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John Spencer Interview

One of the most disappointing events of the 1996/97 season was the sale of the ‘wee man’ John Spencer to QPR. Just after he moved across West London back in November 1996 Mark Meehan went along to meet him at QPR’s West London training ground to interview him for the Chelsea Independent fanzine. Questions were asked by Mark, Neil Beard and Mark Pulver.

Front page of Chelsea Independent with photo of John Spencer

CI: So how are you settling in at your new training ground. Better than Harlington?

JS: It was a lot like Harlington when I first came here.

CI: But you don’t get that wind here like you do at Harlington.

JS: And the playing surface at Harlington is not the best to train on. It does not help when you are practising set pieces and corners for match days. Still, I don’t suppose it matters much as Wisey could never get any on target anyway (laughs).

CI: He did get a couple of long corners in a couple of games ago…

JS: No, no…I must have left then.

CI: Did you know Zola has now taken over set pieces now.

JS: He is a class player. Yes, I knew that. I trained with him for about ten days before I left.

CI: So Spenny. What happened? Why did you leave us?

JS: I was not playing week in and week out and Ruud had obviously said that as far as he was

concerned, certain players played every week and certain players did not. That was not for me. I want to play every week for Chelsea. When you become a professional footballer you want to play every week. I don’t just do this for the money.

CI: Were you still communicating with Ruud Gullit? There was a lot of paper talk about you and Ruud not speaking to each other.

JS: To be honest we never communicated as much as when we were players. I used to sit with him on the coach on the way back from away games before he became a manager but since then he does not communicate much. That’s just Ruud’s way of doing things.

CI: The press have made a big thing about there being a split in the camp and your departure seemed to stir things up more.

JS: No. Let me say now I was really sad to leave Chelsea but I had to go to further my career. I could have sat in Glasgow Rangers reserves for many years and picked up my wages but that is not my style. I remember the manager calling me in and saying “look wee man we have accepted a bid of £350,000 from Chelsea. Do you want to go because you are not going to play with McCoist and Hateley ahead of you? Do you want to go and make a career for yourself? “ After all he had turned down bid after bid for me. He left the decision to me so I decided to join Chelsea. Now a few years on I find myself in a similar situation and have the same decisions to make so I decided to join Queens Park Rangers. I have to play every week. That is where I get my enjoyment from. I want to play every week for Chelsea. So rather than going home on a Friday afternoon thinking it is Friday today and I have to prepare for the game tomorrow and I am not in the starting line up, I did something about it.

CI: What was the point of no return for you?

JS: I think it was the Liverpool game when I wish I played and the Blackburn game which was Zola’s debut. I had trained with the guy and there I was with the yellow shirt on that day and I looked at myself and I thought fuck it !! I wish I was playing. I remember turning to Terry Byrne the kit man and saying to him “Terry, I wish I was playing today” and that was really the first time it really got to me. The fans were singing “Zola, Zola” and I had watched the guy many times in Italian football and I thought to myself I wish I was out there playing alongside him. I think we would have played well together.

CI: The Blackburn game was a tough one. We found it hard going in the first half.

JS: Yes Blackburn are a hard team to play against. They are very physical a really strong good side. That was the game. It really hit me hard that I was not playing that day. I was really up for that game and I thought then I have really got to get out of here. It was really getting to me, there I was sitting there on the bench and I was not getting a sniff of getting on.

CI: Do you think Craig Burley will be following you out the door?

JS: Craig Burley should be in the team every week. I think he has been one of the most consistent players we have had this season. Then he got dropped after the Blackburn game even though he has been playing well and I thought it must be difficult to keep playing well and always be the first to be dropped and then have to pick yourself up afterwards.

CI: The one thing he should not have done and I appreciate it is difficult in the heat of the moment but he should not have had that little moan in the press.

JS: Well, if I use my example the thing about me and Gullit in the papers and the story that Gullit had not spoken to me for eight weeks. Some journalist said to me what’s happening regarding your future at Chelsea and I told him that I did not know and that the best person for him to speak to was the manager. He said “why don’t you speak to him?” and I told him that I had not spoken about my future to Ruud since I had a meeting with him eight weeks before and that was that and we had not discussed the matter since. The story than came out saying Gullit had not spoken to me for eight weeks and was all over the back pages. Scumbag!

CI: How did you get on with Rixy?

JS: I got on well with Rico. I remember him saying to me last year “If I was the manager Spenny you would be in the team every week.” I guess he must have forgotten that when he became Assistant Manager (laughs). No he is a good coach. He does a good job for Chelsea and I would like nothing better than if they did well. I hope our paths do not cross in the FA Cup but if we don’t win it I really hope Chelsea does this year.

CI: Have you noticed any difference between the two sets of fans yet apart from that they don’t like us?

JS: I think I have noticed a difference in the number of away fans. It’s so difficult at the moment for QPR fans with their team not doing well but I think we have turned the corner now and we can start climbing the table and get in the play offs.

CI: Joining QPR you surprised a lot of Chelsea fans by dropping down a division. So were there any other clubs that you heard about who had expressed an interest in buying you?

JS: I had heard a few clubs were interested but after speaking to Stewart Houston and knowing what he has done at Arsenal and this is his first proper job as a manager he is not going to be a failure. He is going to give it his best shot with Bruce Rioch and I don’t have to move house which is good news so I thought why not join them.

CI: It probably won’t affect your Scotland chances either as John McGinley is still in the squad and he plays for Bolton.

JS: To be honest it did not really bother me that much what effect it would have on being in the Scotland squad. I was not thinking “will I get in the Scotland squad if I move here?” Craig Brown picked me when I was not playing for Chelsea in the first team so if I am playing every week and scoring goals for QPR I am sure Craig Brown will pick me.

CI: Would you have considered a move back to Scotland if a club had come in for you?

JS: You can never say never. Well Celtic were rumoured and being an ex-Ranger I could not have said “come and buy me Celtic.”

CI: Well, a friend of mine sat next to David Hay at the Notts Forest game and he had come to watch you but you were on the bench that day and did not get on.

JS: To be honest with you if they put an offer in and it was right for me and my family I probably would have gone there. I would not think ”I have played for Rangers so I cannot go to Celtic.” That’s not me.

CI: But it is an exclusive club with very few players having played for both teams.

JS: Well as I said you can never say never but if I had joined Celtic, I don’t think some of my friends would have made my welcome when Celtic played at Ibrox (laughs).

CI: The European Championships. Did you enjoy them?

JS: No I did not. I thought I was crap to be honest with you. I felt that the break from the end of the season to the Championships themselves was too long so it took the competitive edge of my game. I had problems with my foot and was having regular injections. I had to take twelve days rest and I don’t think I was ever fully fit. I thought Craig Brown was going to put me behind the two main strikers like the role I had been playing behind Sparky at Chelsea. He played me up front and it did not really work. I spent nine months playing behind the forwards and then I had to get used to receiving the ball with your back to play I felt I was not in the right frame of mind to do this role. It was a good experience but it was not one I enjoyed very much. I only did myself justice in one of the three games.

CI: So what’s your memories of the FA Cup Final?

JS: A Toni Braxton song came on the radio the other day and I turned to Gavin Peacock and

mentioned that song by Toni Braxton was being played all the way up to the Cup Final.

I remembered coming down the tunnel at half time and wishing I had a camcorder to record the United players faces with them thinking to themselves “we’re fucked here” and then we had that second half performance. I still don’t remember going up to collect my medal at the end. I still have not watched the game. I have seen the goals on telly but I cannot yet bring myself to watch the game. It hurts too much. That was the worst feeling I have ever come across as a footballer.

CI: If that was your worst game what was the best game you played in?

JS: It’s got to be Luton at Wembley. I remember the final whistle went and thinking who do I run to, what do I do? I could not believe it, there was me and Kevin Hitchcock dancing with each other and hugging each other. We had an amazing night after as well.

CI: What about that night in Vienna?

JS: I think that was the goal that got me into the Scotland squad.

CI: Now where we were sitting on the half way line we had the perfect view but you seemed to take forever to get up the pitch and when that went it, I never seen Chelsea fans go as wild as that.

JS: I could not believe that. I had the ball and I was thinking where was the sweeper? The further I got down the pitch I could see their keeper getting bigger and bigger until he looked about six foot six and I am thinking what I am going to do now, and I thought I will go round him. Eddie Newton had made this unbelievable run and I looked across and if it had been anyone else but Eddie Newton I would have passed (laughs). He would have blasted it out of the ground, so I thought sod it I will have to take this one on myself.

CI: Was it the best goal you ever scored for Chelsea?

JS: I think my volley against Liverpool was. I was delighted with that.

CI: Your worst miss….home to Blackpool this season?

JS: (laughs) Yeah I know. I really don’t know why I did not head it. Maybe it was because I had been out of the team and wanted to impress the manager but I made a hash of it. That was a really bad miss.

CI: What about the best player you have played with in your time at Chelsea?

JS: Ruud Gullit.

CI: By a mile?

JS: Yeah. A great player, Obviously Glenn was a great player to play with but he was at the end of his career and rarely played towards the end. But Ruud has everything that Glenn has but he is much stronger. He is so good at holding players off him. I remember the game against Liverpool and Ruud went up front for the last ten minutes and Harkness and John Scales were swinging around his neck hanging off him trying to get the ball off him. He is an awesome player.

CI: One of our favourite questions is who is the worst player you have played with at Chelsea?

JS: (laughs and shakes his head)

CI: Ok the player who was least technically gifted.

JS: Cassa, no I better not say big Cass. He will kill me (laughs).

CI: It would not be a fair fight either.

JS: To be honest Big Cass had a bad time at Chelsea. I think a lot of that was down to injuries. He went to Marseille and he has been amazing scoring goals left, right and centre. Football is a funny game. You can be at one club and not be happy there. The surroundings may be bad, the family may be unhappy at home and that will affect how you play on the pitch. You go to another club and everything goes well. Big Cass I think has proved that.

CI: I thought the fans were remarkably patient with him.

JS: Well, I came two years after him and he was coming to the end of his time here.

CI: Or was it the end of his tether? Didn’t you join at the same time as Robert Fleck?

JS: Aye, I joined the day before Fleckie and I think the idea was to play me wide on the right. I don’t know why because I have not got the fucking pace to get up and down the wing.

CI: John, how many players do you think Chelsea need to turn into championship contenders?

JS: To be honest, I don’t know – maybe they need John Spencer (laughs).

CI: I would have said you should have gone on loan and we could have then called you back as we have no strikers for our Xmas games.

JS: The thing is you can say that Chelsea need a striker who is going to score say 30/40 goals a year if you look at Manchester United their leading scorer last year Eric Cantona scored only four goals more than me and they won the double. He scored eighteen goals last season. It does not guarantee you that if you have a striker regularly scoring 30 goals you are going to win the Championship. Look at Robbie Fowler, last year he scored 30+ goals but Liverpool did not win anything. It’s difficult for Chelsea but I think they have got a team that could do it. It’s just can they do it consistently over the season.

CI: We seem to have a bit of a goalkeeping problem at the moment.

JS: Well we have got Dmitri and Hitchy both out injured at the moment. I feel sorry for Hitchy. He played four games with an elbow injury. He done his hand in the warm up against Forest and came into the dressing room and said “I can’t play” and they patched him up and he had to play. Then the fans say Hitchy dropped a clanger but nobody knew he was in excruciating pain for two weeks.

CI: I thought that was unfair on Kevin Hitchcock. He got a lot of stick and yet he was playing with an injury.

JS: Exactly that was a bit shit. Hitchy is a good goalkeeper and although you cannot tell the

opposition the keeper is injured, it would have been a lot fairer if people knew how badly injured he was and he was still playing.

CI: One of the key things Chelsea should have is a good youth policy. From what you have seen of the youth team who are the Chelsea stars of the future?

JS: There are a lot of good 16 and 17 year olds at the moment at Chelsea so they are a long way from the first team. You have got to remember that for guys like Jody Morris and Neil Clement who are the best we have got, asking them to come in and perform at 18 or 19 for a whole season, I don’t think they can retain that consistency at such a young age but they have both got a good future at Chelsea.

CI: Doobs has done well also..

JS: Doobs has been magnificent. He’s dead level headed and I am hoping he will go on and play for England.

CI: When you say level headed is that opposed to Frank Sinclair? Isn’t Frank a bit of a party


JS: (laughs) I have never been out with Frank Sinclair.

CI: You have never been out with Frank Sinclair ??

JS: Well only at the Xmas parties but I keep quiet and sit in a wee corner (laughs).

CI: Are you sure about that?

JS: Yes, especially last year when I was spewing up everywhere. I am not much of a drinker.

CI: But you have got a reputation for being the life and soul of the dressing room..

JS: That’s different to the drinking side. I just can’t drink.

CI: So who are the drinkers at Chelsea ?

JS: Oh now I can’t say that (laughs).

CI: Ok who are the non drinkers at Chelsea? Who can’t drink?

JS: Me for one but that whole culture is going out the window. Players realise now, guys like Steve Clarke who is 34 and who will tell you himself he used to have a couple of pints more a couple of years back than he does now. If he drinks in moderation now and eats the right food his career will last several more years. I think the days that players after training went to the snooker hall and drank twelve or thirteen pints are finished. We realise if you are going to play here you are going to have to be fit.

CI: So what about your relations with the non playing staff at Chelsea?

JS: Oh Matthew. God rest his soul. I still even now think back to that morning and we got home very late from Bolton and I slept in the spare room so as not to wake the wife and baby and my wife came in and she told me what happened.

CI: So what time did you find out?

JS: She told me in the morning about half past seven. She said Matthew Harding died in a helicopter crash. I could not believe it. He was a lovely, lovely man and his life ends like that. It’s so sad I could start crying now if I keep thinking about it. Hopefully he is up in a nice place as that is where he deserves to be. He was an incredible man.

CI: I think at Old Trafford there was a real sense of presence that day.

JS: Oh yeah. I loved the fans singing “There’s only one Matthew Harding.” The Tottenham game was really sad. I warmed up the whole game and did not sit on the bench once and I was thinking about how sad it all was and his poor wife and family. For three days beforehand I sat in the lounge at home thinking about Matthew and his family. I think what really got to me most was we were coming back from Bolton on the coach playing cards and having a laugh and a joke and you don’t know at the same time the guy was dying. That really hit me hard. You don’t know how lucky you are sometimes. It’s sad, very sad.

I think the thing about Old Trafford was it was always one of the places Matthew would appear in the dressing room just before kick off and wish us luck and I really hope now that Chelsea go on and do something special for Matthew.

CI: He was the best thing that ever happened to Chelsea.

JS: Everybody loved Matthew. Opposing clubs loved him. I remember when he went to Elland Road last year when he had his row with Ken and the directors at Leeds invited him up there. He was such a fantastic fellow, other clubs warmed to him.

CI: I remember Vicki Oyston the Blackpool Chairman saying she was sitting in the Directors Box for the Blackpool cup game and Matthew came over to her and asked if he could join her and her party as “you seem to be having so much fun.”

JS: That was Matthew but the one thing that did annoy me was one of the Sunday papers after his death said he was involved in the Labour Party and in criminal activities and that was how he made his money behind the scenes. I thought what a disgrace and a week later someone wrote in a letter complaining about the article and I thought well done. Whoever wrote that article was a right scumbag. Why didn’t they do it while he was alive so he could at least defend himself?

CI: Talking of the press John we talked earlier about you had suffered at their hands with the Ruud Gullit has not spoken to me for eight weeks story. What are players general view of the press are they all scumbags?

JS: They’re not all scumbags. To be fair a lot of them are trying to do their job and their editors are pressurising them for a story. With me it was difficult as I was emotionally charged at the time and wanted to play for Chelsea so badly, it hurt when I couldn’t. So when I spoke to somebody I was really emotional and it was hard not to say “I want to be in the team.” Even now I still think I am good enough to play in the team for Chelsea but I have to accept the manager’s decision. He will live or die by his decision. He’s let me go and I have to go and not prove to him or anyone at Chelsea as I think Chelsea accept I was good enough but I have to prove it instead to the QPR fans and make a name for myself here.

CI: What if Chelsea turned round and wanted to buy you back?

JS: (laughs) As I said earlier never say never but I cannot see it happening to be honest with you. I don’t wish any badness on the club and I want them to win every game especially for Matthew and I would love it of they won the championship so I could then say the champions got rid of me. It was a big, big wrench to leave Chelsea and I am here now and enjoying it.

CI: And they have given you a free mobile phone as well from the club sponsors Ericsons?

JS: Actually, they have (laughs) but joking apart they have invested a lot of money in me so I have to prove to them that I was worth the money.

CI: Do you think you will get QPR up?

JS: I think they have a great chance of making the play offs but they need to buy a couple of new players to strengthen the squad.

CI: So, when you left Chelsea did they give you a good send off?

JS: Yeah, Colin Hutchinson said good luck you little shit (laughs). It was difficult for them because they know what I am like and when I am not playing I am a pain in the arse and I have to admit I was like that in the end before I left. I want to play, six months in football is a long time and I don’t want to spend it sitting on the bench. I want to play.

I still keep in touch with the lads and went to Wisey’s surprise birthday party recently. His missus arranged a party and everyone was there and it was the only time I have seen Wisey speechless. As I said I hope they do well. I don’t care what the rivalry is between QPR and Chelsea. I did not know there was any rivalry until I got here as I thought Chelsea fans used to watch QPR when Chelsea weren’t playing.

CI: Yes, they have done, QPR and Fulham that has always been the case. They don’t like us but it is not reciprocated. We don’t hate QPR we’re just not bothered about them. You better be careful as they might sing Chelsea reject to you.

JS: Aye, the Oldham fans were singing that on Saturday so when I scored in the last minute I made sure I ran over to them to get my own back.

CI: You don’t feel tempted to have a blue shirt underneath your Rangers kit and every time the away fans sing Chelsea reject and you score you do a Ravenelli and put your QPR shirt over your head and show them your Chelsea shirt.

JS: (laughs) No. I don’t think I would get away with that one.

CI: Finally, we think the reason you were so popular with the fans was the effort you put into each game. You never gave up and you cannot say that about all the players we have had at Chelsea in recent years.

JS: Yes you get paid to play and the fans pay your wages. You should put the effort in every week. It has always been my ambition to play every week so the fans can see you are earning your money. I can’t say of the 100+ games I played for Chelsea that I had 100 great games. I did not but you have got to make sure you are at least giving 100% every game because the paying customers pay your wages so you should try your best in return for them. The fans can say “Spenny that was a shit finish” or “you were shite today Spenny.” They are entitled to do that.

CI: I think fans will have to accept that any player can have a bad game but they won’t accept

players not trying.

JS: Yes I agree. You have got to try of course. You have got to try.

CI: But there are certain former players some I could think of who did not give their all like you did.

JS: That’s just the way it looks. I am not going to comment about other players but I can say about myself hand on heart that I tried 99% of the games I played in. Like, any professional I had bad games, we all do, but I hope that Chelsea fans felt that when John Spencer was playing he gave everything.

CI: We would like to think so and we hope if you ever come back they would give you a good reception.

JS: I hope so (laughs).

CI: However wait until the FA Cup draw is made and we draw QPR and we might think differently if you scored the winning goal in the last minute.

JS: I would not do that (laughs).

CI: Thanks for everything Spenny.

Chelsea Independent article reproduced with kind permission from Mark Meehan

Clips courtesy of Chelsea Lookback

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