THERE are few footballers from England who are in the mould of Trevor Brooking.
An intelligent and thoughtful man who excelled at school, he was fondly remembered for being a gentleman on and off the pitch.
To football fans of a certain age, Brooking is well known as being a one-club man and an international star who played with rare guile and grace on the muddy fields of yesteryear.
What a lot of people will not realise is that the former West Ham United and England midfielder also laid the blueprint for the success of the current England senior and age-group national teams and a new, if not a first, generation of technically gifted footballers as director of footballer development for the English Football Association.
He oversaw radical changes to the structure of the English game that turned its back on decades of playing the percentages with a direct style of play and embraced what the rest of the world had already been doing in playing through the thirds from the back.
Brooking is at the Savoy Hotel as a guest of honour of the Jersey Hammers Supporters Club. With such a wealth of knowledge and experience of the game in various functions from player to manager, pundit to administrator, he is someone you could easily spend hours discussing and dissecting the game.
Having made his debut for West Ham in 1967, he went on to make 647 appearances for the club in all competitions, as well as winning 47 caps for England. In 2004, he was knighted for his services to sport.
Though he grew up within a stone’s throw of West Ham’s old Boleyn Ground and was a supporter of the club, he very nearly did not sign for them. As a 15-year-old, he was almost Chelsea-bound until his spotted by West Ham manager Ron Greenwood.
‘I was born in Barking and West Ham was always our team. I had 15 clubs approach me but at that stage West Ham hadn’t came along,’ he recalls.
‘Then I played for Ilford Boys and we got to the semi-final of the English Schools U15s Trophy against a team from Oxford on a Thursday night and lost 3-2. But as luck would have it, Wally St Pier, who was the chief scout at West Ham, took Ron Greenwood along to show him our centre forward Barry Simmons. Anyway, the next day I went to school and somebody knocked on [our home] door and it was Wally St Pier, who said he’d been waiting until now to come down to invite me along. My mum was a funny character and she listened to all this and said “well, I am sorry Mr Pier but that hasn’t stopped 15 other clubs coming round so we are bit surprised you’ve waited so long and we’ve already made a decision about where he’s going to go.” So she called his bluff really but I was invited to a couple of sessions and that’s when Ron had met us and I found out it was Ron who had said after that game “Willie, I want you to go round his home tomorrow.”’
Brooking joined the club in 1965 and served a two-year apprenticeship before stepping up to the first team, joining West Ham legends and World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
Greenwood instilled what became known as the ‘West Ham Way’, and a radical approach to playing football in England at the time that, through Brooking, would influence English football today.
‘Ron’s way of playing was very technical and we played from the back through Bobby Moore,’ says Brooking. ‘Though we didn’t have the depth of squad to do well week in, week out, we were commended by everyone about the quality of football we played and West Ham became a really good attacking side that was good to watch.
‘He gave us a vision to find the space when you received the ball and the thing, which was massive for me as a midfield player, was whenever you receive possession, rather than stand square, stand sideways on so you can see more around you.’
It may sound simple but you would be amazed how such a small thing is still overlooked in coaching in Britain and Jersey today, whereas around the rest of the world players have long been encouraged to receive the ball on the half-turn. So when Brooking took on the role of director of football development for the FA his primary goal was to improve the technical proficiency of young English players.
‘I said to them “Look, our youngsters are not technically good enough. Would you look at being able to change it, work with the academies, the coaches who are working with them and also at grassroots where we allow small-sided games where the ‘keeper had to roll it out and play through the thirds,’” he continues.
‘We then wanted to get St George’s Park [the home of the English national football teams] in place but after it got rejected twice it eventually got built in 2012. I had already got Gareth Southgate in with us about three years before and then I put him in as international teams director, taking every team from U16s to U21s and implemented coaches that would play out from the back.
‘We always said this was a 10-year plan, but it worked and Gareth was a key part of that. 2017 was the big year because we the U17s and U20s won the World Cup, the U18s won the Toulon tournament, the U19s won the Euros and the U21s lost their semi-final to Germany.’
Southgate has since overseen the most successful English side since ‘West Ham won the World Cup’ in 1966, taking the senior side to a World Cup semi-final for only a third ever time and a first European Championship final. However, after a few underwhelming performances in the recent Nations League, the knives have started to sharpen for Southgate.
‘I think that’s the world we live in,’ concedes Brooking. ‘Everyone is very much into instant results, but I’m looking forward to a really exciting time where, whatever happens, people get a lot of satisfaction again. But we need to be knocking on the door and I think we are capable of that and hopefully we can get over the line at the World Cup this winter.’
As for Brooking’s beloved West Ham, they are enjoying some long-yearned stability again under the reign of David Moyes and, after finishing in sixth and seventh over the past two seasons, Brooking is interested to see how Moyes will look to improve upon that and who he will bring in next season.
‘I think David, over the last two years, has transformed the quality of football but the big thing now is ‘can he bring five or six players of quality that can improve on seventh place.
‘Let’s see what happens. I think the club are trying to back him on the finances and let’s see where we go, but more than anything he has done a great job and the West Ham fans are enjoying the quality of football and they are really looking forward to the new season.’