Steve Coppell: The boy who graduated to the big-time

Saturday, May 12 – 1990
Whenever he was sent on an errend the little lad would pluck a tennis ball from his pocket and kick it against walls along the way. He went regularly to support Liverpool with his dad and he was going to be a footballer.

Dad was a plumber but young Steve Coppell had other plans. He was going to be a footballer. He didn’t know then but his dream would almost break his heart. He attended the same Liverpool primary school as Joe Royle and both moved up tp Quarry Bank Grammar School, Coppell on a scholarship. He was bright – very bright – and headmaster William Pobjoy did not intend to let anything interfere with young Coppell’s studies.

“When Steve was 15 he and his dad came to see me. He wanted to play for a Liverpool schools side and I said ‘No, if you want to do that you must find another school.’ His dad understood. Steve would subsequently say he hated me at the time – but it was the best thing that ever happened to him.” Dad Jim Coppell, said: “Steve was a little bit cut up, but, like lads of that age, he got over it. I understood what Mr Pobjoy was saying.

But the boy was not to be put off football so easily. “We went to Liverpool for a trial,” said Jim.
“They said, ‘You’re too small’ (4ft 11in) and he didn’t even get to kick a ball.
“He cried all the way home. He played for an Everton side a couple of nights a week and at the end of one season he asked about the next season. They said not to come back.

“He lost faith in ever becoming a footballer and took up golf and became quite good.”
He still played football for a local side but that was just for pleasure. A Tranmere Rovers scout made several approaches but Steve wasn’t interested. That part of his life was over. He was poised to go to Liverpool University to study economics and social history.

“I persuaded him to have a trial,” said Jim. “He went over with the chum and scored a hat-trick. I think the only one of his career.”
Ron Yeats, who was Tranmere manager remembers: “We signed him so he could combine it with university.”

Coppell, who shot up from 4ft 11in to 5ft 7in in a year, played 38 times for Tranmere and scored 10 goals.
Reports reached Tommy Docherty, then manager of Manchester United. “I signed him on the strength of that. I’d not even seen him,” said the Doc. Coppell’s third year at university was hard, playing for United and going for the degree, but he emerged with a BA honours second class.
“I paid £35,000 for him with another £20,000 when he’d played 50 games for us,” said Doc. “I paid that £20,000 after two games – there was no point in waiting.”

Steve Coppell 1

No, there wasn’t, and there would be 42 England caps, an FA Cup winner’s medal and an arthritic knee which ended it all in the mid-Eighties.
It was then for Steve Coppell to apply his intellect to the art of management.
(Daily Express, 12-05-1990)

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