Interview: Powell feels at home after terrific journey

HE has visited Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at Downing Street. He has also played for his country, in the process becoming England’s oldest debutant in a generation. And he continues to be viewed as an iconic role model for prospective black managers everywhere.

Chris Powell

Quite a journey, Chris Powell readily admits, for someone whose first thoughts of a potential career when starting out in life was not just football but either journalism or teaching as well.

“I have been very fortunate,” says the 45-year-old Huddersfield Town manager when in conversation with The Yorkshire Post at the club’s Canalside training complex.

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“I played for some great clubs, played for my country and am now managing a great club in Huddersfield Town. Things have been pretty terrific, I have to admit.”

Powell, a proud Londoner whose formative years were spent in a borough of the capital made famous by the hit TV show Citizen Smith, is a little over two months into his reign at the helm of the Terriers. Already, though, he feels totally “at home”.

Results have helped in that respect, of course. A recent seven-game unbeaten run took the Terriers from the relegation zone of the Championship to the relative safety of mid-table.

But it is more than that, as the former England international explains: “I felt settled almost from the moment I got here. I have been at Huddersfield two months but, in the best possible way, it feels a lot longer.

“This is a special club, and one that I sense has a lot of similarities with clubs where I have been happy at in the past. Maybe that is why I felt so settled, so quickly.”

Powell’s career CV is an impressive one. Not only does it feature those 24 years as a player – including almost a decade in the Premier League – but also four promotions and 12 months as England’s first-choice left-back under Sven Goran Eriksson.

Five years were also spent as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, during which time he met Blair and Brown on official business, before the move into coaching and then management that recently brought him north to West Yorkshire.

“Football has been great for me and taken me on a journey that really began when I was 15 and signed for Crystal Palace,” he said. “I loved football as a boy but I wasn’t always going to be a footballer. Far from it, in fact.

“You might laugh at this but I wanted to be a journalist at one stage. And then a teacher. In some respects, I probably am a teacher now – trying to teach players not only about football but also life skills. As a manager and coach, you help them on their journey in life.

“Thankfully, football did become my career and, after signing for Palace, I was fortunate enough to play for the next 24 years.

“Along the way, I was able to play for my country. Five times, too, and that was great. I was so proud after my debut but I also didn’t want to win just one cap. That would mean me probably becoming a quiz question, which I was desperate not to happen.

“Playing for England made me very proud but I said at the time it wasn’t just for me. It was for all those people who had helped me along the way. I didn’t just mean the pro clubs I played for, I meant my Sunday clubs as well.

“Aldershot, too, where I went on loan (in 1990). I thanked them in an interview at the time and got a lovely letter from Aldershot a few days later, thanking me.

“I felt the same about all the people in Tooting Broadway, where we lived when I was a boy. I’ve always believed you should never forget your roots. And even though none of the family live there any more, I still go back every now and again.

“Funnily enough, I did walk through the area just the other day when I was back down in London. I went through the local market, which is still going. All the old faces were still there, including the local butcher that my mum used to go to. It was great to catch up.”

The international break may have afforded a chance to get back to his roots but there is no doubting how pleased Powell is to be back in management after a six-month absence from football, comfortably the longest since he first signed for Palace at 15. The break did him the world of good.

“I do feel managers should have time out after losing a job,” he says. “I suppose Lee Clark and Russ Wilcox (both recently appointed by Blackpool and York City, respectively, just a few days after leaving their previous club) won’t agree but two months out can do you the world of good.

“Just to re-charge and re-energise. It is a draining job. I know people will say football isn’t a stressful job compared to some and I accept that. But the level of stress as a football manager is something I don’t think can be accurately described to people who don’t do the job.

“Basically, when you win a game, the players have done it. But when you lose, it is the manager’s fault. You have to recognise that when you become a manager and deal with it.

“The break left me feeling really energised. I did a bit of radio and TV work, which was good. I also did a bit of travelling, I did a lot of reading and I ran quite a lot. Pounding the streets is a bit of a stress-buster for me.

“It got me thinking about doing a marathon at one stage but maybe it is best that never went any further. Another thing I thought about was writing a book. Like the marathon, though, that never got off the ground, as it was around the same time that I got the interview for the Huddersfield job.”

Literature’s loss has proved to be Town’s gain, and Powell knows exactly who he owes a huge debt for steering him towards coaching.

“Nigel Pearson was really good for me,” said the Terriers chief. “I was going to retire the summer after Leicester had won League One but Nigel said I would do well in the Championship with my experience.

“He then said, ‘I want to register you as a player but I also have seen you with the young players and how good you are with them so want you to take on a bit of coaching’.

“I can’t believe it now but I asked Nigel if I could go away and think about it. He was handing me the next chapter in my life. What was there to think about it?

“Thankfully, I did realise that, in the end, and I got the best education I could have had. I was in the meetings every day, watching a manager work with his staff.

“I was on the outside (as a player) but in the inner circle as well. What I learned then, I use now.

“Nigel moved on (to Hull City), I stayed and worked with the Under-21s – which meant working with Sven, Paulo Sousa and Derek Fazackerley. After that, the chance to move into management with Charlton came along.

“Sven didn’t want me to go. A month earlier, Alan Pardew had wanted me to go to Newcastle but I wasn’t sure. Once the call came from Charlton, though, I knew what I wanted to do and now here I am at Huddersfield.

“There is a long way to go but I do believe this club is right for me. Dean (Hoyle, chairman) is fantastic, too, and almost a throwback to how chairmen used to be. The local guy who has done well and got involved with the club he has supported all his life. I like that.”