Restless Teddy's future on the line
We drive south from the train station at Stevenage on the A602 and take the first exit to the ground and Broadhall Way. A man with a clipboard is guarding the car park. Cas winds down the window but doesn't have to explain he is Tony Cascarino. "Head up towards the top," the steward advises. "Thirty-five should be free."
He finds the space and I follow him across the car park to the Directors' entrance.
Confession: I've never been to the Lamex Stadium before. And it's my first time to watch Stevenage or Dagenham & Redbridge or a Johnstone's Paint Trophy game. But hey, there's more to football than Ireland beating Germany.
We take our seats and watch as the teams take to the pitch. Fourteen hundred Stevenage fans have streamed into the ground. Their team have lost four games on the spin and sit 20th - three places above Dagenham - in League Two. A win will restore confidence and set them up for the visit to Exeter on Sunday. So it's a big game for 'The Boro'.
But it's the manager we've come to see.
My first time to meet Teddy Sheringham was at Cas's (second) wedding in June 2000. He was playing for Man United, dating the gorgeous Nicola Smith - a sister of Mandy - and rocked up to the reception in a jaw-dropping Ferrari. A year later, at age 35, he was the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) Player of the Year. Teddy had it all.
In December 2002, he had moved to Tottenham when I interviewed him for the first time at the Spurs training ground in Chigwell. John Gorman's office was empty that afternoon and as he slipped behind the assistant manager's desk and awaited the first question, I suggested he could get to like it.
"Yeah, it's a nice chair for relaxing," he grinned.
"So when should we announce your appointment?"
"Don't hold your breath," he said. "People have talked about me going into management but . . . I don't know. I'm very good at understanding what's going on on a football pitch and dealing with it there and then, but I'm not so sure I could sit and watch a team and say, 'This is what needs to be done.' Maybe that comes with experience? I don't know. At the moment, I am enjoying being a footballer, and that's all I want to do."
Five years passed. He moved from Spurs to Plymouth to West Ham to Colchester and was still scoring goals at the age of 41. His girlfriends were getting younger, his cars were getting faster, and the Trophy cabinet at his north London home ('Camp Nou') was the most impressive I'd ever seen: FA Cup winner, Premier League winner, Champions League winner, PFA Player of the Year, Football Writers Player of the Year, Manchester United Player of the Year, West Ham Player of the Year.
What was the secret?
You opened his fridge expecting cultured yoghurts from Harrods and reduced Balsamic vinegars and condiments from Selfridges and gallons of bottled water from the world's purest springs, and the freshest of organically produced fruit and veg but where did the great Teddy Sheringham get his energy?
(Those of a sensitive nature, please look away.)
Two Time Out bars. Five tins of Fosters larger. One Cadbury's Caramel bar. Four tins of Red Bull. One jar of Tesco's strawberry jam. Five bottled beers. One jar of Colman's horseradish sauce. Two bottles of Dom Perignon. One tub of Flora. Two bottles of white wine. One jar of Colman's mustard. One carton of milk. Six (slightly rotten) tomatoes.
Then he showed me the cupboard: Four tins of Ambrosia rice. Five tins of Heinz baked beans. Four packets of biscuits. One box of Shredded Wheat. One box of teabags. One jar of instant coffee. One entire shelf laden with crisps and sweets.
It was an absolute junk fest.
My favourite story about him was something Cas had told me once about his (Cascarino's) time as a presenter with the radio station, talkSPORT. Their live game that Sunday was Tottenham at home and one of the producers, Steve Hodge, asked Cas if there was any chance Teddy would come on board.
"What? Commentate?" Cas replied.
"Yeah, it's his former club."
"Hmmm, dunno. What are you going to give him?"
"Five hundred quid."
"We might go to 750."
"Naah, he won't do it. I know he won't do it."
"Well, will you at least make the call?"
Sheringham was on the golf course when he took the call: "All right mate? Where are you?" he asked.
"I'm at talkSPORT,' Cas replied. "We're talking about an analyst for the Tottenham game and they've asked me if you'd like to do it?"
Sheringham paused and started thinking about it. Cas wasn't surprised. Teddy thought about everything. On the golf course he could spend five minutes lining up a putt. On the phone he was marginally quicker. "How much is it?" he asked, after what seemed an age.
"Well, they've said 500 but they'll probably pay you 750," Cas said.
"No? What are you looking for?"
"You heard me."
"For f*** sake, Teddy," Cas laughed. "They ain't going to pay you thirty grand."
"Well, there's your answer then."
This was the essential Teddy - in love, and in life, he set the terms.
"Life is not about what (other) people think," he explained. "People can think what they want and talk about your girl and your lifestyle, but if you're not happy when you shut the front door, what does it matter? You've got to do what makes you happy because you only get one life."
"And what if that life was eternal?" I asked. "Would you take it? Would you live the same way?"
"Hmmm, now there's a question. Could I stay at 28 or would I keep getting older."
"You could stay at 28."
"Yeah, I'd take that," he said. "Twenty-eight is a lovely age. No-one likes getting old, do they?"
Four years passed. He met a lovely woman, Kristina Andriotis, and became a father again (his only son, Charlie, was 23). He was playing poker and playing golf and living the life he wanted to lead but for the first time he was asking questions. Something had changed.
"I'd spent this lovely day with Kristina," he explained, "but there was something missing. We'd been out and had a lovely meal and we got home and I started thinking, 'What's wrong with me? Why do I feel agitated?' And it was because I hadn't competed that day. I become agitated if I don't compete at some level - whether it's a game of tennis in the morning, or golf in the afternoon, or poker in the evening. The thing that really fulfills me is competing every day."
In May 2014, six years after retiring from the game, Sheringham returned to football as an attacking coach at West Ham. Six months ago, he applied for the manager's job at Stevenage. "Why would you want to do this job?" the chairman, Phil Wallace, asked. "It's in my blood," Teddy replied. "Football is the talent I've been given. I'm no good at anything else."
Fifty-three minutes of the game have passed when Jamie Cureton, the veteran Dagenham striker, cuts through the Stevenage defence and rifles the ball into the net. Two minutes later, Dagenham score again and an eerie silence envelops the ground.
Teddy watches from the sideline. His black leather shoes are shining in the lights. His impeccably tailored suit - a Hugo Boss, or Gianni Versace or Emporio Armani or Ralph Lauren - does not have a crease.
But his arms are crossed and his brow is furrowed and his voice is hoarse from screaming.
I turn to Cas and shake my head: "He must be f***ing mad!"
It is the first time ever that Teddy has looked his age.
Sunday Indo Sport