At the age of 23, Derek Brazil was faced with the most important decision of his life.
He could accept a two-year contract extension offer from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, or he could drop down three divisions to join Eddie May at Cardiff City.
As a child, he was a relatively late player in football, starting only when he was 14 years old. A year later, Nottingham Forest wanted to take him, but the Brazilian father, Mick, kept him at home in Dublin to continue his studies.
Only two years later, he headed to England for the first time undergoing a month-long trial with West Ham, but ultimately failed to reach the ranks.
He remembered Paul Ince, a future Manchester United colleague, coming to him at Upton Park to tell him to keep his chin, that brighter things lay ahead.
How true those words are.
Brazil returned home to play for his local club Rivermount Boys in December 1985, but in March, he was spoiled for choice. Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, whatever, they all want to recruit him.
But, considering his father, Mick was a United fan and they had a strong Irish contingent there at the time, joining boss Ron Atkinson at that time would always be Brazil’s choice.
“I played at The Cliff against the first team, and Frank Stapleton scored three goals against me and I was like, ‘wow’,” he recalls.
“We went to the office and Ron was there and there was a blue light under the door in his office. I was like, “What’s that?” I later learned that it was a sunbed in his office cupboard!
“Ron said they wanted to sign me on a three and a half year contract. The only thing I said to Ron was, “Are you still going to sign me after Frank Stapleton has scored three goals past me ?!”
“Ron said,‘ Listen, son, he can score 10! How you stop it from doing that is brilliant ‘. “
Then negotiations emerged. How much is it worth? Well, Brazilian father, Mick, has a new idea to decide that.
“My father took a piece of paper and said to Ron, ‘Look, you write what you think is valuable and I will write what I think is worth and we will exchange,'” remembers Brazil.
“So Ron wrote the number, my father wrote the number and I thought my father would endanger this for me!
“They exchanged papers and Ron looked at him and said, ‘This is a deal, Mick. Derek, if you are happy to register, we will enter. ’
“I like signing, shaking hands with Ron, but I need to see what is written on both papers.
“I looked at Ron and read £ 5,000. When they talked and looked out the window, I had to see what my father had written.
“So I took it and what my father wrote was: ‘Duplicate!’
“My father thought to stand there, I thought that was funny!
“My father looked rather sad and I wondered why. And he said, “I should say triple. But I can’t remember how many Ls in triplicate! ’
Ferguson, that summer, came to replace Atkinson and that was a total change at Old Trafford, far more
professional and intensity of training goes through the roof.
Brazil only managed two senior matches for United, but Ferguson made him the captain of the reserve team, which according to Brazil is an honor in itself.
So, we return to the big decision that Brazil must make. Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister are in front of him and will never be forced out.
He remembers watching some of the boys of ‘Class 92’ United and realized that they would soon catch up with him and his contemporaries.
“I could have stayed easily, but at the age of 23, I didn’t want to. You see players who have passed you, in other clubs too, and you think, no, I need to move.
“He was looking for the best club for me and that’s when he told me, Cardiff City wanted me to go to Ninian Park on a month loan.
“I got off the train and met Eddie at Ninian Park and he took me to the middle of the field. He’s a big man, Eddie, I’ve never met many who are bigger than him to be honest.
“His presence is extraordinary. He said, “I talked to Alex and he thought you would be right”.
There are clubs in Belgium, France and Scotland that are pursuing signatures, but that is only “just right,” he said.
What stands out in his mind is the chemistry of this extraordinary group of players. The perfect player alchemy, sewn together by master manager man Eddie May.
“We met at Beverley first,” he said. “Some of it there, we will end up in the city, the Bank, the Wine Press, whatever.
“It was incredible. You have 11, 12 young men who practice together in the morning, then on Wednesday, because we are off on Thursday, we will all go out. You won’t get it now!
“That’s a very close bond.”
Are there any special disturbances when going out at night?
“Daley!” He laughed, of course referring to Carl Dale. “He didn’t tell you everything. He was a bit of a bugger when he had some sherbet!
“He used to have this small death grip when he used to grab your neck and you really passed out!
“Luckily, I was quite tall and he couldn’t come to me. I just hit it.
“So many characters … Nathan Blake, Jason Perry, Nicky Richardson, (Phil) Stanty, Cohen (Griffith) are the quietest, perhaps.
“They are a good night, let me tell you!”
They are the Cardiff City team that determines generation. A group of players who ignite something in the Bluebirds fanbase some others can already imitate.
In 1993, Eddie May gave a promotion to his insane troops at the end of the season, those who were there will never forget.
This is the Dale, Stant, Blake, Searle, Pike team and others. It was the year of the glorious iconic kit.
Over the next few weeks, WalesOnline will track people who became heroes 27 years ago to hear their stories in the past and discover what happened to them.
You can read about Carl Dale, the cult striker who is an electrician here.
May did not get enough credit for how he gathered the troops, Brazil said.
He is easily offended, of course, but he achieves perfect balance when he has to work hard and play hard.
“Eddie is great,” Brazil said. “He will be there and sometimes buy us all food.
“He will say, ‘All right, you have to put your steak and your head chips in, prepare your stomach!’
“Then we will leave him. He knows. He will contact one of the boys to find out where we are, but I don’t think he will be allowed out. Or we won’t want him there!”
Brazil is a skilled racer and laughs for a while when we talk on the phone. It is easy to see why May thinks he will fit very well with this very talented group of eclectic players.
In many ways, it is the shared nature of this iconic squad that is the reason why fans like them so much, Brazil said.
“There are many players who are not wanted by their club,” the former central defender recalls.
“The young players he brought, Jason Perry, Blakey, Damon Searle, Lee Baddeley, he brought in players who he thought were good enough to win the league.
“The couple with myself from Man United, Daley from Chester, Nicky Richardson from Halifax, Stanty who has been everywhere, Kevin Ratcliffe who people think his leg is missing.
“Eddie got the best of us all.
“If you think about Eddie, many people think he’s just a manager. He isn’t.
“He is like a father, a best friend, a trusted person, a psychiatrist. He is everything.
“If Eddie is still alive today, God bless him, and this is his day, he will be one of the top managers.”
Brazil laughed when he thought about an opportunity when Stant threw his shirt at kitman Harry Parsons when he was substituted in one match.
They drew at the time and went on to win, but in the dressing room May and star striker Stant rose after the ballistic manager.
“I wouldn’t like Stanty’s opportunity if I was honest!” He laughed.
There are many unforgettable moments that stand out in Brazil’s mind, some special, some not so many.
He loved the Ninian Park crowd and cited the extraordinary bond that seemed to unite the players and those who paid to come and watch them every Saturday afternoon.
“If we don’t do well, you will hear a strange heckle from the stand,” he said. “But you will look up and realize that you will meet him on Wednesday night at the Wine Press. So you cannot disappoint him!”
City were on a magical track towards the end of the season and it was the second match against Shrewsbury at home, a game that Bluebirds needed to win to seal the promotion, which evoked more laughter from effervescent Brazilians.
“Before the match, all the boys said we all had to have skinheads, I was gone, ‘Yes, I’m ready for it!’,” He recalls.
“I finally got a skinhead, is there anyone else? No. I just ended up like Vinnie Jones!”
Of course, City won the final as well, and were promoted as champions. An extraordinary achievement and which is believed by Brazil to justify his move from Old Trafford to Ninian Park.
He had more pleasant years in the Welsh capital and became part of the fabric, but his fate changed when Phil Neal and Kenny Hibbitt took over and injuries began to take its toll.
In 1996, when it was only 27 years old, Brazil could feel its time was coming to an end and it was clearly a time that still evoked strong memories in him.
“Very sad when I leave,” he remembers. “I kind of know. I have spent the past two or three months with bad hamstring tears.
“I’m not a big fan of Phil Neal or Kenny Hibbit. I have my best years under Eddie, so I’m a little biased.
“I went in and knew they would free me.
“Phil Neal said, ‘Look, you are a great servant for the club.’
“I said, ‘Can I stop you there? If you want to offer a two-year contract, I refuse it!’
“His face just fell. They don’t intend to offer me anything!
“I said, ‘Look, I’ve been in this club for a long time and I think you two took the wrong route at this club, you took it. So I want to go.’
“Phil Neal is trying to get his words out, but I won’t let him say it!
“I thanked Kenny and told them that I had an appointment and had to leave, I met the boys at Admiral Napier, I had to switch!
“I walked out the door to the small car park and really shed tears. It’s sad. In the four years I was there, the club and the fans meant a lot to me.
“I cried as I walked from Ninian Park to Canton.”
Once again, he had an offer to go to China or return to Ireland, but he had established an affiliation with South Wales and managed to move to Newport, part time while he did his training badge.
It turned out to be an important step. He has his own business now where he goes to school to teach sports and sports lessons.
Brazil has a job as a football development officer for Newport and Cardiff City and, of course, goes into management with people like Haverfordwest, Goytre United and Pontypridd Town.
“Thank God for Newport,” he said behind. The opportunity to carry out the formation badge there has given him a living more than 20 years now.
He also devoted most of his time after football to helping the homeless. He has a close relationship with Huggard, a center that helps rough people sleep in Cardiff.
Brazil, who now lives in Penarth with her boyfriend and nine-year-old daughter, Ava, launched a shoebox campaign last winter and spent Christmas Day distributing supplies to homeless people in the capital.
He works in schools Monday through Wednesday and does voluntary work on Thursday and Friday and enjoys everything. He likes to give back, whether through sports or helping homeless people.
Recently he also branched out after dinner, and after one phone call, you felt he would be fine for himself in the industry.
He also still works for Cardiff City, on match days as ambassador. In fact, it was in this line of work that he found the most astonishing story of all of them, with his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I met him six years ago, when Cardiff first entered the Premier League and Manchester United came down to play,” recalled Brazil.
“Ferguson was in the director’s lounge and Keith Cooper told me he was there. I went in there and there he was, right, and I hadn’t seen him in about 15 years. Bobby Charlton was on the table, the director etc.
“As soon as he saw me, he stood up and said, ‘Baz, sit down!’ He asked me how I was and all that and then he began to talk about Roy Keane, who had a book at the time.
“‘He’s working my head right now,’ he said about Keane. So I just laughed.
“But he said, ‘By the way, how are Mick and Evelyn?’ My parents are lucky I am sitting, and I think that is surprising, considering I haven’t seen it in 15 years.
“But then he turned and said, ‘Is your father still driving a taxi?’
“I respect him, but when I move away from it … I can understand it, remembering Bryan Robson, the Norman Whiteside or Peter Schmeichel family, but for him to go to the level of detail, to find out everything about you and your family.
“I don’t even remember some of the people I worked with two weeks ago! That just shows why he has been a manager for so long.”
Ferguson, remember, who thought Cardiff would be very suitable for Brazil, and it turned out that way.
So, standing there in Ferguson’s office 27 years ago, does he think he made the right decision?
“I have made many wrong decisions in my life,” he said. “It must definitely be up there with the top one right.
“I love Cardiff. I’ve watched it change. In those 27 years, I’ve seen stadiums change, managers come and go, how they build everything.
“One thing that has never changed is the fans. They are always right, so loyal to any club the manager is.
“To this day, they are still extraordinary, there is no one like them.
“They are the heartbeat of the club in many ways, the club will not survive without them.”
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