They say never meet your heroes.
That phrase alone evokes visuals of stars going on prima donna rampages, being rude and unruly, flaunting and abusing their privilege. In my line of work, I’ve met several of my heroes, and some of them, unfortunately, give weight to the above adage. I’ve done interviews in which some of my favourite singers and actors arrived to the interview completely blitzed out of their minds. It’s hard to write a glowing article when my best quote from them goes, “And let me tell you, let me tell you man, let me–let let me let me tell let me ohwhatsizaghafagrraahh.”
But I had high hopes when I met ex-England international footballer and Tottenham Hotspur legend Teddy Sheringham, MBE for breakfast at Anti:dote in Fairmont Hotel Singapore. He was in Singapore for the AIA Charity Golf 2022, which raises funds for the AIA Better Lives Fund. AIA is currently the Global Principal Partner of Tottenham Hotspur, who Teddy played for from 1992 to 1997 before returning for a second stint from 2001 to 2003.
I’ve looked up to Teddy since I was a child. He was different from most centre forwards in his generation, who tended to be big, strong, aggressive lads (think of the likes of Alan Shearer, Davor Suker or the Brazilian aptly named Hulk). Teddy Sheringham was the cerebral footballer, utilising vision, intelligent movement, nifty passing and anticipation to be just as deadly in the final third as his most celebrated peers. As a skinny boy, I modelled my approach to football after him. Off the pitch, he had always been a measured, even-tempered, astute individual. In a sport that creates larger-than-life, sometimes self-destructive 21-year-old millionaires, Teddy remained a model citizen throughout his career, and in the years after.
His appeal, especially to those who grew up watching football in the 90s and 2000s, was such that he was able to help AIA raise more than S$370,000 from the AIA Better Lives Fund Charity Golf and AIA Charity Dinner.
Ahead of the golf event, I got to sit down with him over a scrumptious breakfast at Anti:dote and we talked football, golf, charity and England’s chances for the World Cup.
Augustman: Hey, Teddy! How are you feeling about the upcoming charity golf event?
Teddy Sheringham: Good morning! I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to working with the sponsors.
What’s your handicap?
Is that good?
It’s decent. (laughs) Zero is a professional level, so the closer to zero it is, the better.
When did you pick up golf?
I started when I was about 17. Didn’t take it seriously until I was about 28. I wish I started as a kid, because that’s when you become good, that’s when your swing is more natural, it’s when you get your swing. But it might have affected my football so I can’t be too hard on that.
Anybody else from your footballing days are golfing now?
Darren Anderton’s a good golfer. Dwight Yorke is a very good golfer. Simon Davies from my Tottenham days. Mark Noble’s just started golfing.
Are you still playing football?
Oh, my knees are struggling, man. I’ve played a lot of charity games over the years. I love it. I played in the England-Germany charity match five years ago and I loved playing in that. I couldn’t understand why other old footballers didn’t carry on playing. But now I’ve got bad knees and it’s like – that’s why they don’t. It’s come to a point where, you know, when you pass a ball, and you feel oh, no, something’s gonna hurt. And you can’t strike it as you should. So the ball doesn’t go exactly where it’s supposed to go, it goes over there.
Do you think golf complements football in any way?
Temperament. Without a doubt. When you’re walking out the fairway, there’s no one trying to challenge you, there’s no one getting in your head (like in football). It’s just you and the ball. But it’s all about your temperament in terms of making mistakes and then getting those mistakes out of the way for your next shot. Same as in football, you can miss a chances, and there are those which you should really score. And if you sit there worrying about it for the next 10 minutes, you’re gonna miss the next two chances that come along.
You mentioned opponents who tried to get in your head. Anyone in particular from your playing days?
(Former Arsenal defender) Martin Keown. It began when we were playing in our youth teams. He’s very, very aggressive. He was an aggressive man, a strong man. I wasn’t naturally aggressive and I kept getting beaten up by big centre halves. So I had to learn to be aggressive. He had that edge over me so I had to be clever to get away from all that horribleness that I knew was coming every time we played against each other.
It’s funny, because after 20 years of that hatred between me and Martin, we both played in the England game against Greece (in 2001), when we qualified for the World Cup. Then, at the end of the game, we were all celebrating with the fans. And I jumped on Martin’s back to celebrate with the fans. He was with the fans, and I ran and jumped on his back, big smiles on our faces.
Since you raised the World Cup. Do you think England has a chance this year in Qatar?
We’ve got a great chance. I like what Gareth (Southgate, England’s manager) is doing. He’s been in charge a long time now. The players understand how he wants football to be played. They’ve had good results. He’s looked at what kind of team wins a World Cup. You want to be entertaining. I would want them to be entertaining. But what’s more important is that they’re strong, there’s stability with a little bit of flair. There’s consistency, which is important to get you to that next step, that next game.
The only thing now for England is the expectation level has risen. When he first came into the job, there was no expectation because the country was at a low in how we felt about the game but now he’s had relative success. He’s got us into a good position and now the country expects again so it’s exciting times.
You’ve had a long, successful career. You played professionally until you were 42. How do you manage your wellness while you were playing and even after?
I’ve been very fortunate. My dad was very skinny, very lean. He played sports till he was 77. I’ve just followed in his genes, there’s no big secret. I’m just very fortunate I don’t put on weight as like other people do when they eat and drink. There is discipline in my life in terms of keeping fit. Yeah, but not in the food side of things. Yeah, it’s just the metabolism in my body. (laughs) Hopefully it stays that way.
What advice do you have for the current Spurs team?
To stay focused in every game. Tottenham have always fall down on the games that they should win. The big games – I’m not worried about. We’ve done well against the big teams. But it’s not about that We need to win the games against teams we should beat – Crystal Palace at home, Brighton. You need to stay focused throughout the season if you want to win something, and not just in October. You have to be there in February, to be ready for that big push up.
You’re here to do some good with AIA at the Charity Golf event, and of course you’ve done a lot of work like this over the years. Can you speak to the impact football has on social change, on helping the underprivileged?
Football is a language everyone around the world speaks. It’s for everyone. It opens doors. So those from underprivileged backgrounds need to understand that if you love football, keep practising and you never know where that’s gonna take you. I was just reading about (new Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder) Matheus Nunes. He grew up in a Brazilian favela, drugs everywhere, shootings – he could have been caught up in all of that. That’s football. Some of them would never have dreamed that they would be playing football on a professional level, earning so much money later on in life. But people people get there. If you have the right desire, commitment, hunger, you never know where it’s going to take you. Football’s the language of the world. It’s a great game to be involved in.