The 93:20 Podcast Exclusive Interview - Beanie The HorseBy Howard Hockin | 01 May 2020
Almost precisely thirteen and a half years (give or take a month) after a toy horse almost revived a struggling managerial career, I tracked down and spoke to Stuart Pearce’s supposed lucky charm.
As I open the door to the sound of a gentle tinkle, a thin film of dust hangs in the air. The weak afternoon sun fights through to cast a prism of light on this rarely-visited shop floor. It is clear that this little corner of a village just outside Nottingham does not get much footfall. But today, it has one unusual visitor. I am not here to check out the renowned collection of Victorian dolls. Nor do I wish to purchase some of the local haberdashery that adorns much of the window display in this sleepy backwater’s smallest shop. No, I am here to talk to an old friend. I’m here to talk to a toy horse. And having been guided into an intimate back room by the shop’s genial owner, Sarah, I sit down to catch up with someone who hasn’t aged a day in all those years. The hour I spend with Beanie flies by, and with a whiskey at hand, we recount a period in City’s history that most Citizens would rather forget.
Hello, and thanks for chatting to me about your time at City.
You’re welcome. It was a period of my life of which I have many happy memories.
Yes, well we all do from that period. Kind of.
I know you don’t mean that, but you don’t have to sugar-coat anything. I understand your sentiments.
Well, it wasn’t the most exciting of times.
Not for you, perhaps. But for me, it was a time I will never forget.
So, tell me, how did story come to be? Where does the story begin?
Well my heart has always been with Chelsea.
So you’re from London?
So why the affinity with Chelsea then?
Well, she was my owner?
I’m sorry – you were originally owned by Chelsea football club?
No, Chelsea Pearce – Stuart’s daughter. She was seven at the time I gained some notoriety.
Ah I see! What a hilarious and non-scripted misunderstanding that was! So how did you become involved in football?
Well to be honest, I’ve never been a big football fan. More into dressage myself, and love the jump season. But it was Chelsea who got me into the game.
Right, so this is all down to her?
Very much so. To explain, I need to take you back to the 2006/07 season. Stuart was struggling, as his team were incapable of putting together a run of wins. Older City fans will know this, but it really wasn’t all his fault.
In what way?
Well what did they expect from him? He was fire-fighting throughout his reign. There was no money under Wardle, and after the Keegan years. He’d spent it all. So Stuart did what he had to – made the team hard to beat, and kept them in the Premier League. Without that, there might have been no take over, no glorious decade of success.
The start was OK, if memory serves me right.
The guy took over a jaded squad during the season and even won Manager Of The Month for April 2005. If Robbie Fowler had scored that penalty against Middlesbrough, we’d have qualified for Europe too. Putting David James up front was a masterstroke!
City had to sell their best player, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and the £21m they got was not available to spend on players. It had to service the debt. Pearce was City’s prototype Pellegrini. Just keeping us plodding along until the better times arrived.
To be fair, Pellegrini won the double in his debut season.
Yeah, fair enough, but he had a better team and funds at his disposal. I’m not directly comparing Stuart to Manuel, I’m just saying they both seemed like steady-handed caretakers whilst behind the scenes more ambitious plans were made. I mean, in the 2005-06 season, Stuart started the season with another Manager Of The Month award. A draw in the Manchester derby meant they were 13 games undefeated. Fancy that!
And after that?
Yeah, let’s not dwell on that. City lost to Doncaster in the League Cup, but they were a pretty handy side at that time. Possibly. Those were the days when we weren’t as good at penalty shoot outs. The team have come a long way since then. The local Doncaster rag had a 12-page pull-out it was such a momentous result for them.
Never mind. It was a Mickey Mouse Cup in those days. Form tailed off pretty quickly thereafter though?
Yeah, it was never going to last. The squad simply wasn’t good enough. City did go back up to 4th, but then lost at Arsenal 1-0. Remember that, Arsenal trying to be clever by passing a penalty?!!
Yeah, I was there. The last season at Highbury. Pires tried to pass to Henry. And we had a goal disallowed for offside. Then a copper confiscated all my beer as I got back on the coach!
Results were up and down, including a defeat at Wigan – obviously. City won against Sunderland, then after that everything seemed to go pear-shaped. And to make matters worse, City were knocked out of the FA Cup at home too for good measure.
That West Ham game. That bloody West Ham game. I’d been to Villa Park in the previous round and some young kid called Micah Richards had given me one of my greatest goal-celebrating moments as he headed in a last-minute equaliser after City had dominated but looked to be going out. Then he swore in the post-match interview and got in a bit of trouble, bless him. We won the replay and it seemed like something special was brewing. West Ham were a useful side, but nothing special. A mid-table team. We were at home. This was our chance, the place was rocking, initially at least, and then we blew it again.
Old wounds run deep.
I’ve got a lot of them. I really thought it was our year. Again. Name on the cup and all that. Gutted, I was. Really gutted. They’d let me down again. Another false dawn. That night I accepted that this was my life, forever. Little did I know what the future held, obviously.
That’s cup football, though.
I guess. But they didn’t perform on the day. And anything that allows Alan Pardew to do a touchline jig should be heavily discouraged too. It was the beginning of the end for me with Pearce because it extinguished the hope I once had. Good form means nothing if it is not maintained. Nothing had changed. In fact, it seemed worse than under our pomp with Keegan. But the club defeated him eventually, and it was now going to defeat another manager. Someone else would come in proclaiming a brighter future, and we’d go through the same cycle. Moments in the sun, but little more than that.
Erm, am I doing the interview now?!
Sorry for that. Was good to get it off my chest. It wasn’t really the beginning of the end, it would arrive sometime later, in very similar circumstances. Now, where were we? Ah yes, the season was turning quickly into a damp squib.
Yes, it was. Though at the time I wasn’t really aware of this. I wasn’t yet part of the staff, and spent most of my time being hugged by Stuart’s daughter at home, and pretending to jump over little obstacles in her bedroom.
Did you have no idea what was going on?
Well I could take an educated guess from Stuart’s mood when he returned from games. But he has always been a placid, calm man. He kept his counsel, and home life would not be affected by some football results. I did overhear him going on a 10 minute rant about Danny Mills one evening after a couple of glasses of wine, but that was it.
We’ve all been there.
I bet. But anyway, the rest of the season was a disaster. In the last ten games there was a single victory and nine defeats. The club headed into the summer with an uncertain future, once more. Little did I know that soon I would be pushed into the limelight, briefly.
So yeah, the 2006-7 season. Not City’s worst, by any stretch of any imagination, though you’d think so talking to City fans.
Yeah, the youngsters were offering some hope for the future, but the seniors certainly weren’t. Ousmane Dabo and Bernardo Corradi were signed, plus Dietmar Hamann, Hatem Trabelsi and Andreas Isaksson. Doubt many of us had heard of any of them, except for the chain-smoking German keen for a final pay day. We hadn’t heard of Joe Hart either, but the club got that one right at least. He wouldn’t feature for a while anyway. Paul Dickov was back too, though I don’t recall him scoring a single goal for the club.
You can see then why the fans were a tad disgruntled?
Absolutely. I’m just not sure why you’d blame it all on Stuart Pearce. The club was skint, and he managed with at least one hand tied behind his back.
I appreciate that, but surely the fans deserved better than 10 home goals all season?
Of course they did. But fans don’t always get what they want nor deserve. I accept it was crap. Boring. A slog. That’s not why football fans fall in love with the game. And I could tell at the time the fans were not happy, and I’m an inanimate object.
To be honest, at the time, I think fans would rather the team had had a go, even if it meant going down. But with hindsight, it proved rather valuable to stay up.
It did. But as you know the season did not start well, much like how the previous one had ended, and Stuart was under immense pressure.
And so that’s where you come in?
Correct. City had just been soundly beaten in the League Cup, to Chesterfield of all people.
Yeah I was there. Another miserable night, saved by beer and a great chippy found on the way home. Sorry, please continue…
City were doing OK at home to be honest. They were undefeated, and hadn’t conceded a goal at this early stage, but were leaking goals and defeats away from The City Of Manchester stadium. But that cup defeat heaped the pressure on Stuart as they prepared to face West Ham. Anyway, Chelsea took me everywhere. She was obsessed with horses, so I was of course special to her. She still is in fact, as she’s an international equestrian. Stuart’s wife Liz and Chelsea had decided they would come up to the game against West Ham and Chelsea said to Stuart that I should stand next to him on the touchline. She said that I would bring the team good luck. It was actually the first time we had been separated for quite a while.
How did you take the news?
I was fine. It’s my duty, as a toy horse, to carry out such duties. But to be honest, it was pretty scary! The noise, the size of the stadium, the lush turf, it was all new to me, and rather intimidating. The smells too, though not all of them were good. Stuart placed me next to some Lucoazde bottles, and left me to watch the match, so I got a bit of shade. He had his own stuff to get on with, naturally.
And the ploy seemed to work!
Yes, City won 2-0, and played well. A cynic would point out that this simply continued the team’s good home form, but the more popular narrative was that I had made all the difference. And to be honest, at the time I was happy to lap up the adulation.
Was Stuart happy with the narrative?
He took it all in good spirits, but I don’t think he was particularly happy about City’s win being attributed to a lucky charm, rather than his tactical prowess. He’s not the sort to get hung up on such things though.
So did you continue to bring good luck to the team?
No, of course not. I’m not a miracle worker. We got a draw at Goodison, drew 0-0 at home to Sheffield United, then were soundly thrashed the game after. To Wigan, obviously. The draw at Everton was actually painted as a continuation of the good luck I was bringing to the team. That tells you where the team was at that time, I guess. Though a draw at Goodison did indeed used to be a great result.
I was a fad, that’s all. I soon felt neglected. I would eagerly check the fixture list, but it soon became clear that my services were no longer required. I listened to a 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle on the wireless at home, close to tears. Chelsea took me to her first netball game, and her team lost 3-0. I knew I was done for. The lucky charm business is brutal, and I was no longer needed.
I’m sorry to hear that. Was that you done with football?
Bizarrely my stint on the touchline made me fall in love with the game. I studiously studied the sport and tactical innovations. I felt I could have got a few better results out of this City team, but not surprisingly, I was never asked for my opinion. Anyway, as you will know, it all went downhill during the 2006-07 season. City would not score at home after New Year’s Day. I could see that Pearce’s negative tactics would lose him the job, as he had lost the fans. There was no joy in going to games any more. They were a slog. I felt sorry for him really. He wanted his players to show the same character he had throughout his illustrious career, but I just don’t think they were up to the job. Joey Barton had a go at the 2nd rate signings, Wardle talked of his frustration at the lack of funds. There was talk of a takeover, but Stuart was done for.
And then there was Blackburn in the FA Cup. Another quarter-final capitulation. And it felt worse than the West Ham one. It WAS worse. A new low. Not fit to wear the shirt, sang the fans. Blue-on-blue fighting. Real, seething anger. He was gone that night. No fight in the team. Out-done by Mark Hughes. Not good enough.
Sorry, there I go again.
Don’t worry about it. Let it all out. I saw the despondency in Stuart at that time. I think he knew he couldn’t fight the tide any longer. It was no surprise when he was sacked at the end of the season. He had his England U21 job by then anyway, so had something to do. Another move for me!
He was probably too honest, too nice. Not cut out for such a cut-throat business perhaps. A lovely man.
Maybe you should have stayed on the touch line a bit longer, after all?
I’m not sure about that. The squad was limited, it performed as it should. Cup defeats angered the fans as much as the league form. And the boredom of it all. You have to remember it was Stuart’s first job, and he had to learn on it. But hey, he’s hardly set the world alight since.
Honestly, the highlight of the 2nd half of that season was winning on the Grand National during yet another tedious 0-0 draw, this time against Liverpool. It was dire stuff. And after the cup exit, the hope had gone. It felt like we’d never break through into the Top 4. We were resigned to being mediocre.
Little did you know what was around the corner. Sven, Thaksin, and then…
Indeed. We got there in the end. But what about you – what did the future hold?
For a while I went with Chelsea to the football, and her own sporting events. But then…
But then..? How did you end up here?
Well you know how it is. Children grow up, and there was no need for a toy horse anymore, especially one that couldn’t turn around the fortunes of a football team. I got bought at a car boot sale I think, before moving around the country. I don’t recall how I ended up here in this shop. Maybe I am considered of some value again. I certainly hope so.
Are you happy?
Yeah, it’s nice here. Quiet. And one day no doubt I’ll be loved again by a new child, and that will be great. But you always miss your first owner. They were wonderful times.
Well I hope you can make that connection again in the future. I’d buy you myself, but I’ve no children.
Oh that’s fine, don’t worry about it. All good things come to those that wait.
Well indeed. One final question though. Why didn’t you tell Stuart about his negative tactics at the time?
Well, because I am a toy horse. So I can’t speak, obviously.
Erm….of course. Take care…