Aficionados of Third Division football in the early 1960s were aware that Watford had an extremely promising young centre-half, whose hair was already showing signs of thinning prematurely. It was a surprise to all of us when he suddenly disappeared from the scene in 1965 and it was not until he reappeared in November 1967, in the colours of Orient, that we discovered Terry Mancini had, in fact, emigrated to South Africa and had been playing for Port Elizabeth. (A full explanation of the decision to emigrate and the subsequent decision to return is still awaited.)
On his return, however, Terry soon re-established himself and quickly became recognised as one of the most dependable defenders in the Third Division. He was also gaining for himself something of a reputation as a goalscorer. In 1968/69 he was Orient’s second top goalscorer with seven goals in his 46 league appearances (he had failed to register a single goal in his 66 League matches for Watford) and, in all, he notched 16 goals, mostly with his head, in 167 League games for the O’s. In 1969/70, Terry was the jubilant captain of the Orient team that took the Third Division Championship - and the following year he proudly led them in their Second Division campaign and successfully steered them clear of relegation.
I have vivid memories of the game at the Bush in October 1970, when an erratic but sometimes brilliant Rangers side destroyed the naive Eastenders 5-1 (Marsh 2, Ian Morgan 2 and a Venables penalty) despite the stout defensive qualities of TJ Mancini. I can still see an irate Mancini vehemently berating his inadequate fellow defenders (who included the future stars Tommy Taylor and Denis Rofe, who later improved their status far more than their skills) for their grossly negligent performances. Possibly Terry’s display that day impressed others as well as me, because one year later, in October 1971, he signed for us in a £25,000 deal.
‘Henry’ had been born 29 years earlier in Camden Town and had developed into a handsome specimen of some six-foot and 12 stones. Many were misled by Terry’s lack of hair into believing that he was already past it but he proved to be a stalwart defender in his three years with the club, whilst his enthusiastic attitude, his agreeable personality and his radiant grin ensured that he became a firm favourite with Rangers fans. It was a talented but inconsistent side that Terry joined in 1971/72 but his 23 League appearances that season were not enough to clinch promotion to the First Division, which was missed by two points. Mancini did net his first goal for the club, however, in a tense FA Cup tie against Fulham in January 1972, when his 76th-minute equaliser earned us a (sadly unsuccessful) replay at Craven Cottage.
In 1972-73, Ian Evans was surprisingly preferred at the start of the season, but an unfortunate injury to Evans allowed Terry to regain his place and his dominant performances over 24 league games were a significant factor in Rangers’ smooth passage into the First Division (11 points clear of third-placed Aston Villa). He also denied Ian Evans further opportunities to such an extent that Evans was eventually sold to Crystal Palace. Terry recorded three goals that season: in the 3-0 FA Cup win at Barnet in January 1973, in the 5-0 win against Portsmouth in March 1973, and in the 2-0 victory over Luton Town in April that year. Despite Terry’s consistent displays at the centre of the defence, there were frequent rumours that he was about to be replaced in the QPR line-up. When Frank McLintock was signed in the summer of 1973, many said that it was the end of Terry’s career at Loftus Road. But in spite of stories regarding a transfer to Charlton, Terry refused to accept that he would not be able to hold his own with the best players in the land and deservedly won his place in Rangers’ 1973-74 First Division side. He had his best season ever (40 league appearances) and he made a positive contribution to the success of the team that year, as they finished in a praiseworthy eighth position. I can still hear the cheers that rang round the ground in the glorious summer of September 1973 as Terry headed the last goal of a thrilling 3-3 draw with Stoke City.
Possibly my outstanding memory of Terry’s career at the Bush, however, concerns the two FA Cup matches against Coventry City in 1974. Mancini was magnificent in the fifth round tie at Highfield Road in February, when his heroic contribution (once the stretcher was brought on to take him away but he insisted on carrying on) was one of the main reasons that Rangers were able to earn a 0-0 draw and a replay at the Bush, where 28,010 watched goals from David Cross twice give Coventry the lead. But on each occasion an equaliser quickly followed - Don Givens and Dave Thomas, the scorers.
Terry was outstanding in defence but in the second-half he was struggling badly with a leg injury. The injury was clearly getting worse as one of the most exciting games seen at Loftus Road came towards the end of 90 minutes. There seemed no way that Henry would be able to continue through extra-time and the Rangers substitute that day was unlikely to prove an adequate deputy. City were looking distinctly the stronger side in the closing stages but, just as Rangers fans were preparing themselves for the defeat which seemed inevitable if the game progressed into extra-time, a free-kick on the edge of the Sky Blues box was curved straight into the net by Stan Bowles with the very last kick of the game to give Rangers a Roy of the Rovers’ 3-2 win.
It was a tremendous victory and Terry Mancini was at the heart of the delirious celebrations which followed… a shame we lost to Leicester City in the next round really. Another sterling performance of Terry’s that springs to mind was in the end of season 1-1 draw at Highbury, which confirmed Rangers as London’s top team: it seems certain that display played a part in Terry’s eventual transfer to the North London aristocrats.
Perhaps it is not surprising that supporters of other clubs tended to think of Terry as something of a figure of fun. Because he made humorous appearances on television and had once made the mistake of mooning to the crowd, he was dismissed as a clown. Because he discovered an Irish connection, which allowed him belatedly but deservedly to win four full Irish caps whilst with the Rangers, he was regarded as an Irish clown - and because he was bald, he was held to be old and slow.
In fact, Terry was none of these things. He was a strong tackler and a good marker. He was a brilliant header of the ball and he could use the ball constructively. It is true that he could be exposed if he allowed himself to be dragged out of position towards the wings - but these occurrences were rare and, in any case, the fans would forgive him for any minor failure because he was a loyal club man and a whole-hearted trier for whichever team he was playing. Yet still there was a feeling he was undervalued with the club itself, despite the good defensive record of the team during this period (an overall average of well under one goal per league game was conceded during the three seasons from 1971 to 1974 Rumours persisted that the defence was to be strengthened and that Mancini would be the man to be replaced. One reason for the lack of confidence in the central defensive pairing was that a regular partnership was never allowed to develop. Terry played fairly regularly alongside Ron Hunt, Tony Hazell and Frank McLintock (all players with considerable merits of their own) and occasionally with others such as Ian Evans and Ian Watson, but the maximum number of consecutive games with any partner was only 17 (with Ron Hunt in 1971/72, when only 28 league goals were conceded in the whole season).
Terry started the 1974/75 season with yet another defensive partner in David Webb. Webb had arrived from Chelsea in the summer as the latest man earmarked to replace Mancini - and although the pairing of Mancini and Webb looked as if it might develop into something formidable, it was really Webby who displaced Terry. After some mixed early season results, disaster struck in October 1974, in a League Cup tie at home to Newcastle United. Because of form and injury problems, Mancini and Hazell were reunited in the centre of the defence (Webb was a 50th-minute substitute for Danny Westwood) and things did not go well. Rangers were one down in 13 seconds and went on to lose 4-0 (McDonald 3 and Tudor).
Of course, it was not all Terry’s fault, but McLintock and Webb were both fit for Saturday’s game at Highbury (2-2) and Terry never played for the club again. Very shortly afterwards, Terry was on his way to Arsenal for £20,000 (all his moves seemed to take place in the autumn), where he performed creditably for a couple of seasons (scoring once in the First Division against Wolverhampton Wanderers) before moving on to Aldershot. He played 21 league games for the Shots in 1976/77 before an injury on 26 February 1977 in a 4-0 win over Newport County put an end to his career. Terry’s skills were last witnessed in the Football Combination, when he turned out for Fulham reserves whilst on the coaching staff at Craven Cottage. I lost track of Terry Mancini after that - but wherever he is now, I hope he’s enjoying himself as much as he did when at the Bush.
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