Often Partisan

The Mick “Baz” Rathbone Interview

As regular readers will know, I was lucky enough to be given a copy of former Blues player Baz Rathbone’s new book “The Smell of Football” to review recently. I got chance to catch up with Baz a couple of days ago to talk to him about the book and his football experiences.

What was your earliest Blues memory, Baz? Can you remember that fateful day at Maine Road in 1975?

“I remember catching the 60 bus at Sheldon Pub, and it would be full with Blues fans. Everybody would get off at the old bus station; nobody would be left on the bus! It was 5 shillings to get in – this was 1969/70 and I remember the big crowds, the crush. I used to pay 1d for Beau Brummie stickers in the ground, and I remember the big hulking men like Stan Harland and Roger Hynd.”

“I was there at Maine Road, I was a schoolboy at Blues at the time. I was on the bus up to Maine Road with the players, and I remember the absolute despair afterwards. The manager at the time (Freddie Goodwin) had made a lot of changes, brought out the younger players and replaced them with more seasoned pros and it didn’t quite work”

“You could tell how much it hurt the fans; about three years later we won a trophy out at Algeciras in Spain(The La Linea Trophy) and some of the fans cried. It was a huge thing, biggest trophy I’ve ever seen.” (It’s now got pride of place at St Andrews at the top of the stairs above Kop Reception – and it really is huge)

You mention in your book that you struggled at Blues because of the banter from the players and the fans being on your case. Do you think it was a case of being a bit over-sensitive, or are most players that adversely affected by the fans?

“The fact is I deserved the stick. I played shit. I was over sensitive to it at the time; I’m sure if I could go back the groans weren’t really there. It was like there was a lot of pressure on lads like me to succeed because we were local, who’d been brought up supporting the team. At the time I accepted Blues’ offer, I had offers from Coventry and WBA. I took Blues up because I was a fan, but I’d have probably been better off going elsewhere.

“It was a tough environment to grow up in as a young player; there needed to be a mental toughness that I didn’t have at the time”

You mention in the book your fear of TF; you were physio at Preston at the time Blues lost a play off semi there. I remember the semi well because TF had a bit of a strop about which end the penalties were to be taken at – how did that affect how you viewed your idol, seeing this close up?”

“Have you ever seen Quadrophenia? There’s that scene where he sees his hero as a hotel bellhop; this was similar – it was like TF was a human after all. I don’t think he was having a strop, I think he was doing everything he could to get his team to the final. I met him as a commentator, and he was really nice; and at the time I played for the club despite his appearing to be aloof he was good to me, taking me and my girlfriend out with him in his car.”

You mention Bobby Saxton, Howard Kendall and John McGrath heavily amongst other managers in your book. Who was your favourite manager to work for as a player? Who do you admire now?

“Sacko (Bobby Saxton) gave me my best years as a player, and for that he will always be my favourite. We had the practically the same team for eight years, and the team spirit that fostered was amazing.”

“I worked with David Moyes for a long time, so he’s obviously going to be one of my favourite current managers; I think Arsene Wenger comes in for some unfair criticism and I think that Alex McLeish always comes across as balanced and objective in his opinions. I think Sam Allardyce is big enough for any job now.”

You were the first manager to be relegated from the Football League; has this ever weighed on your mind? I understand Halifax Town were a team with little resources etc, but do you ever wish you weren’t the answer to that particular trivia question?

“At the time I didn’t really see myself as a manager, but I thought that the lads did okay together. It was a close thing at times, and turning points like the game at Gillingham made me realise the fine line between success and failure.”

What do you look for when you do a medical? Is it a case of trying to spot potential injuries, or a case of looking through past history and extrapolating?

“To begin with, playing history. If a player comes for a medical who hasn’t missed a game through injury for eight years, you know that they should be okay. Value has a lot to do with it too; you are more thorough with a medical if the transfer is going to cost £15million than if the player is available on a free. There’s normally lots of tests that have already been done for various tournaments etc, so you can look at those results – there’s no need to redo them.”

Do you still look for Blues results? Are you still a fan?

Yes! I follow the results as best as I can; I still get the goosebumps before the game when the music is blaring and the crowd are going.

I’d like to thank Baz and his publishers for letting me talk to him, and I wish Baz well with his career. Baz is currently doing some work with England u-17s, and I have a feeling he might just pop back up at another Premiership club with his magic sponge.

The book can be bought here


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