Former ‘Eire’ winger Terry Conroy has been made welfare officer for young Irish footballers in Britain at a time when there’s growing concern over the plight of players who don’t succeed in the professional ranks.
The 62-year-old Dubliner was a brilliant dribbler in his day and a superb striker with either foot. He scored 66 goals in 333 league and cup appearances for Stoke City, with whom he spent 12 years – the highlight being his starring role in The Potters’ 1972 League Cup final victory (2-1) over a classy Chelsea side.
Having subsequently spent some time in Hong Kong and at Crewe Alexandra, Terry was on Waterford United’s books for a brief spell in 1981-’82, and later Limerick’s.
In recent times he’s been heavily involved in match-day hospitality at the Britannia Stadium, having worked with Stoke’s marketing section since 2000, but will now monitor Irish players serving apprenticeships in England and Scotland.
He knows football’s ups and downs full well, having played at a time when the game’s wealth was counted in beans rather than billions. His earnings, like virtually all players of that era, were modest.
In 2001 he sold off most of his memorabilia for £20,000; an amount he was “more than happy with”. The 55 items he auctioned included his medal from the 1966 Irish Cup final when he scored both goals in Glentoran’s 2-0 win over Linfield, and the IFA League medal he won the year after. (The same year his former team-mate Gordon Banks sold his World Cup winner’s medal at Christies. Terry was instrumental in having a statue to the ex-England goalkeeping great erected outside Stoke’s stadium.)
The League Cup tankard he received in recognition of his winning goal against ‘Chopper’ Harris et al fetched the top price: £3,100. He explained that he wanted the money to send his two daughters to university. A fair trade for a few dusty mementoes, he felt.
He hung onto his 26 Irish caps, earned between 1969 and ’76, intending to pass them onto his children, and theirs, in due course. Among the various jerseys he disposed of was the Brazilian shirt he exchanged with Jairzinho in 1974, which gleaned £1,000.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin and FAI chief executive John Delaney have both welcomed his appointment, the former saying Terry, (real name Gerard) “is uniquely placed to fill this important new position” with “a very keen understanding of the challenges facing young players from Ireland”.
By providing ongoing guidance and support to them and their parents, in close liaison with clubs and relevant agencies, Terry hopes to ensure that broken dreams don’t necessarily equate to the end of the world. His remit will also include older retired players who may have fallen on hard times; a cause the late Shay Brennan was involved with over the years.
Of the 50 young Irish footballers on average contracted to play with British clubs each year, 85% are subsequently released. “Despite the perceived glamour of the life of professional footballers in Britain, for every successful Irish star, many more do not make it,” the Minister noted, saying the initiative is “a natural fit” with the wider work of his Department’s Irish Abroad Unit.
John Delaney said that with his depth of experience, “as well as providing much needed guidance to the minority of young players who do make it, Terry will be vital in assisting the majority who do not by ensuring that their welfare and ongoing educational needs are prioritised.”
Ex-Ireland player manager Eoin Hand has been fulfilling a similar role on this side of the water and presumably will remain in his self-created job as FAI career guidance officer, which he’s discharged successfully since 1999. During that time, as well as fostering positive relations between cross-channel clubs, players and their families, he’s dealt with countless cases of young players whose hopes have been crushed by the often cut-throat British soccer system.
It was another of his initiatives that led to Irish clubs capitalising on the FIFA clawback/compensation clause that allows Irish clubs claim a percentage of any sell-on fee home-bred players garner once they leave these shores. (The purpose of which was effectively defeated when cash-strapped Cork City recently sold their stake in Kevin Doyle’s future for a fraction of what they possibly stood to gain come January or next summer.)
Certainly with the global recession kicking in, players will fall on even harder times, especially those who put the pursuit of a professional career before an education. With more and more clubs investing in foreign talent, the squeeze is on. The likes of Kevin Doyle will prompt some to look in this direction, most likely hoping to pick up potential on the cheap, but the ratio of those who make it to those who fall by the wayside will remain unfavourable.
For all the success John O’Shea and the Hunts have achieved, there are no shortage of those who haven’t made it in the UK for one reason or another: Alan Kirby, David Whittle, Paul Flynn (the hurler), Brian Murphy… the list is a long one. Sunderland’s Daryl Murphy was homesick at Luton before returning, like Kirby and Whittle, to Waterford. At 22, he was better prepared for the challenge second-time round.
With the recession already affecting clubs not cosseted by the money invested by TV companies in the Premier League, and to a lesser extent the Championship, a lot of players face being left go in the coming months. As clubs cut their cloths, and squads, to suit their measure, supply will exceed demand, which is where such supports should prove beneficial. However, from those gathering clouds could come a silver lining – the possibility of improved standards in the League of Ireland, as long as, that is, lads are prepared to play for the sort of terms Terry was on here nearly 30 years ago. So much for progress.