Brian Borrows is the Professional Footballers’ Association coaching figurehead in the Midlands. Brian tells Tony Dewhurst about his role and the agony of missing the most famous day in Coventry City’s history when the Sky Blues defeated Tottenham Hotspur in the 1987 FA Cup final at Wembley.
Keith Houchen’s flying header for Coventry remains one of the old tournament’s defining moments.
‘I’m not ashamed to say it, I cried watching the FA Cup final alone in a hospital bed.
I played every league match (1986-87) plus the FA Cup ties against Bolton, Manchester United, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday and the semi against Leeds in front of 50,000 fans at Hillsborough.
Before the final league game, John Sillett, (Coventry manager) asked if I wanted a rest before Wembley but instead, I was raring to go.
It sounds crazy now, and a bit like a Sunday league game, but at half-time I asked if I could play in midfield for a change.
Suddenly, a few minutes into the second half, I overstretched for a ball and heard a pop in my knee.
Five days before the biggest game of my life I was on crutches and my Wembley dream was fading.
I underwent X-rays, three treatment sessions a day, and physiotherapy, but nothing made any difference.
A kind lady even arrived at Highfield Road with a bottle of holy water, and I sprinkled that on my knee.
When I saw the specialist, he said: ‘Brian, there’s no way you are going to be fit for the FA Cup final.’
I was devastated.
The surgeon said he would do the operation when he returned from a foreign trip, but I wanted it done because I couldn’t face going to Wembley.
So, on the eve of the cup final I had knee surgery.
And when Clive Allen scored for Spurs after 88 seconds, I switched the TV off.
But when I tuned in again Dave Bennett had levelled it for Coventry.
Then the Coventry fans began chanting my name and I cried again.
Coventry won 3-2 in extra time and the next day the players turned up at hospital and dragged me on to the open top bus for the celebrations in Coventry.
It was an incredible era and the dynamics of that group of players was our biggest strength.
For the rest of my career, though, I used not playing in the FA Cup final as a motivating tool to drive me on.
Brian, you began your career at Everton, joining the youth ranks aged 13.
‘There was no academy system then, so we trained two nights a week.
I would jump on the bus from school to get there, but at 16 I wasn’t offered an apprenticeship.
Steve McMahon (Everton, Liverpool) was in my year and we were told that we were too small.
However, Everton said they’d like to keep us on as amateurs.
So, every week we’d both be first in the queue at the social security offices to sign on the dole and then we’d go to train.
Later, I was awarded a professional contract.
Looking back, though, I do wonder how on earth I made it in football.
I guess it was just perseverance, but I must have been so very close to being released.
I played 100 Central League games (second team) for Everton and it was an incredible learning experience to be up against seasoned professionals each week.
In those days if you weren’t in the first team then you would play in the reserves - you didn’t have any choice.
You wouldn’t say to the coach, I don’t fancy that tomorrow, you played.
If, for example, Everton played Manchester United’s second team you would be up against eight internationals or be facing the Greenhoff brothers, Brian and Jimmy, Lou Macari or Joe Jordan.
It was men’s football, a tough environment, but I thrived even though I was a shy lad.
I made my Everton debut against Stoke City at Goodison Park.
I was a true blue, and it was the club I supported as a kid.
When I pulled that famous shirt on, I thought if I never play for Everton again then I would have fulfilled my boyhood dream.’
Shortly after the FA Cup final Coventry City faced Everton in the Charity Shield Final.
I wasn’t fit, but John Sillett named me as a substitute and told me that I’d play some part in the game.
He knew what it meant me, so soon after missing the FA Cup final weeks earlier.
He needn’t have done that, but that was John Sillett, a larger than life character but a very fair man.
He understood management.
John would climb on to the team bus looking all official with a flash briefcase under his arm.
You would imagine the briefcase would hold a detailed dossier on Coventry’s opponents but all he had in it was a pack of cards and a dog-eared note pad to count the score in his card school.
It didn’t always happen then, but John insisted that I received an FA Cup winners medal.’
Brian, you joined the Professional Footballers’ Association as the union’s regional coach Educator in the Midlands in 2009.
You are heavily involved in player development and delivering Level 2, UEFA A and B Licence courses.
How have you managed to adapt during the coronavirus health emergency.
‘We’ve been really pro-active since March and I’m so proud because it has proved to be a massive success.
We are busier than ever, with hundreds of players taking part in the coaching workshops.
I don’t think we’ve lost anything, apart from the face to face practical side of coaching and hopefully we will return to that when things get back to normal.
Maybe this is the future, delivering the coaching theory via on-line classrooms.
We’ve had a very good engagement from the apprentices studying for the Level 2 qualification.
The youngsters have all worked incredibly hard and they should get great praise for their diligence.
We also deliver a lot of coaching workshops to former players, many who went to do something different with their lives when they retired from football.
It is amazing to see guys in their fifties come back, eager to get their coaching badges.
They enjoy that camaraderie again, back in the dressing room with a group of players and you can see them come alive.’