Starting and finishing early? Alan Brazil’s life as a footballer wasn’t all that different to his glorious career on our Breakfast show.
But Brazil didn’t just finish early, forced into retirement at the age of 27, the big Scotsman finished better than anyone else in his prime.
While you may know him as the voice of talkSPORT, the 61-year-old was one of English football’s most prolific players back in the day, disguised as a rather dashing curly-haired striker.
Don’t take it from us – the late, great Sir Bobby Robson knew it more than anyone.
Brazil recalls: “When I got clean through, I didn’t panic. I’m not bull****ing, 99 per cent of the time I would score.
“Sir Bobby used to say: as soon as you’re through, it’s a goal, I just turn away because it’s a goal. You don’t miss, son.”
The eighties were strange and unusual times: everyone dressed head-to-toe in denim and Ipswich were quite good.
With a 21-year-old Brazil up front and Sir Bobby in charge, the Tractor Boys conquered legendary figures such as Michel Platini, Antonin Panenka and Zbigniew Boniek to win the UEFA Cup in 1981.
“People forget the whole run,” Brazil insists. “We played a Czech side, Bohemians Prague – who had Panenka playing for them.
“We played Polish side Widzew Lodz, who had Boniek playing for them. Then we played Saint-Etienne, who had never been beaten by an English team in France – they had Johnny Rep, Platini, Dominique Rocheteau. We battered them 4-1.
“FC Koln had Rainer Bonhof, Harald Schumacher in goal, Klaus Fischer up front. AZ Alkmaar in the final had seven or eight Dutch internationals. It was a hell of a run.”
Back in England, Brazil was also going toe-to-toe with legends, namely Kevin Keegan, as Ipswich finished top-flight runners-up two seasons in a row.
The 1981/82 season gave Brazil a double serving of second place as he was pipped to the Golden Boot by Keegan at Southampton, not that our Breakfast host bears a grudge or anything…
“Kevin beat me to the golden boot by four goals. He had seven penalties and I didn’t take them at Ipswich, that was a bugger!”
But Brazil did get one over on Keegan that year, scoring all five goals against the England legend’s Southampton side in a stunning 5-2 victory.
In fact, it was so good, Brazil ended up with two match balls.
“They were top of the table, they had Keegan,” Brazil remembers. “We were the underdogs and we beat them 5-2, I scored all five.
“One of the balls I got the hat-trick with got kicked out of the stand. I got the other ball, which I scored two with.
“The local paper made an announcement asking if anyone had the other ball, it was my first hat-trick at senior level.
“Rumour has it a guy handed it in, someone said it was Richard Wright’s dad who worked at the cigarette factory behind the ground! I’ve still got them both at my house.”
Here’s where the eighties really do get quite confusing: Scotland were an absolute force, so good that Brazil could hardly get in the team.
Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Gordon Strachan, Kenny Dalglish – the Scots took a never-ending list of generational talents to the World Cup in 1982, including our man Brazil, who was drawn into a group with his namesake country.
It was a dream come true for Brazil, who started the opening victory over New Zealand up front with the great Dalglish, but it also turned into a bit of a nightmare – and not just because the Scots got dumped out in the group.
“One of the greatest moments of my football career came on my birthday, 15th June 1982, kicking off with Kenny Dalglish for Scotland at a World Cup,” Brazil says.
“He was my hero. I was just honoured to play against him and with him for Scotland.
“My memories were it was over 100 degrees in Malaga, absolutely roasting, I was dizzy at half-time and Gordon Strachan struggled as well. I’d lost loads of weight because it was very strict what you did and I had to change my lifestyle a bit.
“The game killed me, I was beginning to see double in the second-half. I got selected for the dope test after the game and I couldn’t have a pee for five hours. They had to let me go home. I’d lost something like ten pounds in a day.
“It took me a few days to recover and the second game was against Brazil in Seville, which was even more humid and warmer. That was gutting because I was desperate to play in that but I didn’t.
“I came off the bench for the third game, I felt fantastic, we had to beat the Soviet Union to qualify and we drew 2-2. I was gutted because I was just beginning to feel myself.
“That team was full of stars! It was some team we had.”
Moving to Tottenham for £425,000 in 1983, a 23-year-old Brazil still appeared to have the world at his feet – but rather cruelly, that was when his career started to end.
Don’t get it twisted, Brazil was no flop: he scored six goals in the last 12 games of the 1982/83 campaign, helping Spurs qualify for a UEFA Cup which they eventually won, before Man United took a punt on him in 1984.
But something had changed in the young striker, making him half the player he was at Ipswich – and Brazil couldn’t work out why.
“I didn’t feel as strong or quick,” Brazil continues. “I managed to get a goal every three games at Spurs and they sold me to Man United.
“There were good memories, I scored in the UEFA Cup run and we beat Arsenal 5-0 at the Lane, I scored one in that.
“The allure of Man United was phenomenal, but again it didn’t work for me: groin problems, back problems, hamstrings. I thought, ‘What on earth is going on!?’
“Eventually, I find that my disk had gone in my spine. Nowadays, an MRI scan would pick it up straight away, in those days they were guessing.
“I went to Coventry and QPR, but by 27 I was done. Funnily enough, I was actually relieved when they told me my career was over. I knew something was wrong.
“I felt I could hit 30 goals a season at Tottenham and Man United – but it wasn’t to be.”
If anything, it makes Brazil’s achievements all the more extraordinary. Who knows what the Scot would’ve achieved if his spine didn’t give up in his mid-twenties?
A horrible twist of fate didn’t stop Brazil from making his mark on English football, brushing shoulders with some legends and putting his name alongside them.
When asked who was the best, Brazil doesn’t hesitate: “Dalglish. Glenn Hoddle was a great player, so was Bryan Robson. Graeme Souness was amazing, but Dalglish has to be the best.”
And luckily for Brazil, there was a decent little gig waiting for him after his playing career finished.