An Interview With Luther BlissettPosted on: 19 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
One of the first black footballers to play for England talks to 50connect.
Luther Blissett smashed more than 200 goals in nearly 600 career appearances during his professional career.
Born in Jamaica in 1958, Blissett rose to fame as one of the first black footballers to wear the Three Lions of the England football team, after moving to England as a youngster.
The 50-year-old was a cult terrace hero during the 1980s and even scored a hat-trick on his first full international appearance – a 9-0 win over Luxembourg.
Blissett was a crucial part of the Graham Taylor-led Watford side that rose up through the lower ranks of English football, to eventually finish in second place behind Liverpool in the 1983 championship race.
1978 Fourth Division Championship
4 England Under-21 caps
14 England caps, 3 goals
Watford’s record appearance holder (415)
Watford’s record goalscorer (158)
In that championship-chasing season, Blissett scored 27 goals, including four in one game - at home against Sunderland, a match which Watford went on to win 8-0, establishing a club record.
Such was his form for the Hornets that Bobby Robson saw it fit to hand him his first of a total of 14 England caps in October 1983 when he came on as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat to West Germany at Wembley.
In December, playing in only his second game for England, Blissett scored a hat-trick against the hapless Luxembourg side who eventually lost 9-0 to Robson's men.
“They are great, great memories for me,” says Blissett.
“Playing for your country is always a dream come true and they’re times and memories you cherish for the rest of your life.”
“Wembley was and still is a special football theatre – everybody wants to play at Wembley and I’m proud to have played for my country there. Being picked to play for England was extremely emotional but it’s when you get into the changing room and see your shirt that you realise how special it is.”
That summer saw the surprise move to AC Milan where he was to spend just one season. The stories regarding Blissett's move to Italy are numerous and contradictory, but many suggest that Milan signed the wrong player from England - Milan wanting John Barnes' services and not those of Blissett.
Blissett brushes off any suggestion that the Milan myth may have been true.
“I’ve heard a lot of stuff that’s been said and to be honest you just laugh it off,” he says.
“John Barnes is a good friend of mine, we’ve both been born in Jamaica but I think that’s where our similarities end. I was a striker, he was a creator, and it’s not as if we look alike, we’re just both black.”
“It’s just one of those urban myths that goes about a bit. It is quite funny when you think about and we do have a laugh about it but it’s not true at all.”
The 50-year-old admits that he was warned about possible racist abuse in the Italian league before signing for Milan. Italy have been battling a long-term problem with racism and match-fixing, which is still rife in today’s game.
With England also enduring a spat of racist chanting during his time in the UK, Blissett wasn’t surprised by what he heard in Italy.
“When I played for Milan I was one of only a handful of black players in the league. Italy’s had its problems on and off the pitch with racism and match fixing and it had that all back then too and much worse.”
“I was a brave boy and when you hear a club like AC Milan are coming in with an offer you’d be a fool to turn it down. I was aware and was made aware that it would be a hostile environment for a young black boy but it didn’t phase me at all.”
“We had our own problems in England so it was fooling nobody. I wanted to go there and I’m glad I did.”
“The chanting wasn’t nice but like any footballer would tell you, once you’re on that field it’s just football that you’re thinking about. AC Milan bought me to play football and score goals and that’s all I tried to do.”
In the 1983/84 season, Blissett scored five goals in 30 league games and was transferred back to Vicarage Road at the end of the year for £550,000.
His Milan misery seemed to wreck his England form as well. After his hat-trick scoring performance, Blissett played a further 12 games for the Three Lions but didn't manage to score in any.
Many tabloid newspapers hounded the forward for his poor strike rate in front of goal and began to label him “Luther Missett”.
Back at Watford in August 1984, Blissett enjoyed four and a bit more seasons with the Hertfordshire club, scoring almost as freely as he had before his move abroad.
However, having played just three games at the start of the 1988/89 season, Blissett left Watford for Bournemouth.
Cherries manager Harry Redknapp got the best out of Blissett for three seasons in which the former England international scored 56 times in just 121 league appearances.
After Bournemouth were relegated, Blissett joined Watford for a third spell the following season and scored 10 more goals for the Hornets, taking him to his final tally of 158 – a club record. However the following year, with Blissett now aged 33, he failed to play a single league game.
“Looking back and with hindsight I guess going back for a third spell wasn’t the best idea.”
“I was a hero in the fans' eyes when I played there but I was kidding myself if I thought I was going to reproduce a third time.”
“I loved playing football and just wanted to carry on and on. Some players prefer to retire at the top but I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t imagine sitting around watching people playing. I wanted the buzz and wanted a ball at my feet.”
Short spells at West Bromwich Albion, Bury, Mansfield, Southport and a stint in Northern Ireland with Derry City brought Blissett’s career to an end but the former hitman stayed in the game.
In 1994, he caused a huge stir by agreeing to play for non-league Fakenham Town in Norfolk after being persuaded by the club’s lifelong Watford-supporting chairman.
Big crowds turned out to see the former England striker strut his stuff before Watford came calling once more in 1996.
Blissett says “Graham Taylor called me up out of the blue and asked if I’d like to join his coaching team at Watford. Graham was a father figure for me when I was playing, he did an awful lot to help me and I was delighted to take the chance.”
“I was given a terrific reception by the fans and that meant a lot. I really enjoyed what I was doing and got a real hunger for coaching.”
“I saw what Graham was doing and it inspired me.”
But Blissett was booted out of Vicarage Road following Taylor’s departure as manager and after the arrival of Italian legend Gianluca Vialli to the hotseat.
The all-time Watford goalscoring and appearance record holder moved onto York into a similar capacity before taking over as manager of Chesham United in the Southern League in 2006.
“I wanted to give it a go on my own. I felt I was good enough to go it alone. Chesham are a super club to be at in the non-league, the club does a lot for you and the team.”
“Unfortunately things didn’t seem to work out. It’s difficult to get your ideas across in two training sessions a week. I worked bloody hard but sometimes I guess things aren’t meant to be.”
In April 2007 Blissett and Chesham went their separate ways. Blissett left to concentrate on his Windrush Motorsport project that aimed to enter the Le Mans 24-hour race whilst also founding the Team48 Motorsport team along with Barnes and Les Ferdinand.
Their aim is to promote young racing drivers of Afro-Carribean backgrounds, while Blissett also appeared as a football pundit for Channel 4 and Bravo’s coverage of Seria A in Italy.
However, Blissett’s aim is to return to football management at a higher level than before.
“It’s about getting the breaks in football. If an opportunity presents itself then I’ll put myself forward for it.”
“But chairmen are sometimes a little worried about taking someone on without the relative experience and they’ll go for the guy who's just been sacked elsewhere.”
“I don’t think it’s the colour of my skin stopping me, I think we as a nation are past that. Paul Ince has just got the job at Blackburn so that’s only going to help.”
“It’s chance and opportunity. Football can be a harsh game, but when those breaks and opportunities come about you have to take them and prove yourself.”
Do you remember Luther Blissett's England hat-trick or his move to AC Milan?
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