are referring to. Back in Ward’s day with limited television broadcasts of league matches and newspaper accounts of the action, there was no internet fury over the selection, but he certainly would have commanded that attention in today’s world.
A leading scorer, and often well sought-after, throughout his career in England, Ward was regularly in consideration for youth international appearances and had a few call-ups for England exhibitions and friendlies. But his small size and playing style often left him on the outside as managers didn’t quite know what to make of him or how to utilize his talent.
His accounts of the flirtation with the international game are probably a decent representation what players today still experience to some degree. At one point Ward was called up for a ‘B’ squad game against Spain by Ron Greenwood, but still found himself without a cap.
“I had been playing well but I wasn’t necessarily expecting to get back into the England squad. We were still at the wrong end of the table. As it turned out, I didn’t actually get on the pitch. Greenwood had picked Paul Mariner and Gary Birtles up-front, but a defender, Russell Osman, ended up getting the only goal of the game. Just before he scored, I had started to warm-up because I was going to go on, but after the goal I was called back to the bench because they didn’t want to put another forward on.”
He would eventually earn the cap when Bobby Robson took charge of the team by Greenwood’s request in a friendly against minnows Australia in an appearance that proved to be a record for quite some time as the shortest-ever England career, coming on as a sub for about eight minutes.
“Just after I came on, Australia scored a penalty but we ended up winning 2-1. Lots of very good players never get to play for England. It was an honour and one of my proudest moments. It was only five years after I’d left Burton Albion so to go from non-league to winning a cap in that amount of time was quite special.”
“Somebody put a video of that game on YouTube recently: it was the first time that I’d seen it. I played bloody well. I was quite surprised – but I was never picked again.”
Watching his career highlights on the internet via YouTube is a far cry from his formative years when he kicked the ball around in his parents’ front garden and had a room decorated as a shrine to Manchester United, at least until his ‘little sister Gail decided that her half of the room [was] to be decorated with pictures of the children’s television puppets, singing piglet twins Pinky and Perky.’