Weekend Interview: Warhorse Terry Butcher is backing Three Lions at Euro 2016

Terry Butcher.
Terry Butcher.
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MENTION the words Terry Butcher and England and one evocative – if gruesome – image invariably comes into view.

On a foreign field back in 1989, the lion-hearted defender infamously looked more like a casualty of war than a professional sportsman after heroically manning the barricades during England’s World Cup qualifying game in Stockholm – despite being swathed in blood following a nasty head wound which turned his white shirt into a deep red garment.

In a pacifist country such as Sweden, the sight of a UN envoy would not have been a surprise at the final whistle, given the ravaged state of Butcher.

For the giant oak of a centre-half, it was all in a day’s work. England got the draw they wanted – and it was time to move on. Never mind the war wounds – a quick post-match picture for posterity after the match for the newspaper ‘snappers’ and that was it. No fuss.

But over a quarter-of-a-century on, that image remains an iconic one in Three Lions’ history. It was not quite Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft on the shoulders of Geoff Hurst and Ray Wilson nearly 50 years ago or embracing Pele after the game with Brazil in 1970 – or Gazza’s tears either, but still an enduring one nonetheless.

It embodied full and unstinting commitment to the England cause – but of the quiet, no-frills variety.

As for the present-day England, well Butcher likes what he sees in that aspect in a team under the stewardship of an unpretentious figure in Roy Hodgson.

Thankfully, the wag culture is elsewhere, maybe still in Baden-Baden, while the sight of England as a team being greater than the sum of their parts being something that Butcher feels can be an advantage ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2016 competition in France.

On his hopes for England, Butcher – who still has a scar to this day following that autumnal evening in Scandinavia – said: “I am excited, but I just don’t want the expectation level that England have always carried with it with people saying ‘we are going to do this and that.’

“If Greg Dyke keeps his mouth shut, we have got a good chance!”

“It’s about the team and not individuals and that is what the successful England teams have been about in the past.

“Even if you look at Euro ’96 and the team who got to the semis in 1990, there were no superstars in the team. Yes, we had Lineker and Gascoigne in ’90, but they weren’t quite the superstars like Messi and Ronaldo of now.

“They worked hard for the team and the key to this England team is that they work their socks off for each other. There’s nobody who struts about thinking he is this and that.

“Plus the fact that you have people like Milner and Cahill and Hart is no spring chicken and Rooney as well. They are older, experienced players who have seen it and done that.

“With Roy Hodgson and particularly Gary Neville in the environment of the squad, then they won’t stand ‘Billy Big-Timers’ and people thinking that they are better than what they are.

“We had the ‘golden generation’, maybe this is the generation of golden talent.”

England start their Group B campaign against Russia next Saturday before the game that a fair portion of Britain has been waiting for arrives when the Three Lions take on Wales in the northern French city of Lens on June 16.

It is the sort of game which you sense that Butcher would gladly give most things to take part in and don his boots again.

Born in Singapore he may have been – his father was a signalman in the Royal Navy – but Butcher is as English as they come. As Suffolk as a pint of Greene King.

Being an Englishman, Butcher admits beating the neighbours is non-negotiable, especially come tournament time.

Butcher said: “I like beating Wales, I like beating Scotland, I like beating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland!

“I love beating all of them and they were all the big games that you had to win and wanted to win because you had Welsh, Irish or Scottish team-mates.

“It was a big thing to do in my day with England, although there’s not so much of that now.

“But you still want to do it as it is national pride. England daren’t lose in many aspects or else it will be humiliation. I wasn’t there in ’88 when we lost to the Republic of Ireland, but that wasn’t nice and we don’t want that against Wales.

“Thankfully, we beat Scotland in Euro 1996 and in the qualifiers for 2000 as well.”

While Butcher likes the cut of England’s jib and believes that tangible progress can be made ahead of the World Cup in two years’ time in Russia, his concerns – if they are any – understandably centre of the area of the team where Hodgson’s side look to be most deficient. The defence.

How the present-day England could do with someone of his ilk to marshall the back four as he did during the vast majority of the Eighties when he was one of the first names on the team sheet and a born leader who many international colleagues gravitated towards.

Plenty of debate has centred on England’s best defensive line-up, particularly at centre-back where it looks a fight between Dronfield’s Gary Cahill and Thurlstone’s John Stones as to who will partner Chris Smalling.

Stones may have had his critics this season, but Butcher still remains a fan.

He said: “When I was having negotiations at Barnsley to be manager, they said to me: ‘John is attracting interest from Everton’ when he was still there.

“Even if I had become manager at Barnsley, I probably wouldn’t have had John as he’d have gone anyway! But I like John. I know he has made some mistakes, but these things happen and I like him and the youthfulness of England.

“I like Stones and Smalling and they are the pairing for me, with (Nathaniel) Clyne at right-back.

“The back four does worry me a bit, though, but we can play a variety of systems. We seem to pride ourselves on good goalkeepers and defenders and it seems to have gone the other way now with great attackers and midfielders.”

On how far England can go, Butcher added: “Let’s just get out of the group and we will see from there.

“If England get through to the quarter-finals, that’s a good base for 2018. But you don’t want group elimination again as that will set you back and Roy will be under pressure to go.

“But I think he has done a very good job and got us well organised and that club spirit back into the England team which wasn’t there before.

“We have a core of players who can move ahead together and there are a lot of good young players coming through, which is brilliant.”