PATRIOT THE; EURO 2020 QUALIFIERS; STUART PEARCE on His Penalty Redemption against Spain, How He Tricked Southgate into Doing That Pizza Advert and How He and Adams Cried over 'Babe' during Euro 96

Daily Mail (London), November 16, 2019 | Go to article overview

PATRIOT THE; EURO 2020 QUALIFIERS; STUART PEARCE on His Penalty Redemption against Spain, How He Tricked Southgate into Doing That Pizza Advert and How He and Adams Cried over 'Babe' during Euro 96


Byline: EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW by Ian Ladyman Football Editor

IN A frame in his home is the one reference to his career that Stuart Pearce cares to display. It is a photograph that shows him bending over to place the ball on the penalty spot at Wembley. On the back of his white England shirt, you can see his name clearly. Everybody knows what happened next.

'Yeah, it's the only football item I have in my house as I don't really do football memorabilia,' Pearce tells Sportsmail. 'But that picture means something.' Pearce's career path from electrician to non-League defender to Nottingham Forest and beyond earned him 78 England appearances and the captaincy. But it was defined, in the public's eyes, by two penalties: the one he missed against West Germany in a World Cup semi-final shootout in Turin in 1990 and the one he scored against Spain in the last eight of Euro 96 at Wembley.

Wherever Pearce goes, and particularly when he delivers talks on leadership to NHS midwives or executives at companies such as Virgin and Nike, it is that moment in London 23 years ago that people want to talk about.

'For me, failure wouldn't have been to miss again,' he says. 'Failure would have been not to try. Terry (Venables) was surprised to say the least when I volunteered. But I knew he wasn't going to ask me.

'The walk up felt like about four and a half miles and the nervous energy I felt in that stadium was incredible. There were 80,000 people who knew my story and were terrified I may miss again. I also knew if I missed it would probably be my last kick for England, as I planned to retire from internationals when it was over.

'When it hit the back of the net it was an incredible moment and the picture of me celebrating is probably the one I am asked to sign the most. But for me it was more about the journey that got me there.' Pearce is referring in part to growing up in the shadow of Wembley, working in the bars at the stadium when he was a teenager and as an electrician for Brent Council. More significantly, though, he is talking about the fact Venables felt Pearce had run his course as an England player when he took the job in 1994.

'I had a call from Terry telling me that Graeme Le Saux would be his left back,' recalls Pearce. 'He was basically asking me to retire. But instead I said I would be in the squad if needed and that took him back a bit.' Not only did he continue as a squad player, he volunteered to present Le Saux with his debut shirt and often used to go down to the dressing room from the stands at half-time to offer his young replacement advice.

Le Saux described Pearce subsequently as 'intimidating but gracious', which sounds about right.

'Don't get me wrong, I was upset and wanted my place, but that could only be done by performances when I did play,' he reasons. 'Graeme was worthy of his place as he was more mobile than me.

'But the England team is close to my heart, so it was my responsibility to help Graeme. And I knew we had a big tournament coming up so I had to show Terry I was a good tourist. If you are a s*** tourist you had better be a bloody good player.' When Le Saux was injured before Euro 96, Pearce's decision to stick around paid off and three months later his penalty hit the back of the Spain net.

But what would life have been like if he had missed? 'Oh I don't know,' he smiles. 'Maybe a nice flat in Stuttgart. The Germans have always liked me.' NEXT summer's European Championship will not be a home tournament but it will feel like one. England play at least two of their their group games at Wembley and the semi-finals and final will be there. Pearce knows what it will feel like.

'I don't think the country had seen anything like Euro 96 before,' he says.

'Italia 90 definitely changed my life but 1996 was a step up again. Euro 96 showed the rest of the world we could put on a show and that team played some of the best international football I was ever a part of. …

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