Foot in both camps: Terry Phelan

Having played for both Chelsea and Everton, Terry Phelan will be an interested observer when the teams meet at Goodison Park on Sunday. The former Republic of Ireland defender spent over a year at Stamford Bridge before joining the Toffees, and he looked back on his time at the two clubs when we caught up with him ahead of the weekend fixture…

Terry Phelan may have only played 24 matches for the Blues, but his impact on the side during that period was hugely significant, operating as a left wing-back in an exciting team which played some thrilling football and were unfortunate not to reach the 1996 FA Cup final.

Phelan, who had already won the FA Cup and played in the 1994 World Cup by the time he signed for Chelsea, was brought to Stamford Bridge from Manchester City by Glenn Hoddle.

He had to be patient before making his debut in a 1-0 win over title challengers Newcastle United, as he recalls.

‘I signed in September 1995 but I didn’t play until the December,’ he tells the club’s official website. ‘I had a hamstring injury but Glenn wanted me there, in and around the club.

‘I played my first game at home against Newcastle. They had Ginola, Beardsley, Rob Lee, Les Ferdinand, Ruel Fox. They scored loads of goals but conceded them as well.

‘I then played away at Arsenal a week later when we drew 1-1. I crossed the ball from which John Spencer scored to give us the lead. Unfortunately I had to go off at half-time because of a problem with the same hamstring.

‘Glenn was an unbelievable player and I had full respect for him from watching him when I was growing up. He actually sold the club to me really well. Peter Shreeves was his right-hand man and it was great. He said he was going to bring in some top foreign players and change the nature of the game in England.

‘He ended up bringing Ruud Gullit in, as well as the likes of Mark Hughes and Dan Petrescu. He played a 3-5-2 formation with people such as Dennis Wise, Eddie Newton and John Spencer in the side.

‘I’d played in London with Wimbledon so coming back was a good fit for me. It was very tough to leave Man City but they were going through a transitional time. I saw what Chelsea were doing and I liked the sounds of their plans. Glenn was great with me and he was very welcoming.’

Phelan had been a team-mate of Wise during his time at Wimbledon and the presence of the midfielder, who by now was Chelsea captain, ensured the defender had no problems adjusting when he joined the Blues.

‘It was easy for me to settle because I already knew Dennis from Wimbledon, and some of the other players as well,’ he says. ‘Dennis has always been my pal and he always will be. We were close friends at Wimbledon and on the day I came down to Chelsea he met me. He told me it was a great club and that I’d really enjoy it. Because of Wisey’s wise words, which don’t come along very often, I ended up signing and it was great to play with him again. He was the club captain and he loved Chelsea.’

One of the key factors in the success of Antonio Conte’s team this season has been the consistency and reliability of wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, with Phelan describing the pair as the ‘cornerstone’ of the side.

During the 1995/96 campaign it was mainly Phelan and Petrescu [pictured right] operating in those positions. The duo, like Moses and Alonso, were different types of players, but the balance they provided to Hoddle’s team had a massive impact on the way we performed, as well as making the Blues one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch.

We played 3-5-2 with me and Dan bombing up and down the wings,’ Phelan remembers. ‘I said to Glenn I’ll give you 100 per cent, I’ll run all day, I might not score many goals but I’ll create them for you.

‘They could have played Frank Sinclair doing my job and they could have had Andy Myers doing Dan’s job, but I think Glenn saw them doing slightly different roles, playing as one of the three centre backs, which happened on a number of occasions.

‘Dan wasn’t as energetic as me but he was more cultured and he could come inside more, whereas I was more about getting beyond the full-back and getting crosses into the box.

‘Dan scored a lot of goals and I was really jealous of that, but if I could defend well and set up a few goals that was great. In that system, you need the right players, and with Dan on one side and me on the other we used to frighten the life out of wingers who were trying to come forward.’

One of the standout fixtures from that campaign was the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Phelan’s former club, Wimbledon, at Selhurst Park.

Following a draw at the Bridge the Blues, backed by a huge following, set up a semi-final showdown with Manchester United courtesy of a memorable 3-1 win. It was a game in which Phelan and Petrescu were magnificent, with the Romanian scoring the opening goal and winning a first-half penalty which was missed by Wise.

‘I remember that game well, we drew 2-2 at the Bridge and then absolutely battered them at Selhurst Park,’ says Phelan. ‘Dan scored our first goal and I remember us wearing the orange and grey kit.

‘It was a great game and it’s one of the matches which stands out in my mind. We played some exhilarating football at that time, we never used to belt the ball long. They talk nowadays about teams playing out from the back but we were doing that back then, 15-20 years ago, and everybody was comfortable.

‘We had me and Wisey in the team and we knew Wimbledon inside out. We said in the dressing room that for the first 20-25 minutes we’d have to win the battle and get stuck in. That night Ruud played like he did in the 1980s, he was unbelievable, I remember his dreadlocks flowing in the wind. We went on to the semi-finals and we should have won the cup that year. We had a great side.

‘I still have the programme for that game and I was looking at it recently. Chelsea has a big place in my heart and I’d love to go back there coaching one day.’

 Phelan pictured with Ruud Gullit and his good friend Dennis Wise.

The semi-final against United, which was played at Villa Park, ended in disappointment after Gullit had headed us into a first-half lead. With the scores level at 1-1, Craig Burley’s under-hit back-pass was intercepted by David Beckham, who ran through to score the decisive goal.

The Blues, who were the better team for long spells, suffered terrible misfortune on the day, with both wing-backs – Steve Clarke and Phelan – forced out of the game through injury. Petrescu was suspended. 

‘I’d played a game for Ireland on the Wednesday and I trained on the Thursday,’ recalls Phelan. ‘I was a bit fatigued and Glenn had me coming inside and curling balls with my right foot. I must have been out there for half an hour.  

‘It was 1-0 in the game, I broke down the wing, it was a two-on-one situation and my right thigh muscle just went. Obviously I had to go off, Stevie went off as well and we lost the flow of our two full-backs. Dan wasn’t playing either so we had three influential players missing. Then we had Craig Burley’s mistake with the back-pass, and he did it the following week at home to Aston Villa. United beat Liverpool in the final that year but we should have won it.’

Phelan, who now lives in India where he works as technical director for Kerala Blasters, as well as doing some punditry on Champions League matches, featured just four times during the first half of the 1996/97 season, with his last Chelsea appearance before moving to Everton coming in a 2-2 home draw against Sheffield Wednesday.

Despite enjoying his time at Goodison Park, he admits the decision to leave Stamford Bridge at that time was probably the wrong one.

‘I should have stayed at Chelsea,’ he says. ‘I had a couple of injuries during the latter stages but I should never have left. Ruud, who was the manager by that point, Wisey and Mark Hughes told me I was mad because we were building a team that were going to win trophies, but the chance to go back up north came along and I made the move for family reasons. My kids were in school in Manchester, I had a house up there and that was why I went more than anything. You make decisions and you live and learn by them.

‘Everton were struggling under Joe Royle. Andy Hinchcliffe was injured and the first year was good because we managed to stay up. I picked up a knee injury but I came back too soon and I ended up missing 18 months with different problems. I went to the gym every day, I worked my socks off and went to Crystal Palace on loan for three months.

‘When I went back to Everton I got back into the Ireland team. Everton is a great club, it’s quite similar to Chelsea in that it has a real family feel to it and the fans were great with me. I just wish I could have played a bit more but it wasn’t to be.

‘John Spencer ended up coming to Everton as well which was great. He was a brilliant little player and he had some bad luck with hamstring problems.

‘All the teams I’ve played for – Wimbledon, Man City, Chelsea and Everton – have worn blue, so I must have some affiliation with the colour.’