Today's Football league Paper:
Former teen star is one in a million
Liam Watson still remembers the headline in the Liverpool Echo when his pal Terry McPhillips was released by the Reds in 1987. "They called him 'The million pound striker that Kenny let go'," recalls the Southport boss. "That tells you how good he was back then."
Watson knew that better than anybody.Born a year apart, the pair first met when McPhillips - then aged nine - moved to the Sefton area of Liverpool after his prison officer father snagged a job at HMP Walton.
Originally from Manchester, but a boyhood Koppite, he'd won over the local kids with blistering displays of speed.
"He was a frightening player to come up against, even then," recalls Watson, who later played in the Football League for Preston. "He was strong, he could finish, he was bright. And his pace was something else. Nobody got near him."
Soon, scouts were flocking to see the young whippet playing up front for Eden Vale and Sefton Boys. Both Merseyside giants offered a trial, but when Joe Fagan's all-conquering Liverpool offered a scholarship, the 14-year-old was in dreamland.
"It was awesome, the best days of my life," said McPhillips, whose year group included Jim Magilton and Steve Staunton. "As apprentices, we all had our jobs, sorting the kit for the staff and the first team, cleaning the corridors. I used to clean King Kenny's boots."
As a boy, McPhillips had idolised Dalglish, who took over from Fagan in 1985. A year later, coach (and future manager) Roy Evans quietly told the youngster that Dalglish had noticed his prolific form for the youth team and would soon invite him to Melwood for extra sessions.
It never happened and, 12 months later, McPhillips was released by his hero, prompting that memorable headline. "Even then, we had no doubt he'd make it," says Watson.
Nor did fans of Halifax, who in 1988-89 saw McPhillips plunder 25 Fourth Division goals in a vaunted partnership with future Huddersfield and Sheffield United striker Wayne Allison. Briefly, he was the country's leading scorer.
Yet that season would prove to be the apex of McPhillip's brief career. Frozen out after a series of injuries, he joined Crewe in 1991 but had played just six games for the Railwaymen when he ruptured cruciate ligaments. Aged just 21, the million pound reject was on the scrapheap. It was then that the one-time star in the making became a star-maker. "Even at that age, I could see the coach in Terry," said Dario Gradi, the legendary Crewe boss. "He was intelligent, he understood the game and he had a very keen eye for a player."
Initially, McPhillips was entrusted with Crewe's Under-13s. Later, he set up Technique, Movement, Skill (TMS) a coaching school in Sefton that flourishes to this day.
Soon, however, he would ascend to the academy - and become the final piece of Gradi's coaching dream team - alongside Steve Holland and Neil Baker. Between them, the quartet nurtured a galaxy of stars, from Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton (the best of the bunch according to McPhillips) to Seth Johnson, Rob Hulse and David Vaughan.
McPhillips calls Gradi "a genius, a workaholic, the best person any coach could learn from," but James Robinson, another Crewe graduate now managing in Australia, remembers his protege most fondly. "For me, the biggest thing was how simple Terry made it," said the 36-year-old. "You played in as many positions as possible to learn the game but everything was kept simple. As a young player, I had the chance to go to other clubs. But the way Crewe and Terry worked, it made the game seem easy." Watson adds: "Dario, Steve, Neil and Terry that was Crewe. Take one of them away and I don't think it would have been the same."
In the end, McPhillips spent 14 years at Crewe, many of them out on the road, huddled in frozen Non-League outposts on the hunt for the next Murphy or Ashton.
"The club made over £10m from transfers while Terry was here," said Holland, now assistant to Gareth Southgate with England. "That cannot be underestimated. He made a major, major contribution to this club."
It was Blackburn's academy that finally lured McPhillips from Gresty Road, offering greater resources and a more convenient base for a man still based in Liverpool. There he struck up a close bond - both personal and professional - with academy chief Gary Bowyer. Once again, the stars began to roll off the production line. Phil Jones, who was sold to Manchester United for £16.5m, Grant Hanley, Anthony Pilkington, David Raya.
"Terry's got a fantastic knowledge of players - he sees a player and he sees the potential of a player," said Bowyer. "He loves being out on the grass and he loves watching games - he's got an unbelievable work ethic."
Later, as chaos descended on Blackburn in the wake of the Venky's takeover, Bowyer and McPhillips would restore a modicum of respectability during a two-year stint as manager and assistant.
"As a coach, he was great with the forwards," said Bowyer. "Even now he never passes the ball in staff games so you can see why he scored loads of goals for Halifax!"
When Bowyer departed in November 2015, so did McPhillips. A year later, the pair pitched up in Blackpool, winning promotion from League Two despite a fanbase at loggerheads with neglectful owners. In August, one game into the season, Bowyer gave up, unable to stomach the lies and underfunding. McPhillips stayed and now has arguably the toughest gig in management. "It's no wonder he looks so old." quipped Watson. "But joking aside, if anyone has worked hard enough to get to where he has, then it is Terry. He's a good coach, a good lad and a good, honest football person."
Interesting read that. Didn't know what McPhillips did before working with Bowyer so thanks for that.
Sounds like he has learned a lot from his time at Crewe.