Russell Osman

Former Player Remembers: Russell Osman (Part Two)

Earlier this month, England international centre-back Russell Osman spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football.
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A key member of Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town side, which was one of the best teams in England, Russell signed for Leicester City for a fee of £240,000 in 1985. He spent three seasons at Filbert Street, making 120 appearances for the Foxes, captaining the side in 1987/88. Since leaving City, he pursued a varied and interesting career playing, coaching and managing as well as working in the media at home and abroad. 

In part one of this interview, Russell remembered his successful time at Robson’s Ipswich, when that club twice finished as runners-up in the old First Division as well as winning the UEFA Cup in 1981. He also spoke about playing for England and his move to Leicester, playing for Gordon Milne, Bryan Hamilton and David Pleat - who made him Club captain.

In this second part of the interview, Russell reminisces about his experiences working with the likes of Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, Pelé, Bobby Moore and Ossie Ardiles when he appeared in the film Escape to Victory. He then went on to talk about his subsequent career as a player and manager after he left City in 1988 and about his lengthy career working in the media for Eurosport, Sky, the BBC and in India, both before and during the India Super League era.

Escape to Victory was released in 1981. Directed by John Huston, it was set in the Second World War. Its storyline was about a group of Allied prisoners of war who agreed to play an exhibition match against a German team with the intention of using it as a method to escape captivity.

Explaining how he came to be involved in the film, Russell said: “We’d just had a really good season at Ipswich. Bobby Robson was approached and asked if he would allow some of his players to help out with the background footballing scenes for the movie. He called a meeting of players and asked if anybody fancied doing this in the summer. He told us we’d get paid and that Pelé might be there. We didn’t know how long this would be for and I didn’t really think much about it, other than that we would be going to film in Budapest for five weeks during the summer.

“When we got there, we suddenly realised that Bobby Moore was there along with Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and Sylvester Stallone, along with three World Cup winners, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and Pelé. Other footballers included Kazimierz Deyna and Mike Summerbee, who had both played for Manchester City. It was magnificent getting to know the cast, going out for dinner with them and having general banter about the place.”

Several of Russell’s Ipswich team-mates also got involved. The expectation was that they would stand in for the actors in the football scenes. They included Kevin Beattie, John Wark, Kevin O’Callaghan and goalkeeper Paul Cooper, who was later to become Russell’s team-mate at Leicester.

There was a surprise in store for Russell: “On the first night, we were told that not only were we doing the football scenes, some of us would also have an acting and dialogue role in the film. They then said to me: ‘Russell, you will have a role playing a character called Doug Clure. He’s your character and, in the morning, you’ve got dialogue with Michael Caine!’ My reaction was to protest that we were just there to do the football, but they insisted that I had this character to play. I had quite long hair at the time and they then said I’d have to get my hair cut, because I was supposed to be in the RAF.

“The next day we all got kitted out into our uniforms. To be honest, Michael Caine was fantastic. We all sat in the Nissan hut having a chat and he started telling a few jokes. I’m sitting there thinking: ‘I’ve got this dialogue with Michael Caine in a minute!’ Then, all of a sudden, he said: ‘Right, okay. Let’s get this done’. So we did. It was as easy as that. He made it so easy.

“Sylvester Stallone didn’t mix as much as the others did but he did once have an arm wrestle with Kevin Beattie. He didn’t realise how strong Beattie was! I did get invited to go back to the States with John Huston but I was only about 21 at the time.”

Russell then turned his attention to chat about his life after leaving Filbert Street in 1988 to sign for Southampton.

“I was at the end of my contract at Leicester, who had just ended their first season back in the Second Division,” he explained. “The contract extension they proposed wasn’t an exciting one. I heard that Southampton were interested. I think we’d got mobile phones at that point and I made a call to Leicester manager David Pleat on the way down to Southampton to tell him that I was going to go down there. He tried to dissuade me but said he wasn’t going to the Chairman to ask for more money, so I moved to Southampton. Chris Nicholl was their manager.”

Russell spent just over three seasons playing in the top flight at Southampton, making a total of 124 appearances before moving to Bristol City in the old Second Division in October 1991.

“I would have stayed at Southampton a lot longer,” Russell said. “But Ian Branfoot was the manager for my last few months there. He wanted to play me at full-back, which I didn’t particularly want to do at my age. It was a nightmare, so I went to Bristol City.”

Later that season, in January 1992, Russell returned to Filbert Street, playing for his new club against Leicester City in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

“I remember we won that game 2-1,” he recalled. “Dariusz Dziekanowski and Junior Bent scored for us. The pitch was frozen. It was rock hard!”

A year later, in January 1993, Russell became Bristol City’s player-manager: “When I went to Bristol City Jimmy Lumsden was the manager then Dennis Smith took over and he got the sack. I took over the caretaker manager’s job with a couple of others and then they gave me the player-manager’s role.”

One of Russell’s first acts as manager was to sell Andrew Cole to Newcastle United for £1.75M. By the end of that season, he had steered Bristol City clear of relegation. He also played in the Robins side against Leicester in the last ever game played at Filbert Street before the old Main Stand, which had been built in 1921, was demolished to make way for the new Carling Stand.

“I absolutely enjoyed the role of player-manager,” Russell reflected. “I’d done the FA Advanced Coaching badge, or License, in the early 1990s. This time of year always reminds me of the time 29 years ago when Bristol City knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup at Anfield after a drawn game at Ashton Gate.”

Eleven months later, in November 1994, Russell left Bristol City.

He added: “It was unfortunate that the people who were in charge at the club when I first went there, and who had made me manager, were ousted in a hostile takeover. A new board of directors came in and they had already made their mind up that they wanted Joe Jordan as their new manager. Somebody had let me know about this, so I knew that if I lost a couple of games I was going to be out, but that’s football. I wouldn’t have minded but it took them just under a year to pay my contract up.”

Four months later, in March 1995, Russell joined Plymouth Argyle as reserve team player-coach, but he left Home Park after the Pilgrims were relegated from the third tier at the end of the season.

He said: “After that, right at the end of my playing career, I ended up playing for Brighton, managed by Liam Brady and for Cardiff City, managed by Phil Neal. Then I became Cardiff’s manager for just over two years. That didn’t quite work out for one reason and another but, by that time, I’d started doing a bit of media work.

“I worked as a studio pundit for Eurosport from then on for about 20 years. I also did a bit of Sky, a bit of BBC and a bit of ITV. I went to India working with a production team that involved people from Eurosport. From about 2006 or 2007, I worked out in India with a great commentator called John Helm, who still goes out to India now. Then, when the India Super League started in 2013, they asked myself, John and a couple of others to go and help kick that off.

“That was great but in the first year we ended up doing something like 30 internal flights in 80 days We’d be going from Goa to Mumbai to Calcutta, to Delhi and to Chennai. We ended up being based in Mumbai most of the time. It’s a fantastic city. We had a wonderful time in India. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but we had a great time there. We were out there for four months every year. It was hard work, but it was very rewarding.

“That carried on until 2020. I came back in March 2020 just as COVID-19 hit. For the next couple of years, they did it in Goa but I was a little bit reluctant to go out there as I would have had to isolate in the hotel.

“I moved back to Ipswich a couple of years ago with my wife. My mum, who is 87, is still about here. I’ve got a season ticket at Ipswich and I follow what Leicester and Southampton are doing and keep an eye on Bristol City. I keep myself busy by helping out a little bit with my wife’s interior design business and by playing a bit of golf. Life’s good.”

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