Mick Channon says his hardest job was persuading manager Sir Alf Ramsey to pick him.
The deadly striker with the windmill celebration says his hardest job was persuading Sir Alf Ramsey to pick him.
A strike rate of 21 goals in 46 internationals makes Mick Channon a deadlier England hit man than David Platt or Kevin Keegan. Yet he confessed once that if he were to come back in another life, he’d like to come as a championship-winning racehorse.
While his international colleagues such as Keegan, Gerry Francis and Joe Royle became top-flight managers, Channon is one of Britain’s most successful racehorse trainers, with over 400 winners in the past five years.
"While I was playing, racing was always my hobby," he says. "Now, my hobby has become my job and football is a hobby to me."
From his debut in 1972, however, Channon was the one forward successive England managers - he played under Sir Alf Ramsey, caretaker Joe Mercer and Don Revie - could rely on.
Pacy, strong and deadly in the finish, he took his trademark ‘windmill’ goal celebration to Manchester City, Newcastle and Norwich (via Bristol Rovers and Hong Kong), making 718 league appearances in all.
But he will be best remembered for his exploits with Southampton, where he scored 185 goals and won The FA Cup in 1976.
Channon’s England debut was a long time coming. Despite the headlines he was garnering at The Dell, and several call-ups to international squads, Channon only started in 1972, in a friendly with Yugoslavia at Wembley. "In the days of Sir Alf, it was harder to get out of the squad than into it," he says.
"To get in the 22 was near-impossible, but when I made my debut there were five or six new caps. In those days, there weren’t so many friendlies, so it was a big honour." Four months later, Channon was off the mark as a goalscorer in a rout of Scotland at Hampden Park.
"I remember the Scots all saying they were going to murder us. It was very icy and the game nearly didn’t go ahead, but we beat them 5-0. My goal hit the near post and went in off the far post - it was a good finish. The Scots never turned up for their own reception afterwards."
Despite the sparkling talents of Keegan, Rodney Marsh, Alan Ball and Tony Currie, the Channon-era England side never made it to a World Cup finals, missing out in 1974 and 1978 - Channon’s biggest disappointments in an England shirt were the two qualifiers with Poland in 1973. Dropped for the defeat in Chorzow, he was powerless to prevent a 1-1 draw keeping England from West Germany '74.
Yet he enjoyed his England career, especially rooming with Keegan. The two had a set routine whenever they checked in at a new hotel as Keegan recalls: "He would lay on the bed and tell me, ‘Go down and collect the kit Kev, while I pick a few winners from The Sporting Life.’ I told him he needed to get a lackey."
Today, Channon’s involvement with the game comes from training winners on behalf of players and former team-mates, including Keegan.
Indeed, according to his fellow striker, his racing obsession included the moments before kick-off: "We were playing Manchester United one day and Lawrie McMenemy was giving his team talk when he realised Mick wasn’t in the room. It turned out he was next door watching the 2.45 from Newbury on television."