Interview

John Terry recalls the game aged 16 that changed his Chelsea career

An interview with our former number 26 has revealed some interesting anecdotes from his early career at Stamford Bridge...

As the Blues prepare to resume their Premier League campaign this weekend with a trip to Aston Villa, Chelsea legend and current Villa assistant head coach John Terry has been discussing his links between the two clubs, as well as the moment as a youth team player that proved pivotal in his career in west London.

Terry played 717 times for Chelsea, a record only bettered by Ron Harris and the late Peter Bonetti, winning 15 major honours across a glittering 22-year period in west London.

However, his unparalleled success might not have been possible had he not been offered a youth team scholarship (YTS) at the age of 16, something he and his coaches feared he might miss out on at the time.

Speaking in a lengthy interview on the Footballer’s Guide to Football podcast, Terry recalled: ‘I was really small and had this puppy fat for about two or three years that I just couldn’t shift. Physically, everyone else was developing but it felt like I was never going to get through it.

‘Chelsea were saying to my parents “we don’t think John’s going to get his YTS." I was miles off it physically and I couldn’t get in the team. I went from being one of the best players to sometimes not even making the bench.

‘All of a sudden I went through a little growth spurt at 15 or 16 and it was the last game of the season – Chelsea reserves away at Luton. I wasn’t even playing in the youth team but I think because of the quality I had shown in previous years, they wanted to give me one last roll of the dice.

‘I was on the bench and got thrown on when we were 5-0 down. At the time I was thinking it was probably my last chance. I played centre-midfield and scored two goals within about 10 minutes. It was one of those moments where I look back now and go “Wow, talk about defining moments!”

‘I scored two really good goals, timed my runs perfectly into the box, made a few crunching tackles, really made an impact. Everything seemed to click for me and from there really I ended up getting a YTS contract. The fact Chelsea showed a little bit of faith in me will stick with me forever actually.’

Terry had grown up as a midfielder but settled at centre-back in his first season as a scholar and made his senior debut in defence as a late substitute in a League Cup tie in October 1998 at the age of 17. The opposition that day at the Bridge were Aston Villa, the club he would go on to play for in the Championship at the end of his playing career and coach at as assistant to Dean Smith.

‘It’s funny how my debut was against Villa, I ended up playing at Villa and now coaching there as well,’ he reflects. ‘I was slightly nervous but not massively. I knew I was on the bench so you get out in the warm-up and get a feel for the stadium and the atmosphere.

‘As the game went on, I think we were 4-1 up at the time and there was about five minutes left on the clock so I knew I was kind of safe. There's not much you can mess up in five minutes so I just went on, didn't think anything of it. Wisey [Dennis Wise] got sent off after about 20 seconds of me being on the pitch and that was my debut over really.’

Over two decades on, Terry’s involvement in Premier League football has switched from barking orders from centre-back to issuing instructions from the dugout as number two to Smith at Villa Park. The team are fighting for survival at the bottom of the table, not something our captain was ever accustomed to in his playing days at Chelsea.

Always an astute student of the game, Terry has been using the lockdown break to keep up his learning and thinks three months without football will have been an eye-opener for many players. He hopes the reflection time has helped them think about future careers after hanging up their boots.

‘The pandemic has actually given players a taste of what retired life looks like,’ Terry added. ‘I'm hoping that there'll be players there going, “I need to do my coaching badges, 28 years old isn't too young. I'm going to get on that next course.”

‘As a younger player, I made notes of what every coach did and it still serves me well today. I've got notes of Jose Mourinho's last four years at the football club and every session we did. It's nice to have that and look at what we did and why we did it.’

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