Harefield's ex-England coach on the Blitz, Euro 96, Terry Venables and surviving life as a soldier

The front cover of Ted Buxton's autobiography - see end of article for link to buy the book The front cover of Ted Buxton's autobiography - see end of article for link to buy the book courtesy of Ted Buxton

SPECIAL FEATURE by Bradley Hayden

He survived World War Two, the Blitz and a stint fighting as a soldier in the Far East, to go on to gain one of the most prestigious roles in English professional football.

Ted Buxton, the former England assistant manager, has had a remarkable life.

And fresh from detailing his best tales in an autobiography, he sat down with me in his Harefield home to recount how his journey led to the verge of sporting glory in Euro 96 from the early days, growing up amidst the onslaught of the Nazi war machine.

The 84-year-old certainly has plenty of memorable stories to tell. Having begun life in the Surrey Docks in Deptford, where he witnessed the devastation of the Blitz in World War Two first hand, he went on to serve in the infantry in Malaya, where he suffered a wound which would last his whole life. He also worked as a butcher in Leadenhall Market as a teenager, before going onto enjoy a glittering career in football, which peaked when he became England’s assistant manager.

Most English football fans will recall his role as former England assistant manager under Terry Venables, as the country came agonisingly close to glory, losing again to Germany in the semi-finals on penalties at Wembley. It was a campaign of scintillating football with Gazza's heroics at the heart, Shearer and Sheringham up front and a nation transfixed throughout. It has lived long in the memory of English fans, who have not tasted such excitement or got so close to tournament victory ever since. 

Mr Buxton said he still speaks on a regular basis to this day with former Spurs boss Venables, adding their time working together was hugely enjoyable.

Mr Buxton said: “It was different class. We’re talking about man management. He knows how to handle people, but if you crossed him, that was it. He let the players know this as well. He always had a plan b and he had the terrific knack of being able to change a game within ten minutes and switch things around.

“He’d always turn around and ask an opinion as well. He’d say ‘what do you think of that then?’ Either one of me or Bryan Robson might then answer him. It was like playing a chess game with him. He was mainly right all the time.”

On his favourite moment from Euro 96, he said: “I think when we beat Holland and Scotland. That was terrific. That was the best football. The crowds, as I remember, were very similar to VE Day during the war. When the end of the war happened, people were like that. People were on their knees, praying for us. It was amazing. I hadn’t seen that since VE Day.”

But going back to the beginnings, how did it all start for him?

“I was born in 1934 and went through the war. I remember every bit of the war,” he told me.

“We never moved. Then they evacuated us down to a place called Barkham in Sussex with a farmer and his wife and daughter. They were a little bit strict and we didn’t get a lot of grub.

“They sent us to church and I was picking blackberries and the old girl slapped me. My sister then packed our bags and we ran off and we came back home. We never had any money. My sister conned her way onto the buses and trains down to Lewes and we finished back in New Cross Gate.

“When we got there, the guard said ‘what about your tickets’ and my sister said ‘we’ve run away’ and he was great, the guard, apparently. She said my dad will pay you and that was it - we got home. We then went through the Blitz and everything else as well.”

That wouldn’t be the first time that Buxton would be exposed to conflict, either, as his burgeoning football career was brought to an abrupt halt when he was called up for national service aged 18, just as he was about to sign a contract with Millwall.
He experienced life on the front line, serving as part of the Royal West Kents out in Malaya and like many soldiers, military service would have a lasting effect on his life.

Mr Buxton picked up a flesh wound while fighting out in Malaya, which would ultimately force him to hang up his boots before his career had barely started.
He said: “I had just gone down to Millwall and they had promised me a contract down there. Then I got called up for national service. When I went for the medical, the older army captain said ‘oh you will be fine as you’re a footballer and you’re a butcher. So, you can go down to Aldershot.

“Anyway, three months later, I get a letter saying I’m in the infantry and I asked my brother what the infantry was and he said it’s the fighting mob. There was either Korea or Malaya in terms of a toss-up of where I was going at the time. I was on the next boat out to Malaya.
“I came back and I didn’t come back too well. When I got the flesh wound, I went down and I did a rib and I still suffer from that really now. I’ve lost a little part of the muscle beside it. Harefield Hospital and the clinic are brilliant here. They look after me.”

But as one door closed on his playing career, another one would swiftly open.

He explained: “I came back and I wasn’t getting through games. I went and played in Non-League which was the old Southern League and then decided to take my coaching badges. I took them and it all kicked off from there really.

“I went back to Millwall as part of the coaching staff and we won promotion under Gordon Jago. He then got the job at Tampa Bay Rowdies and he asked me to go with him. I had three great years there and I got to meet all the big guns. I was bringing back players and it was there that I met all the big-time managers, including Busby and I still keep in touch with some of them.”

Upon returning from America, Mr Buxton would then work for Tottenham Hotspur as chief scout and it was there where he would get his first opportunity to work alongside Terry Venables.

Their paths had previously crossed when he watched one of Venables’ sessions during his Barcelona tenure. Their spell at Tottenham would be the start of a blossoming relationship.

Mr Buxton is still actively involved in the sport he loves. He helps at Chalfont St Peter AFC within their youth team set-up and his eye for talent has remained, with Buxton sending two of their young players for trials at Championship side Brentford recently.
The former England assistant manager still has that same enjoyment for the game as he did back when he was a teenager and admits that he really enjoys seeing some of the younger players blossom.

Mr Buxton praised the youngsters in Chalfont's youth sides, mentioning on player who he recommended to Brentford who has gained a two-year contract there, while another may be going back to the club for pre-season trials.

“I really get a kick out of seeing young players do well,” Mr Buxton said.

“I’ve never been money motivated. All the contracts I’ve had, I never negotiated. I was always offered a deal and accepted it straight away. I didn’t want any bonuses.”
Mr Buxton’s house is also packed with football memorabilia that he has collected over the course of his career.

As well as pictures of him working with Venables and various newspaper cuttings from his interviews with the media, there is a signed England shirt which includes the signatures of Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler.
After his spell as technical director, a signed shirt from the Chinese international team also sits in Mr Buxton’s conservatory and wherever you look there are pieces of memorabilia which depict various moments from his career.

The ex-England manager released a book last year called ‘Ted Buxton: My Life in Football’ to tell many of the untold stories from his time as a coach and scout.
Venables and former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard both contributed to the forward in his book and he feels immensely lucky to have had such a glittering career.

“It (the book) is not just about Football, it’s about my life and growing up in South London and going through the war,” he said.

“Sitting here today, I think back and see all of this around me and I think if I hadn’t of taken my coaching badges, I don’t know what I would have done.
“My ex-wife was very understanding. I was always out doing something every night. She encouraged me to take my coaching badges and she was very responsible for that. If she had been moaning at the time, I wouldn’t have done it.

“But I was determined, and she encouraged me to do it. I think if that hadn’t of happened, I don’t know what I would have done. I probably would have gone back to Leadenhall Market working as a butcher.

“I get a bit emotional thinking about it. I’m very lucky. But you’ve got to have determination and I think I’ve got that. I found that when I was in the army as well. You had to make decisions and I was leading patrols out there.”

After enjoying such an an action-packed career, Buxton is content in Harefield.

“It’s quiet and the people are nice around here. I think when you come from a place like Surrey Docks, in Deptford, it’s a bit more quiet and tranquil. That’s what I like,” he said.

Ted Buxton’s book is available to purchase on Amazon HERE.

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