Les Says: Mascots

Les Says

Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the 80s and 90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days curating karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.

This week, Les gives his thoughts on football mascots.

Mascots are one aspect of the game where I can safely say that things were much better in my day. The quality of mascots through the 80s and 90s was exceptional, far exceeding today’s paltry offerings. There was the odd mis-step here and there, of course (the less said about the ‘Aylesbury Racist’ the better), but take a look at the best modern football has to offer: Gunnersaurus? I wish I hadn’t bloody seen him.

No, give me the classics any day of the week: Barry the Badger, Filbert Fox, The Charlton Chess-piece. Proper mascots, the lot of them. They were all top lads, too; always up for a laugh. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up on somebody else’s couch with a cracking hangover and only a giant furry head to hide my modesty (which, incidentally, was a lot less fun when the head in question belonged to Harry the Huddersfield Hedgehog). These boys would think nothing of going out on an all-night bender then heading straight to the match the next day. That’s just how it was. But it’s all hair gel and Zumba now with these modern fellas, I’ve no time for them.

When it comes to my favourite mascot, that honour belongs to Everton’s Toffee Lady. She was a vision of elegance, beauty and charm. That was, until she’d had a few drinks. Then she became friskier than a spaniel on heat! Many’s the time when we’d go out for a few pints and she’d invariably end up showing me her sticky toffee pu—(Editor’s note: for the benefit of our younger readers, this paragraph has been truncated).

-and it took us a good 3 hours to clear all of the ferrets out of the hotel room. Best night of my life.

‘Call me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.

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Les Says: Motivation

Les Says

Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the 80s and 90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days curating karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.

This week, Les gives his thoughts on managers and motivation.

Without a doubt, motivating players is one of the most difficult skills for any manager to master. A good motivator can make the lads want to put in 110% every week, whilst a bad one can quickly find himself on the end of a full-scale mutiny. When I was at Oxford in the mid-80s, our gaffer, Frank Green, used to throw empty beer cans at us before a match in the misguided hope that it would somehow spur us on to victory. It didn’t. It was only when he started sharing his pre-game ale with the rest of the players that things started to pick up. This is a good example of how, in football, the carrot is often a better motivator than the stick (and booze is more effective than both).

I’ll never forget the team talk Frank gave us before an important FA Cup tie against Leeds in January 1984. We were heavy underdogs that day, and his inspiring words helped us to a famous 0-0 draw and a replay back at their place. I still remember his speech like it was yesterday.

“Right lads, this is it. They’re coming in here to take what’s ours, but we’re not going to let them! ­I want every player on that pitch to give it their all. Those bastards are coming to attack us, like thieves in the night. Get in front of that goal and kick anything that moves. Every time they get into our box, we’re under threat. Each of you has a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sod backs to the wall; I want your backs through the wall and out the other side! Do it for the fans, do it for the club but most importantly: do it for the groundsman!”

The last line had us all puzzled until it was discovered a few weeks later that Frank was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s and mistakenly believed the Leeds players were coming to steal our goalposts. This only came to light after one of the ground staff found him camped out in a goalmouth early one morning, armed with a bent tennis racquet and a flip-flop.

Still, those same posts are still in place to this day, so maybe he knew something we didn’t.

Nice one, Frank.

‘Call Me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.

Les Says: Player Abuse

Les Says

Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the 80s and 90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days curating karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.

This week, Les gives his thoughts on racism and player abuse in the game.

Racism has always been a serious matter in football, especially during my playing days. But the players’ attitudes towards the issue were not always as black and white as you might think (pun intended). Everybody remembers the story of John Barnes causing a stir at a Liverpool fancy dress party by turning up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit as a joke, but what is usually forgotten is that the Liverpool players weren’t the brightest bulbs in the box and thought Barnes was a legitimate racist. He was shunned by his team-mates and forced to train with the youth team for 3 weeks. That’s a good example of how humour often doesn’t translate across racial boundaries (the exception being Eddie Murphy’s ‘Norbit’, which sits easily in my top 5 favourite films).

Throughout my career I’m proud to say I never had to resort to using racist slurs. I much preferred to break down the opposition through good old-fashioned psychological manipulation. Sometimes I’d even use this on my own team-mates. I’ll never forget the time I suggested to the gaffer that we play a new game I’d come up with called ‘Last Man Standing’. I asked the rest of the defenders to form a line whilst I attempted to dribble around each of them. Anyone who didn’t slip as they tried to stop me could give me a right kicking at the end, but if they all went down then I’d get to dish it out to them. The other players readily agreed (after all I was about as mobile as a tank and hadn’t been on a decent run in my life). Little did they know I’d come in early that morning and loosened the studs on each of their boots. I left training that day with 3 teeth that weren’t mine and a place in the first team for the following week. But more importantly, I’d won the respect of my fellow professionals.

Of course, you’d never get away with that these days. Most modern football boots have non-removable blades instead of studs. I’d like to think I played a small part in that.

‘Call Me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.

Les Says: Drinking

Les Says

Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days hosting karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.

This week, Les gives his thoughts on drinking in football.

In my opinion, the issue of drinking has been massively overblown in the modern game. There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of pints after a match, or before, or in some cases even during (only if you’re winning of course). In my day, it wasn’t uncommon for the opposition winger to celebrate giving you a good roasting by pulling a hip flask out of his sock and taking a triumphant swig. For many, it was a sad day when The FA was forced to clamp down and ban drinking during matches. There’s always someone who takes things too far, and in this case it was Forest centre-half Bill Tuncliffe. It caused a stir at the time, but in hindsight I agree with the decision. A quick swig is one thing, but a yard of ale really has no place on the football field.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t the odd time when things got out of hand, of course. Back when I was playing for Coventry, a few of us once got so slaughtered before a match we accidentally turned up to the wrong stadium and ended up playing for a local semi-professional team. We were half an hour into the game before the referee realised there were 27 players on the pitch. Turns out he was half -cut as well. We all had a good laugh about that one afterwards. Except the gaffer, mind. Without us Coventry had lost 6-0.

And I’ll never forget the day one of the younger lads, Barry Spiffle, was called up for his first-team debut. The excitement was too much for him, and he made the classic mistake of overdoing it the night before the match. Naturally, he ended up in no fit state to play and was subbed off mid-way through the first half. The gaffer was furious and refused to let him take a shower. Instead, he ordered him straight to the subs bench, where he promptly fell asleep. Now here's where it gets interesting: Jonesy, our sub keeper (and club practical joker), had been to see a 3D film the night before and still had the glasses with him. Given that the opposition were wearing their brand new red and green away kit, we saw the perfect opportunity for a prank. It was about 15 minutes after we'd glued the glasses to his face that the young lad woke up. To this day, I've never seen as much vomit come out of a single person.

Call me old-fashioned, but I firmly believe the modern game is a little less special for having lost moments like that.

‘Call Me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.