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El Tel still acting the cheeky chappy

Terry Venables - widely regarded as one of the most inventive coaches in world football - is lasting well; at the age of 65 he is still laughing and still in demand

Asked to reveal the secret of his durability, George Burns bit down on a well-chewed cigar and drawled: "He who laughs . . . lasts." Terry Venables is lasting well; at the age of 65 he is still laughing and still in demand. Whenever and wherever a managerial vacancy crops up, his name is invariably mentioned among the leading candidates, hence the reason Bulgaria, Ireland and Iran are among those who have all come a'courting recently.

Venables - widely regarded as one of the most inventive coaches in world football - may have been on sabbatical since leaving Leeds United five years ago but it came as no surprise when Newcastle United were the latest to turn to him in their time of need. But it was even less of a surprise when he rejected their overtures for there is little laughter around St James' Park these days and the man in question firmly believes any job should contain an element of fun.

Not that he has allowed his sense of humour to interfere with his dual passion of making mischief while achieving success on the pitch; he took Crystal Palace, his first posting in 1976, from the old Third Division to the top flight in three seasons ... he guided Second Division Queens Park Rangers to the 1982 FA Cup final and subsequently into Europe ... he won the Spanish title at Barcelona, although defeat on penalties awaited "El Tel" against Steaua Bucharest in the European Cup final ... Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup under him in '91 ... and a Venables-inspired England reached the semi-finals (losing to Germany on penalties) of the 1996 European Championship.

When not talking football he is at his happiest sharing the company of clowns, which explains why the most treasured items on his bookshelf are the 15 hours of The Phil Silvers Show he has on video. The memory of Tommy Cooper's nonsense may reduce him to infectious chortles, but it is the roguishly lovable Fort Baxter sergeant - "I've always had a soft spot for cheeky characters" - from the motor pool with whom he can most readily empathise; which is why more than one of the Venables' family dogs over the years came to be christened Bilko. "I guess we should always have bought a Dobermann," he says.

As far as anyone can recall, he is the only one-time England international manager to have turned down an engagement to appear as a comedian at the Stork Club in London or to have won a Butlin's talent contest in a top hat, miming to the maniacal Spike Jones's I Went To Your Wedding. Aye, Venables' CV is unlike that of any other manager in football; writer . . . broadcaster . . . singer . . . businessman.

As a writer, Venables and Gordon Williams brought the detective Hazell to British TV screens and bookshops, he sang with the Joe Loss Orchestra on a couple of occasions, and was a sensation on Spanish radio during his stint at the Nou Camp with his rendition of My Way. He might have been crooning yet, had Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty not banned him on fear of death from appearing in the Butlin's national final while a young midfielder at Stamford Bridge.

His business interests have either been very successful or cataclysmically misguided. At 17, and already a regular Chelsea first-team member, he set up a limited company to market The Thingamywig, a hat which came complete with artificial hair glued to the brim. The syrup (in Cockney rhyming slang, a syrup of fig equals a wig), he can admit with a grin, was not the nice little earner it might have been.

For the present, Terry Venables remains cheerfully unemployed but it is safe to presume that we have not heard the last of his chuckles resounding around the training pitch. After all, he who laughs...lasts. rphilip@thenational.ae

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