An interview with John Clinkard, Everton’s physio through the glory years of the 80s
“Hi, I’m Magnum.” The words come with a big grin and a firm handshake. It is not Tom Selleck whose hand I am shaking but – as any Evertonian who was around in the 1980s will vouch – it is the next best thing. John Clinkard was the physiotherapist with the arresting resemblance to the Hollywood actor. Tall, dark and handsome, and with a moustache to match that of Hawaii’s famous fictional private investigator, he was branded with his moniker in his first week after arriving from Fulham as Howard Kendall’s new physio in the autumn of 1981.
“Howard had a press conference for me and one of the press guys has gone, ‘It’s Magnum, isn’t it?’ and they’ve all gone, ‘Yeah it is’,” remembers Clinkard, who had replaced the Manchester United-bound Jim McGregor. “The next day they sent a photographer up with a Hawaiian shirt. It was in the Sun and all my mates down here were going ‘Oy, Billy Big Bollocks!’” It would not be his last photo shoot either as the success brought by Kendall made even his physio a man in demand. “I opened a wine bar once. It was called Cool Magnums and it was out in the countryside somewhere near Maghull. I was given 200 quid and a case of red wine. They bought me a tuxedo and all the gear and all I had to do was pose for photographs. I took Ian Marshall and a couple of the lads with me for company. We had a good night but the wine bar went bust in about 12 months!”
There is much to like about any anecdote involving a 1980s wine bar and Ian Marshall, then a young Everton reserve, and Clinkard is just warming up. We are sitting in his private clinic in Abingdon; the moustache is no more but the memories are certainly intact, and for the celebrity physio of the then champions of England, it got no better for Clinkard than the club’s trip to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii to celebrate their 1987 title victory.
“Hawaii was just like a dream for me,” he says. “It was just magical. We were given a grand in our hand and Howard said, ‘Don’t come off the island with any money,’ and it was a lot of money in those days. I was buying all these presents because I can’t drink that much! You’d go around and you’d just bump into the lads and they were doing all sorts of stuff – we bumped into an NFL side and they were doing press-up competitions. You could hire a red Ferrari for 50 quid a week. The lads bought me a Magnum PI cap and I’d get stopped probably 10 times a day. I went into a shop and it was, ‘Hey, it’s Magnum PI, awesome!’”
It was work hard, play hard, and Clinkard – effectively a one-man team – had plenty of the former. This was before the mushrooming of backroom staffs at football clubs, when the daily duties of the physio at one of England’s leading clubs meant working with both senior and youth-team players. His only support came from Chris Goodson, who would take reserve matches. “I’d structure it to start at nine o’clock and get all the injured players in, start them off on their different programmes and give them some individual treatment,” he explains. “I used to try to give the youth team as good a quality of treatment but I wouldn’t start with them till about three. If they were doing pitch sessions, they’d join in with the pros.
“What was brilliant,” he adds, “and I didn’t appreciate it fully at the time, was the professionalism that Howard and Colin [Harvey, Kendall’s first-team coach] set up. We used to have a meeting at nine o’clock. There’d be all the coaching staff, me and the chief scout in his room. Howard would demand from me – bang, bang, bang – how long is he going to be? When is he going to be right? What was happening with him yesterday? He really taught me one of the best lessons which was to do your homework – know your stuff, don’t ever go in unprepared.”
One player whose name came up regularly in those meetings was Andy Gray. In Gray’s autobiography, Gray Matters, he recounts throwing pages of his medical history into the fire at his home in the Midlands the night before his journey up to Merseyside to sign from Wolverhampton Wanderers in November 1983. Clinkard offers a similar slice of lore: “Andy came up from Birmingham and all the way up the M6 he’s throwing bits of his medical records out of the window.”
What was not in doubt was that a player about to turn 28 had two warning lights for knees. “John [Campbell, the surgeon overseeing the medical] had said, ‘Yeah, he’s got no cruciate in his right knee, his left knee is very arthritic.’ Howard said, ‘How many games will I get out of him a season? Will it be more than 15?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but you might have to pick and choose your games.’ ‘That’ll do me.’ And it was a great signing, wasn’t it? You’d have to monitor Andy on a daily basis. I got on really well with him but he’d be fuming if he couldn’t train. I’d say, ‘Andy, just sit out because you’ve got a bit more fluid than I’d like on your knee.’ ‘Fuck off, Clinks, fuck off.’”
Trying to stop Peter Reid, the other older head who galvanised that young Everton side, was just as challenging. Clinkard cites the night of the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich in 1985, when Reid played on with a gaping wound in his shin. “[He] had six stitches in his shin. It happened about 10 minutes before half-time so I strapped it and said, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to get to half-time’. His sock was red. A lot of players wouldn’t have done that. But you wouldn’t even know there was anything wrong with him second half. In fact he played better.
“I can remember falling out with Reidy at the end because I insisted he went into a nursing home because his leg was already swelling up. He was wanting to go out with the lads to celebrate, but I said, ‘You’ve got to get it iced up’. We used to put them in the Lourdes nursing home overnight where the nurses would ice it and when I suggested that to him, you can imagine what comment I got. But then the doc had a word with him and Howard and we got him in there. I dropped him off with half a dozen beers.”
There are other fascinating details from his dealings with that colourful crop. He recalls how when Neville Southall dislocated his subtalar joint (“the joint below the ankle”) in a fall on a heavy Lansdowne Road pitch when playing for Wales against the Republic of Ireland, Campbell “phoned up the army” for advice about the goalkeeper’s rehabilitation as “basically it’s a parachuting injury”. Thereafter, Clinkard would regularly accompany Southall on national-team trips as the Football Association of Wales “didn’t have a physio so I used to travel for the home games with Nev and I’d strap him and then go and watch the game with his wife in the stand. He asked the Welsh FA to make me physio but apparently they couldn’t afford it.”
The biggest conundrum that Clinkard faced as Everton physio was the case of Paul Bracewell’s mysterious right-ankle injury. It was a problem caused by a shuddering tackle by Newcastle United’s Billy Whitehurst in January 1986. Although Bracewell, then on the fringes of the England squad, played on until that season’s FA Cup final, he was subsequently absent for 20 months. The midfielder underwent five operations to no avail before a sixth surgery, in San Francisco in summer 1987, saved his career. The superior scans available in the United States allowed the American orthopaedic surgeon, Roger Mann, to see that a piece of bone from Bracewell’s foot had embedded itself into the tibia, just above his right ankle.
As Clinkard says of Bracewell in Here We Go, my book on Everton in the 1980s, “He was basically physically jammed but all the scans we came up with were negative. The actual reading of the scans was a new science really and that’s what let us down… When I first went to Everton, the first MRI scan up north was in Manchester and there was one in London. In the States with the finance in private medicine they’d have had more scans so would have been better at interpreting them whereas we were playing catch-up.”
Bracewell told me that before his departure for the US, Clinkard had handed him a note in a sealed envelope in which he wrote what he believed the American specialist there would find. They agreed to open it on his return. “Fuck all” is what Bracewell claimed was on that note. “I put ‘no’ on there,” is Clinkard’s recollection. He adds, “I thought it was a scar tissue thing where he’d been operated on and you can only have so much surgery. At no time did I underestimate the strength and the willpower of Paul and the professionalism – he’s a tough cookie and nobody will tell you that more than Peter Reid.” Bracewell, still only 25, returned to playing with 50 per cent less movement in that right ankle; it was to his credit that he played on until the age of 37.
If Bracewell’s misfortune proved a source of sleepless nights, an altogether different personality – the defender Pat Van den Hauwe – gave Clinkard headaches of a different kind. Nicknamed Reggie by his Everton teammates as a nod to Reggie Kray, the London-born Van den Hauwe had a colourful private life, illustrated by the occasion he was stabbed in the leg during a team night out at a pub in Ainsdale. “It was a pre-season and we were only a week away from coming back and Pat phoned me up and said, ‘Clinks, I’ve cut me leg. I was jogging on the beach and fell over and landed on a broken bottle’. I said, ‘Is it a big cut?’ and he said, ‘I’ve had to have a couple of stitches in, it’s a bit sore’. I said, ‘Get yourself in’.
“As soon as he came in, I said, ‘Reg, come on, tell me the real thing’. ‘I can’t, Clinks,’ he said. I said, ‘Tell me, I won’t tell,’ and I didn’t let on to the manager. And he said, ‘Yeah, I fucking got knifed’. But I loved Reggie, you know. You’d be in a bar with him and he’d go, ‘He’s fucking looking at me. I’m gonna have him’. ‘No he ain’t, Reggie, he ain’t. Come and have a pint’.
“Because I used to smoke and Reggie used to smoke we’d gravitate towards each other. Because he wouldn’t smoke in front of Howard, he’d sneak into my room at all hours – ‘Clinks, come on, give us a fag’ – and we’d have a chat. I started falling asleep once and he bit my toe! But I loved him. He was very insecure obviously. If you wrapped your arm around him he loved it because it made him feel a bit more secure and he’d respond to that, but a good player. Howard reckoned that he was technically one of the best players in our team.”
The Everton player of that era with the most enduring fame, Gary Lineker, was “quite boring”, he suggests, when set against the likes of Van den Hauwe, Gray and Reid. And Everton ended his single season at Goodison empty-handed, losing their league title to Liverpool after a 1-0 defeat at Oxford United (a wound deepened by the subsequent 1986 FA Cup final loss to their city rivals too). “Les Phillips scored the goal for them and I worked with Les at Oxford after that and I always used to go, ‘You little bastard’,” says Clinkard, recalling that night at the Manor Ground when Lineker played without the missing lucky boots with which he scored 40 goals that season (plus another six at Mexico ’86). “I can remember Links could have had a hat-trick easily,” he laments.
“Links never used to train, he used to be with me because he used to suffer with his groins. Knowing what I know now, I think he had a problem with his pelvis but then I wasn’t aware. I did a lot of flexibility work to keep his groins loose. A great player, don’t get me wrong, but I’d see him after games and he didn’t even have dirty knees. Andy Gray was blood and snot and ‘In we go!’. We were just so spoiled with the personalities of the rest of them.”
Eventually Clinkard left Everton for Oxford, to be closer to his family and because “they were doubling my salary”. This, after all, was the Robert Maxwell-era Oxford. It was goodbye, though, to the highs of chasing English football’s big prizes – and goodbye too to that Magnum moustache. He recalls the reason why: “It was a game against Tranmere and one of our lads had gone down in the penalty area so I had to go behind the goal where the Tranmere lot were to get back to the dugout. As I’m coming off, I heard one of these Scousers shout, ‘Hey, the Swedish porn star tache!’ and the next day, it was off!”