Leeds United: Ex white Paul Telfer swings into the coaching game

Paul Telfer in action against Northampton Town.
Paul Telfer in action against Northampton Town.
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WORKING on lowering his golf handicap in one of the most picturesque parts of the country has had its benefits for Paul Telfer.

Since hanging up his boots a few years back, the former Leeds United utility man has spent many a long hour on the fairways and greens in rural Hampshire playing a sport he loves, as befits a son of Scotland, where the noble game was invented after all.

Not a bad life, with Elland Road legend Gordon Strachan, his former boss at Celtic, Coventry and Southampton, having a losing battle keeping him off the golf course for much of Telfer’s playing career when spare time after training was plentiful.

But now, finally, “Wee Gordie” may have finally won the day.

It was Strachan who can be credited with planting a firm coaching seed in the mind of Telfer, who retired from professional football at the age of 37 in early 2009 after an 18-game swansong with United.

Settled near Winchester with his family, Edinburgh-born Telfer – who turns 40 in October – is keen to follow the well-trodden path of ex-professionals into full-time coaching.

He was cajoled into it by Strachan, who was predestined to end up in the dug-out himself imparting his considerable knowledge after learning from several of the very best in Howard Wilkinson, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein and Ron Atkinson.


On his path into coaching, Telfer said: “In the last bit of my career, I was at Celtic for a couple of years and at Leeds for six months and my wife and son stayed at home (in Winchester). So I really was fed up; not with football as such, but with being away from home so much.

“In the last year I’ve virtually done nothing, but eventually I just thought: ‘I’m getting bored now’!

“Once football has been in your blood and it’s what you know, you want to stay in.

“I played with or under Gordon Strachan for 12 years and he lives near me. He said: ‘I don’t know why you don’t get into coaching’!

“He said that, as a player, no disrespect, that I wasn’t a world-beater, but I was someone who tended to think about the game and said that, sometimes, guys like me make a good coach.

“So, probably on his advice and the fact that I really do enjoy it and I’ve been taking a local team, I thought that I’d have a go.

“I’m doing my Uefa B licence and one of the requirements of doing it is you’ve got to get attached to a team to finish your coaching qualifications. My next-door neighbour is the Sutton United manager and he wants me to coach them for six months or a year, so I’m going to give that a bash, finish my B licence and do my hours.

“We’ll see what happens and I’ll try and get myself in the door somewhere.

“Because I’m down in Hampshire, I can coach at Southampton (and help out), if I want. I just want to do as much as I can, I’m going to the States in the summer to do some soccer skills coaching and Gordon’s advice was just to do as much coaching and get as much experience as I can.

“I’ll do as much as I can and then, hopefully, get a job somewhere. I was under Gordon for so long and if you can’t learn from someone like that, then you shouldn’t be involved.”

Telfer, one of those “players’ players” who didn’t necessarily catch the eye for artistic merit, but who was one of the first names on the team sheet for sheer graft, served Luton Town, Coventry and Southampton with distinction, with his 100 per cent commitment earning plenty of plaudits.

This he did in the engine room and at right-back, following his “retreat” into the back four, a decision made by – yes, you’ve guessed it – Strachan while he was manager at Southampton.


His highlights include representing Saints in the final of the 2003 FA Cup at the Millennium Stadium ahead of a move north of the border to old firm giants Celtic, with Strachan making him one of his first signings for a bargain £200,000 in 2005.

Two Scottish championships with the Hoops followed, ahead of his decision to move back to his family home in Hampshire two years later, with his sights now set on footballing retirement.

Yet the lure of a move to a club pretty close to his doorstep in Bournemouth extended his playing career after he agreed a 12-month deal with the Cherries in the summer of 2007.

But a serious foot injury sustained just before Christmas hastened his decision to call it a day again and he agreed to cancel his contract.

Fate then intervened again in August 2008 when old Coventry team-mate and then-United boss Gary McAllister called him up, desperate to add a bit of experience to bring on some youthful members in his back four.

Thoughts of taking it easy were put on the backburner again when Telfer penned a one-year deal with the Whites after impressing McAllister with his fitness – with the long-in-the-tooth veteran promptly pressed into service, mainly in the heart of the back four.

It proved a short-lived spell in West Yorkshire for Telfer, who despite impressing with his trademark commitment and professionalism, could do little to arrest McAllister’s ebbing fortunes in the latter stages of his managerial tenure at Elland Road. McAllister was unceremoniously sacked in the aftermath of a dismal loss to MK Dons in December 2008.

New boss Simon Grayson decided there was no place for Telfer in his brave new world, although the Scot insists he enjoyed his brief cameo, both in terms of the club and its surroundings, while quickly coming to appreciate the footballing giant that is Leeds United.

On his surprise switch from one end of the country to the other, Telfer said: “I needed an operation on my foot, but I came up and did a pre-season with Gary. he was struggling a bit in the centre-half position and I ended up playing at Leeds.


“I rented a place at Harrogate and my wife came up and said that if I was younger we’d have moved up there because she loved it.

“She didn’t realise how big a football club it was and all around Harrogate, Wetherby and York is lovely.

“I really enjoyed it at Leeds, although disappointed to see Gary get the sack. the new manager came in – who has been successful – and I don’t think I fitted into his plans. But he was honest with me and I appreciated that.

“Leeds is a big club. I found the same when I went to Celtic; you sort of think a team is a big club, but until you get there you don’t realise just how big and how passionate the fans are.

“The fans of Leeds are so passionate. We’d go to places like Swindon and Peterborough and you could tell that Leeds were far too big for that level as they were almost taking more away fans than the home supporters they were playing against.

“I thought: ‘This club just shouldn’t be in this league’! With 35,000 or 40,000 fans, they should be in the Premier League. It’s a massive club and a good club.

“I’ve family in Australia and having played for Celtic and Leeds, both clubs have supporters’ clubs all around the world, including there.

“I went on holiday there last year and was watching the film Damned United on the plane. i remember speaking to Eddie Gray and although I don’t think the story was quite how it was portrayed, it just goes to show how big the club is. Big enough to make a movie because it’s that popular.

“I enjoyed it there and keep looking out for Leeds. They were going so well last season only to just fall away a bit at the end, but the Championship is a tough league.

“Maybe I’ll be able to watch the game at Southampton next season. “I’ve played for the ex-Saints side and Southampton aren’t as big as Leeds, but they have got a beautiful set-up and facilities and they, like Leeds, certainly should never have been in League One.”

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