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Spiers on Saturday: meeting Terry Butcher

I come upon Terry Butcher stalking the corridors of Hibernian's impressive training complex in East Lothian, his dodgy knees (one of them being plastic) having a distinct influence on the way he walks.

Terry Butcher relied on 'gut instinct' when turning down the Barnsley job and accepting the Hibernian post. Picture: SNS
Terry Butcher relied on 'gut instinct' when turning down the Barnsley job and accepting the Hibernian post. Picture: SNS

He's a slightly lumbering character these days, the various wars from his playing days having left their mark.

Butcher is also bubbly and upbeat and immediately takes me to task. "I?¯heard you on the radio the other day referring to me as 'bonkers'," he says. "That's right, 'bonkers' you said. Actually, I?¯quite liked that. Yeah, maybe I?¯am bonkers to an extent."

When we settled down to chat we explored further the theme that Butcher, now aged 54 and in the prime of his managerial life, has a slightly wacky side to him. He famously poses all sorts of ludicrous pre-match questions to his players - "Quote me any word beginning with D which you think sums up our challenge today?" - to get them in the mood.

"I?¯think you've got to be bright and bubbly and infectious as a manager," he says. "That is my character in any case. If you are a dour character then you can leave a depression around the place.

"I'm deadly serious about my work but I?¯never want my players to be too intense. That sort of thing is just counter-productive. Footballers need to be chilled, they mustn't be stressed. So when you called me 'bonkers' I?¯wasn't too upset about it. I?¯found it funny. I?¯thought, 'yeah, that's true in a way'."

Hibs, fresh from a fine win at Ross County on Boxing Day, are expecting big things from Butcher, whose personality is now being stamped all over the club. But it has taken the man himself more than 20 years, he thinks, finally to learn the secret of football management - what to do and what not to do.

"You can have unbelievable power as a manager - but it is the way you use it that is important," says Butcher. "You're a bit like a clown in many aspects: you have to wear many masks. You have to wear different faces for different situations. You know that old saying, 'he's got more faces than a town clock'? Well, that is the way of it in football management. A different face for a different situation. Bonkers one day, maybe deadly serious the next.

"A football manager can be so influential to people - the press, the fans, the players, the directors - which means it is vital you react to things properly. Maurice Malpas [Butcher's assistant] is very good for me. 'It's how we react, how you react,' he keeps telling me. It has taken me years to learn this - but the penny finally dropped."

There is a theory in football that every manager has a turning point, for good or ill - a match that can seal their fate in terms of their career. Most famously, Sir Alex Ferguson's sacking at Manchester United was saved by a matter of hours with a famous FA Cup third-round win at Nottingham Forest in 1990.

Butcher admits that he, too, had such a moment, during a torrid 2009/10 season when he was charged with bringing Inverness Caledonian Thistle straight back up into the SPL at the first attempt.

Following his Motherwell years between 2002 and 2006 he endured two failures: first at Sydney FC, then at Brentford, both of which resulted in swift sackings in 2007. So Butcher needed his Caley Thistle marriage to work, which it did, after a significant trigger-moment.

"We lost 2-1 to Partick Thistle that season [in November 2009], having been 1-0 up, and things were not looking good for me," he says. "I thought, 'I?¯could easily get the bullet here'. We were groping about in fourth or fifth place in the first division and Dundee were miles ahead of us. It was a nightmare.

"Then it suddenly clicked. We settled on a system, we started to play some really expansive football via Jonny Hayes, and everything just fell into place. We went on a 21-game unbeaten run until the end of the season and went up. It was bizarre, but everything just clicked. It was the foundation for everything we went on to achieve in Inverness."

Butcher agreed that Caley Thistle were as good for him as he was for them over their five years together. "Yes, absolutely. Caley Thistle were great for me as a manager - it is a terrific club. My mantra in the Highlands used to be: stamina, style and steel. That's what we aimed to have in Inverness. I?¯tried to model my team on how I?¯was as a player. Well, to a degree . . . I?¯had two of those three, maybe not so much of the style. But you try to make the team a reflection of yourself.

"I?¯now have a formula, in terms of my management style, which I?¯think works. Experience has taught me everything. The bad times mould you as a person far more than the good times."

Butcher surprised many by turning down Barnsley when they came calling but he is relishing his job at Hibs.

"With the Barnsley thing, my gut instinct just said 'no'. I?¯couldn't shake the feeling off. I?¯spoke to Maurice about it and he said: 'What d'you think?' I?¯said: 'My gut instinct is to stay here [in Inverness]' and Maurice said: 'Right, well go with your gut.'

"Hibs is different. This is a great club, a huge club. I'm loving every minute of this. I'm loving the expectation of it, the pressure of it. Yes, there is stress in football management, but it is how you deal with it that matters. There is far more stress in not being in a job, when you are on the outside looking in. That is massive stress, being an outcast. And believe me, I've been there."

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