When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be Jimmy Greenhoff. Adults did, too. And everyone remembers where they were when they heard Jimmy was to leave Stoke City. For those not old enough to be around at that time, it was huge news. A massive disappointment that I have never seen the likes of since.
I was in my nan’s living room in Cobridge. I’d been throwing a woolly, home-made pom-pom against a wall and volleying it when it bounced back into imaginary goals. Guess who I was trying to be?
The news then came on the radio. I was heartbroken. It’s ironic that as we poured Jimmy a cup of tea in an Alsager hotel, Stoke City are now managed by another unbelievable volleyer of a football.
It was an absolute honour to meet and share an hour with the great man.
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up and how you got spotted….
I grew up in Barnsley. I was a good kid, went to grammar school but was absolutely football mad. I supported Barnsley and was the first one in the ground on matchdays. Football-mad I was. I was a right half, or the old number 4 as they called them, back in the day.
I was playing for Barnsley schoolboys, the town team. We won the Schools Shield and so obviously the longer we went into the competition the more chance there was for scouts to see us. Scouts weren’t allowed to contact you until you left school back in those days. Don Revie was manager at the time.
You were successful at Leeds – why did they sell you?
Well, to be totally honest, I wanted to go. It wasn’t a case of them wanting me to go. I wasn’t getting enough game time and I was always the one who I felt wasn’t definitely going to be in the team. So I felt it was time to go – I wanted regular football.
So you went to Birmingham and scored 15 in 36 – yet Stan Cullis said you weren’t scoring enough?
Yeah, that’s right, but I actually scored 12 in the first 9, too. He called me into his office first thing on a Monday morning. I thought he was going to offer me a new contract to tie me up for a few more years, and he told me I wasn’t scoring enough goals. I thought he was joking.
Stan Cullis then said “Jimmy, when was the last time that you scored?” – don’t forget that this was on a Monday and I said “Er, Saturday against Huddersfield, boss!”. As a wing-half I was never going to be prolific as a goalscorer. I’d chip in, but my role and my game was about far more than that.
So, in 1969 you moved to us. Tell us about the transfer.
I’d heard rumours about other clubs wanting me at the time in the papers. Just before the season started, Waddo came over with Albert Henshall and I got the call to go to St Andrews as there were a couple of fellas interested in signing me. I wasn’t told who.
So I went down – I must admit, Stoke weren’t my first choice at the time, but we had a chat and I asked if he’d start to look at putting a younger team out at Stoke. I didn’t want to be bought to do the running for other players. I wanted to play my own game. Waddo said that he would, and we shook hands on the deal.
So I went back home and I’d only been in the house 20 minutes or so and the phone rang. It was a Daily Mirror reporter called Bob Russell and he asked if I’d signed for Stoke. I told him “no” and he said “don’t, Everton are coming in for you. They’re on tour though.” A bit later I got a call and it was Alan Ball who also said Everton wanted me. Managers wouldn’t call you, they could get into trouble for that.
I asked my wife (Joan) and she told me to do what I wanted. I had already shook hands with Waddo, so that was that.
Everton went on to win the league that year, but the great thing about it was that I stuck to my word and Waddo stuck to his. The make-up of the team at Stoke immediately became much younger. Conroy, Mahoney, Pejic and others came in to the team. It turned out to be the best move I ever made.
The club’s finest ever day: You went off with a shoulder injury in the League Cup Final, didn’t you?
Yes. I did my shoulder after about 20 minutes and I should have come off, but what do you do? No way was I coming off that early, as it’s a cup final plus you always think you can do better than whoever is on the bench. I remember falling on it again and I did go off. I wanted to stay on but I wasn’t running too well.
As for the day, I don’t remember the lead up to the day of the final too well, but I remember a lot about the day. Like Micky Bernard’s backpass to Chris Garland – I turned to Waddo on the bench after he brought me off and said to him “if we lose, I’ll never speak to you again!”. But when the final whistle went, I gave Waddo the biggest kiss ever. Indeed, that kiss was on telly.
The players and supporters were closer back in the day, weren’t they?
Correct. We always came out before away games with any spare tickets for the fans. Waddo insisted on it and we were happy to do it. He especially made the point of doing so on your longer journeys, to the likes of Norwich, Ipswich and for London matches.
It was a big thing to Waddo. We socialised a lot with the fans. We always had lunch as a team in the Social Club and fans would be in there, too. It was great.
It’s not about money. We’d still do it now I think. John Ritchie’s night out with us was always going down to the Social Club. He had his own pint pot behind the bar, there. Imagine that now!?
Of all the clubs I went to, it was at Stoke that the players had the greatest bond with the fans. Let me tell you two lads here, we used to play for the fans. Make sure that goes in the magazine, lads – we loved the fans.
When Alan Hudson came to Stoke, we’d speak before games and we just wanted to get out on that pitch and entertain the fans. The one-two’s we did we loved doing, but we know we maybe did a few too many as we always wanted to entertain.
Your on-pitch relationship with Huddy – how brilliant was that?
We were simply on the same wavelength, but me and George Eastham had a great understanding, too. What a player George was. Huddy was telling me that when Waddo went to sign him from Chelsea he told him that he was being signed to replace George Eastham. Huddy said what a fantastic compliment that was, and said it virtually made his mind up to sign for us.
How much did the Arsenal semi finals affect you?
The semis were heart-breaking.
To be honest, every time Arsenal are mentioned there’s a little bit of a……. <Jimmy pulls his face>. I love it when they come to Stoke nowadays and the crowd goes mad and they’re all doing ‘the Wenger’. I want to do it myself! I love Stoke beating them.
Lucky, lucky Arsenal.
Those semi finals, I wanted to win so badly. We were destined not to beat them in those matches. The thing that was really annoying was that everyone in those days wanted to play at Wembley as they only played the final there – not anymore. You hang your boots up and they start playing semi finals there!
Onto Europe, Jimmy. What do you remember of the Ajax games?
I remember them at our place playing offside all the time. We should have been able to handle it, but by playing offside they stopped us from playing, really.
Over the two legs we were excellent and we should have beaten them. That showed just how good Stoke City were at that time – we should have beaten one of the great European sides!
You were renowned as probably the best English volleyer of a football. Did you practise it a lot?
Yes I did.
It started at Leeds. Every day I practised volleying. They’d say “save your legs and go inside, Jimmy”, but I always wanted to practice volleying and perfect it. Possibly my best one was playing for Port Vale against York. It was a night game and there wasn’t many there.
The famous one for Stoke against Birmingham was a right footer and the one for Vale was a left footer.
I did used to get a bit of stick from some Vale fans, especially one bloke who kept shouting abuse at me. Fair play to Vale’s Russell Bromage, their left back – he went over to the bloke and told him that I was on the same wages as the other Vale lads and to shut up! I played for all three local teams – I never wanted to upset any Stoke fans and hope I didn’t.
We were in the Social Club at the ground for lunch, as usual. As I said before, we were a close bunch and always ate together. I got a message that the gaffer wanted to see me on the pitch. I found it strange as we didn’t have a game.
So I walked out down the tunnel and there Waddo was – in the centre circle, looking up at the Butler Street Stand. I said “Crikey gaffer, what a mess that is, eh”.
Waddo replied “yes it is Jimmy, but it gets worse: we had an emergency board meeting and I was informed that it wasn’t insured and that we need to sell someone to pay for it”.
I didn’t ever want to go. I was told that Sir Matt Busby had phoned and Man United wanted me to go to speak to them that afternoon. I was all confused and so I went over to them on the Monday. I didn’t sign on the Monday, didn’t sign on the Tuesday, didn’t sign on the Wednesday…..that tells you something.
So I called an Extraordinary Board Meeting at Stoke and we were all sat there: The gaffer, me and the directors. I told Waddo and everyone I didn’t want to leave.
“So what’s this all about, Jimmy?”, asked someone
“It’s about me telling you that I don’t want to leave”, I replied
After a while someone got up and said “To be honest Greenhoff, we think you’re past it”.
I was only 30. They didn’t mean it, but it was a way of getting me to go. So I stood up, looked at Waddo and said “I’m really sorry gaffer, I’m signing for Manchester United”.
I never wanted to go. It doesn’t take much looking into, does it? I still live in Stoke – that’s how much the club, the people and the area means to me. I’d already thought that I would finish my career at Stoke. I’d like Stoke fans to know that everything I have said about how I love the club is true. I mean every word.
(we know for a fact that when Jimmy does pre-match speaking at Old Trafford he always says that he didn’t want to leave Stoke and it’s the one football club he truly loves – DUCK editors)
So you had to play against Stoke then?
Yes, the first game I played against Stoke was at Old Trafford. I remember Alan Bloor giving me a dead leg after 20 minutes, ha, ha!
As for the game at Stoke – I was early at the Victoria Ground that day as I lived in Alsager. I met the United bus by the entrance and all the players came off and I met Tommy Doc.
He took me to the top of the tunnel and we looked out onto the Victoria Ground pitch and he said “I’m not playing you today, Jimmy”.
I replied “Why boss?” and he said “You’re not sending ‘em down, Jimmy”.
Stoke were pretty much down anyway to be honest, but I did actually think “that’s one of the nicest things I’ve seen in football, boss”.
The Doc knew what the supporters at Stoke thought of me.
I also remember when I was United’s player of the season in 1978/79 season and the trophy was presented by Sir Matt Busby… at Old Trafford… on the pitch before a game against Stoke City! The Stokies gave me a great reception – they were the loudest in the ground as I received that trophy. That reaction meant so much to me.
Peter Osgood – if he had chosen us over Southampton would we have won the league?
Huddy knew Peter Osgood well, and I saw Ozzie after the deal had been done at a Holiday Soccer Camp. Osgood said to me that not joining Stoke was the biggest mistake he had ever made.
And so to the national team….
I was actually picked to play for England in a midweek game, but I was picked to play for Stoke against Derby at the Baseball Ground too, and that was at a time when you had to play for your club before your country.
I did end up getting picked when I was 34 and at Man United, to play against Northern Ireland in Belfast, but I got injured. There might be a bit of truth in the feeling that lesser clubs, not just Stoke, sometimes get overlooked. But I wasn’t bitter, as I was brought up to think that your club paid your wages every week and were your bread-and-butter, England didn’t and weren’t.
Me and Huddy actually played as over-age players in an under-23 game against Hungary. The crazy thing was that I was played on the right and Huddy on the left! How daft was that?
Do you regret not spending more time in management/coaching?
No, I should never have even really got into it, to be honest. I quickly realised that.
…and that was it. We finished our coffees and teas having a laugh and a joke about how it was HIS goal in the FA Cup Final when Lou Macari whacked it against Jimmy for the winner (“that shot of Lou’s would have spun out to the corner flag if it hadn’t hit me!”) and how after he famously scored in a semi-final he went and kissed a toothless Joe Jordan (“I cringe at the face I pulled after I scored, and then the first player on the scene was Joe Jordan, so I gave him a big smacker”). Jimmy also raved about more current players like Peter Beardsley and even our own Charlie Adam, a player who he really likes (“I could play in the same team as Charlie, I really could”).
It’s obvious to anyone just how much affection Jimmy Greenhoff has for Stoke City Football Club. Has a Potters’ player ever been held in the regard that Jimmy was?
The name GREENHOFF will forever live in the memory of every single Stoke fan who saw him play association football. What a player! What a man! What an honour to interview him!
It was in September, 1990. I met my brother, Phil, in Hertfordshire. About 3pm it was, and we made our way down to the game about 4.40pm, stopping only for a beer and a burger in Soho.
We got the tube to Upton Park and walked to the away end. I was 22, a young looking 22 though. It didn’t matter as we weren’t going to go in a pub anyway. Burger stalls, fanzine sellers, the smell of ale and tobacco, badge sellers….and eyes. Yeah, the eyes. I felt like we stood out like sore thumbs as we ambled to the ground, trying to make sure we didn’t talk to anyone.
We lost 3-0, in a League Cup game. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and we were garbage. We took around 300 there that night, and it was as one-sided as the scoreline suggests. The only fun was giving Julian Dicks some grief, but even though it was a stroll for The Hammers, there was a background noise to the game. It felt,smelled and sounded like a football match.
And whilst at every game back in those days you needed eyes in the back of your head, I always loved away games as you saw the country and the different communities, all whilst following your team. I was both a coward and relatively bright enough, to avoid any mither at football, as most did. I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I loved going to football grounds that stood proudly in the centre, and as the centre, of the local community.
Narrow streets, terraced houses, loads of pubs, the bustle, and the floodlights. Ah, the floodlights, standing proudly as a civic beacon. I’ll never lose the buzz of seeing the hazed splendour of four proper floodlights in the distance.
No-one wants a return to the days of football being used as an excuse for, or environment for, hooliganism. Whilst a lot of football in my youth was ace, seeing blokes wallop other blokes in the name of their team wasn’t one of them.
So, I’ll repeat what I said just: no one should want a return to that. And I was glad that any fears I had for my own and mates’ safety yesterday were unfounded.
So, as we’re on about returns, here’s another: I wouldn’t give two stuffs if I never return to The London Stadium ever again.
How long have you got?
West Ham, whilst a club I’ve never really liked, were always a community club. A club that proudly represented their area. As I walked through a huge shopping centre to West Ham’s new stadium yesterday, past hundreds taking photographs of what looked like a huge red sex toy (or so I’ve been told!) and a stadium, I thought we were going to a theme park.
Key word in the above paragraph, stadium. Because that’s what it is. It’s certainly not a football ground, in any way, shape or form. And I doubt it will be anytime soon.
I really had big reservations about there being mither yesterday. I’d visited the place for an AC/DC concert in the summer, and said back then that there would be trouble at that place. Unfortunately, I’ve been proved right so far this season. Thankfully, I was wrong yesterday.
But the problem is that West Ham have now lost so much of their identity, so much of their community, that it didn’t feel like we played West Ham at all yesterday. I’ve been to Upton Park several times, and the whole demographic of the home support seems to have completely changed. And those we spoke to yesterday, really hated their new abode.
We soon saw why.
The queues outside the ground were pretty big even 90 minutes before kick off. Surely after what has gone on this season they’d want folk inside asap, rather than standing in unsegregated areas outside the turnstiles? We spoke to those who came on the coaches – they said they’d parked up a mile or so away from the ground. And as we know, those who go on official coaches often include many who find it hard to walk to the ground from their transport upon reaching their destination. It’s just not good enough, is it?
Others commented on the concourse being without a roof, tiny toilets, poor signage and the like……..Our group stood amazed, at a football game, as cleaners sprang into action as soon as a sachet of tomato ketchup was dropped on the concourse floor. I’m all for cleanliness, but this was massively surreal.
And then there’s the away ‘end’. Or ends, separated as they are by what appeared gigantic maroon trampolines. We sat at the top of the upper tier – to say I’ve never felt so detached watching a game of football would be an understatement. Even the nearest goal seemed to be in another postcode, there was zero atmosphere to talk of, and it took us a few seconds to even work out we’d scored. We spent most of the game chatting, and talking about how each other’s kids are, and what we were doing for Christmas etc. There was hardly no engagement with what was happening on the pitch at all.
There couldn’t be really. We could hardly see After the game? I’m sure the authorities are praying for draws at West Ham this season. We duly obliged. There was little to get worked up about during the game and it was very quiet outside afterwards. But despite a big police presence in places, I’d not like to walk back through the Stop/Go human traffic light system if we’d won with a last minute winner, to the train station. For a start, it’s a fair way without a crowd. Factor in tens of thousands of football supporters…..
Stoke fans were in good spirits after the game, and we all know folk like the stewards are just doing their job as best they can in testing circumstances. But it was the strangest exit from a football game I’ve ever seen. Indeed, the whole experience wasn’t really a football match at all.
West Ham fans, those cast iron (geddit) West Ham fans deserve better. They deserve their club to be the beacon of the community it once was.
We all want better things in life, but sometimes biggest isn’t always best, the most expensive isn’t the best. I never, not once, felt like we were at West Ham yesterday. Indeed, I never felt we were in the East End, or even London for that matter. The word ‘London’ was on everything – like they were trying to convince themselves. The Clash rang out just before kick off: An angry, parochial rallying call of a song sounded like the theme tune from Strictly Come Dancing in this environment.
And as for the ninety minutes, I might as well have got a stream on my phone and watched that.
The London Stadium is not a patch on, for example, The Emirates. Whilst that isn’t what I’d call a real ground, it had so much more personality and character from day one that The London Stadium has, four months into its lifetime. Indeed, give me the Bet365 over it, any day of the week. I really hope that Hammers fans eventually get the sense of community they got from their old ground at their new one. But I doubt it. Yesterday seemed like visiting a glorified fruit bowl sat in the middle of nothing.
Thirty seconds to get the ball back every time it goes out, bubble machines, scoreboards that seem to flash every so often and startling everyone, an away end in two distant sections, managers needing a taxi to get to their technical areas….and guess what we didn’t see all day? A car. Yes, a humble car. It was as if we were playing on the moon, not in the capital city, and certainly not in a vibrant East End community.
I’ve ‘done’ The London Stadium now. It felt like something to tick off a tourist list, and that’s now been done. It’s no wonder there was so much fuss about leaving Upton Park – their new gaff is the footballing equivalent of going in a brothel and asking for a hug.
I really wanted to love yesterday, to love going to West Ham again. I didn’t, but at least it’s only once a season for me. Hammers fans deserve better.
We make no bones about re-sharing the interview we did last year with Marc Muniesa. We love the bloke.
Why? Put on hold just what a cracking footballer he is for a minute. The best compliment I can pay him is that everyone should have Marc Muniesa in their lives for a few minutes every single day. He’s just a lovely, lovely bloke who really is as nice as he comes across in the media and on social media. He is a bloke who makes you smile.
I’m delighted that my daughter’s favourite player is Marc Muniesa: not only is she a good judge of what makes a proper footballer, she’s also a good judge of character and personality, too. When he scored yesterday the whole ground exploded as one to salute a player who we’ve taken to like few others. There is genuine affection for him. And that goes for his team mates, too. Witness how they loved him scoring. I could watch is celebration on loop all day.
It’s nice to be nice. That’s what I teach my kids. Marc Muniesa is a superb ambassador for our football club, and he’s good company, too.
I’d have a pint with Marc Muniesa #IHAPWMM
The Spanish word for player is ‘Jugador’. What a great word, eh? It’s sounds a bit gladiatorial in a way, and it rolls off the tongue, too – and it’s a word that totally sums up Marc Muniesa. The lad is a proper player, a proper footballer.
He’s the second youngest player to have played for Barcelona – have a wild guess at the youngest – and like Bojan is polite, well mannered, and superbly spoken. A real ambassador for Stoke City, and a real credit to his family.
He’s shown at Stoke that he can play in a number of positions, and when at centre half with Ryan Shawcross last season, he was simply outstanding. But Marc Muniesa’s had some cruel luck with injuries, including extensive ligament damage to both knees whilst at Barcelona. It will be great to see him back in action very soon for The Potters.
By rights, you’d think Marc Muniesa would be miserable. But he rarely is, and as well as being a cracking footballer, his manner off the pitch and on social media means he is a massive favourite of the Stoke City faithful. His song resonates around grounds even when he’s not playing. It’s an ace song. He’s an ace bloke. We caught up with him just before Christmas.
Tell us a bit about growing up as a lad in Catalunya.
I was born in Barcelona, but on my second day we were in Lloret De Mar. It’s by the sea, a popular seaside resort, and in the summer thousands go there on holiday. I don’t have a sister but I have a younger brother who is nineteen years old – he plays football too, as a hobby with his mates. My parents both work in hotels – different hotels – because Lloret De Mar is a tourist kind of place, and in the summer we get something like 300,000 tourists, so they’re really busy. Mainly from Britain, Germany, Italy…..
As a kid I was polite and I liked to study and play sports. I’m still studying at the minute (Business Management).
How did you got into football?
My father and my grandfather are massive Barcelona supporters and they went to watch games, they had club cards. I used to go to watch Barcelona with them. I started playing football with my father outside, and at five years old I started to play in the village team.
How were you spotted by Barca?
Barcelona came to see another lad playing who was a couple of years older than me. They saw me and they ended up taking both of us to train with them. I would have been eight or nine years old at the time – he was about eleven. I was lucky and he was unlucky I suppose as they kept me but didn’t keep him.
I had a leg injury and had around a year off football, but when I was ten I started playing for Barcleona regularly. I lived at home until I was 16. My mum or dad drove me three days a week to training. Unlike Bojan, I studied at home in Lloret. It was really difficult as every training day I’d end up doing my homework in the car, having dinner in the car…….I’d get back about 11pm, absolutely shattered. At 16, I moved to Barcelona, La Masia.
What was the training regime like at La Masia? When I spoke to Bojan, he talked about constantly working with a football…..
Yes, everything was with the ball. Everything. I didn’t touch the gym until I was 17/18 years old. Sometimes you hear about kids of 10 or 11 doing gym work or just running. Not at Barcelona – we had the ball all the time and it’s a concept they have there that has done well for them.
When I signed for Barca I was a left winger. When I was 11 I moved back into midfield, and then a year later I was in the defence. A lot of people at Barcelona start in the attack and then they move them around. They like players being used to different positions on the pitch. I was used as a centre back and then also as a left back. I started playing in the Barcelona Under 19’s and played really well. I love Barcelona and I knew other teams were interested at the time but….(shrugs shoulders and laughs), I love Barcelona.
You’ve spoken about La Masia – you have any plans to coach in the future?
Yes. In the future I’d like to go into coaching. I like seeing how people improve.
You made your first team debut at 17 – did you feel starstruck?
Well yes, you’re living a dream. You see the players on TV, they have won everything, and then at a young age, to train with them – it’s just incredible. I was really happy and my family were really happy. It was a great time for us.
It’s rare that you see Barcelona players who have come through the ranks messing about in public life. They all seem so grounded, especially the greats like Xavi, Puyol etc – Do you get media training there?
No, at Barca you don’t have media training, but you do get taught to be a really good person. They love you to study and they think that comes first, because a lot of players play football but don’t make it, so it’s important they have a god education to have a good career in another area away from football when they leave.
Who were your best mates there?
Sergi Roberto and Marc Bartra are two big friends, but I was really good mates with everyone I played with while I was there.
You were sent off on debut – that’s not like you! I presume it was two yellows?
No, it was a straight red, ha ha! In England it wouldn’t have even been a yellow card, ha ha!
It was on the touchline, I was running so fast and I made a tackle. I was the last man but it wouldn’t have been a red card in England! The supporters were cheering me, but then the ref came up with the red card and I thought “oh no!!!!” Even the other player (from Osasuna) came up to me and said it wasn’t a red card, and then Guardiola, Xavi etc started to shout at the ref that it wasn’t a red card!!!!
I was really upset. This was my debut for the team I dreamt of playing for. I played thirty minutes, that’s all. It was a great day, but also one of the worst, too.
You were on the bench for the 2009 Champions League Final against Manchester United?
Yes, a great night, and I got a winners medal! (Erik Pieters then jumps in the room, shouts something mocking Marc, then runs off to much laughter)
How come you left the Nou Camp?
I had a knee injury when I was 20 (in a pre-season friendly against Hamburg, he suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament), and when I came back I was playing with the second team. I was 21 and thought it was time to leave and get regular first team football. I was sad as I love Barcelona, but it was the right thing to do and the right time to go.
You had already had a major knee injury before then, hadn’t you?
I had, yes. I had already torn my other leg’s ligaments when I was 16, so I have done both legs! The second time I knew I had done it, the first time I didn’t. After the second one, I saw my family suffering and crying; far more than me, so I just had to be strong. It made me stronger, and I wanted to get back to playing again and make them happy again.
You’ve suffered a few leg injuries at Stoke since you came – is it a possibility these are linked to your knee injuries?
Yes, it could be possible. With the injuries we’re doing everything we can, like changing insoles in my boots, going to different hospitals, things like that.
Why and how did you come to Stoke?
I wanted first team football, simple as that, but I hadn’t really thought too much about whom for and what league, to be honest with you. I hadn’t thought too much about the Premier League at all, to be honest. A lot of people said how physical it would be, being a defender in the Premier League. But a defender has to also be intelligent, be good on the ball, and good tactically, too.
I then had the opportunity to come here and to speak to Mark Hughes who wanted to change the style of play, and he convinced me to come. It was a big step, but one I was really glad I made. I had to do more gym work and more running to build myself up physically at first. It is more physical over here, it’s a lot calmer in Spain.
What did you know of Stoke City and the city of Stoke-on-Trent?
I didn’t know much about the city at all, but I had heard that they played a lot of direct, physical football. I also heard about Rory Delap, too!
When you were playing superbly for us at the back end of last season – was this the best form of your career?
Yes, I would say it was. Ryan is a really good defender and I enjoy playing next to him. For me, one of the best in the Premier League. He knows exactly what qualities he has. He has superb concentration, and tactically he’s good too. When I play next to him and I want to go forward he sometime shouts me back, “Stay here!!!!”, ha, ha! I like getting in front of players, getting the ball and playing. I also learned a lot off Huthy, too.
We now have a lot of different styles of defenders, too. I know it will be hard to get back in, but I will wait for my chance.
You’ve spoken about your experiences of playing in different positions whilst a youngster at Barca. Do you see your position on the pitch possibly changing here as you get older?
Yes, I think sometimes that when I get older, when I lose some pace, I may play as a defensive midfielder. I played 10 games at Barca B there as a holding midfielder. I think I was good at helping the defence out as I have the mindset of a defender.
You’re the happiest bloke on the planet, aren’t you?
Ha, ha. Sometimes I get angry, ha ha! But it’s important to show you are happy. I like being happy. There are a lot of bad things in life, and although I am desperate to play every game, bad things in life puts not being in the team into perspective.
La Bamba!!!!! I loved the song when I first heard it in Cologne. Amazing! When you hear your name in a song it’s special, it’s a great thing. When I hear it I do think, “they are crazy!”, ha ha.
You live with your girlfriend, and have several Spanish footballing friends close by?
Yes. The first year I was alone, no other Spanish players were here at Stoke. I went around a lot with Wilson Palacios. His wife was also close friends with my girlfriend, so we did lots together. To have friends around you is really important. For example, when you’re not in a good moment it’s important to have someone there you know.
My family come over to watch too, especially in the winter. Sergi and Marc sometimes come over too, but Catalunya have a game on Boxing Day so they won’t be over then.
Thanks for your time Marc. Do you have a message for Stoke fans?
Yes. Thank you for all the love and support you give me. Every day, if it’s good or bad, you are always there for me and the team. Me and the team hope you can enjoy many more good moments this season.
I was football mad. I played for my school and then represented the City of Stoke-on-Trent team along with Bill Bentley, and we won the National Schools Final at the Victoria Ground in 1963. Quite a few lads from that team made it, but I wasn’t taken on straight away by Stoke. I was offered terms by Spurs and Portsmouth, but I was a Stoke lad and didn’t want to leave the city.
Alan Bloor grew up a few streets away from me, but I didn’t know him too well as he was a few years older than me. ‘Bluto’ and me had a great partnership. I attaked every ball in the air and if they got past me then Bluto would sort them out! We got on really well, and talked a lot during games. Indeed, we often talked centre forwards out of the game!
I was eventually taken on when I was 18 years old at Stoke. My first wage was just £12 a week!
Who were your big mates at Stoke?
I wasn’t really a drinker, and didn’t socialise too much. I always thought I work with and see you lot all week anyway, so if I did go out I went out with mates who weren’t at the club.
For away trips I tended to room with Jackie Marsh, and then for some reason always seemed to room with goalkeepers, such as Roger Jones and Shilts.
The biggest day of your career – the League Cup Final?
Definitely. Many say that Wembley passes you by, but not me. I remembered everything, especially the sea of red and white as we came out of the tunnel.
Most folk had us down as underdogs that day, but not us. Indeed, we fully expected to win. We were a really good team , playing well and we played reasonably well on the day. I wasn’t nervous: the big games suited me and the only nerves I had were during Mike Bernard’s back pass! The one surprise was that we didn’t go back to Wembley more often with such a cracking side.
A great story from the final was Jackie Marsh losing his contact lense, which he did regularly. Chelsea had a corner, and I heard Jackie shout, “Oi, Den”. I replied, “What Jackie, I have my man, mark yer own”. He replied, “But Den, I conna bloody see a thing as I’ve lost a contact lense”.
So there he was: the middle of a League Cup final, on his hands and knees in the penalty box, looking for a contact lense!
So Europe, and the mighty Ajax. They wanted to sign you, didn’t they?
Yeah, we drew the first leg at Stoke 1-1. I scored from three yards and Rudi Krol from about thirty three yards. We played brilliantly in Amsterdam: I got a nasty gash on my shin but carried on playing and we should have scored in the last minute. We deserved to win.
Apparently, Ajax wanted to sign me, and so did Manchester United and Leeds United around that time, too, but I loved it at Stoke. That night the players went out on the town in Amsterdam with Brian Clough, but I was feeling so low that I didn’t bother.
When you look around at football in 2014 does it make you wish you played in this era, with all the riches around?
No, not at all. You can’t pick and choose when you play and you simply have to enjoy the period when you are fortunate enough to make a living playing football. I wasn’t badly paid, and if I had gone Ajax I would have made a lot more, but I loved my playing career and it’s not abput making money, it’s about playing football. I was simply delighted to play for the club I loved.
….so I bet you’d love to see a local lad in this current Stoke team? Well, we have Wilko and Shotts in the squad, so that isn’t bad. There’s nothing better than seeing a Stoke lad playing for Stoke, but football has changed and it is a huge step up from youth football to the first team.
You always champion the city of Stoke-on-Trent. How would you improve it? Well, I would make the town of Stoke the city centre. We have the football club, train station and civic centre there. How difficult is it to explain to people from outside the area that Stoke actually isn’t the city centre, but Hanley is? It drives me mad!
There are some beautiful areas in the city, plus some lovely places just outside it. We are very fortunate in that Stoke is so central and is in such a great position in the country. Shouldn’t more be made of that? I have sons living in Oxford and York, and I can get to them in a few hours, have lunch with them, and get back the same day.
Talking of your kids, did you want them to go into football? My two lads have played semi-pro to a good standard. Like I said before, one lives in York and one in Oxford, plus my daughter is down in Cornwall. All are happy, and that’s all that matters to me.
Right, let’s talk injuries. The plethora of broken bones, operations and stitches that you suffered as a player – do they affect you now?
Ha, ha. Yes, I suffer from metal fatigue as I have plates all over my body, from my neck down to my ankles! It’s part of being a professional footballer. I think I had 24 or 25 broken bones and over 200 stitches in my face – they didn’t improve it though! I remember one period, I fractured my ankle and it was put in plaster. I had the plaster on all week until the next game and then it was taken off so that I could play. I’d have an injection, play, and then back on went the plaster.
Once, I had done my back in and we were due to play a huge cup game against Man United. I wasn’t playing, but the missus drove me to the ground to watch. As she dropped me off, I got out of the car and the back clicked back into place! I told Waddo that I was a bit better, did a couple of step ups, played, and scored!
Geoff Hurst famously said that he signed for us as he was fed up of being kicked up in the air by you!
Ha, ha. It’s funny that I was attacked at Upton Park once. I had treated Geoff like a crash barrier all game to be honest, and as I was coming off at the end some woman started whacking me on the head with an umbrella!
Disappointed that you never played for England?
At the time, Roy Mcfarland was a great centre half. He was a good footballer, but I was a lot better on the ball than many people made out.I was just a bit unlucky as I got in squads and got injured. I did my knee in 1975 and was never as quick again. There’s a lot of luck involved in sport.
Many folk will have forgotten the longevity of your managerial career too….almost 1200 games?
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Had some great times, especially at York and Sunderland. The Sunderland people were great; very similar types of people to us Stokies. Very loyal, passionate, and always wanted to talk football. I think they saw that I was the same. I had great times there, but you always will when you are successful and have a great affinity with the fans.
What were your best attributes as a manager?
I’m an honest and straightforward person. There’s never been any hidden agendas with me, and the players always knew where they stood. This might have put off a number of chairman I suppose, but that’s just the way I am.
Some players make good coaches and some make good managers. I think I can spot which will do well and which won’t. I did fall out of love a bit with coaching to be honest, and quickly knew I’d be a manager. I didn’t agree with some of the coaching methods being used at the time: as Waddo used to say, “If you can’t pass and control it, you can’t play”.
Management is a lonely place at times, as many folk think they know better than you do. The best advice I ever had was from Waddo: “Just make sure you sign good players”.
You signed Andy Cole, and he credits you with really kickstarting his career…
Yes, I signed him from Arsenal. It was seen as a gamble, but when I spoke to him he told me that he thought he deserved a chance in the Arsenal first team. Well, if he felt he was good enough to play in the Arsenal team then I felt it wouldn’t be too big a gamble to take him to Bristol City.
Cole wanted to come short and link play, but I told him to simply play on the shoulder of the last man and score goals. He certainly did that, didn’t he?
Who is the best player you have ever worked with? It must be Banksy. He was the best in the world in his position. Outfield players must include Huddy, an amazing player. He was very one-footed but could do nore with one foot than most others could with two. Considering the way he lived he was an incredible athlete.
Best player you’ve played against? George Best. He could go inside or outside you, was strong and quick, and had amazing skill. I just aimed at his chest and hoped for the best, ha, ha.
And the toughest?
Big Joe Royle was always a handful. Also, Frank Worthington was a brave lad, too. I would clatter him, but he’d the try to show you up later. Mick Jones at Leeds was a hard player. They liked a tackle, Leeds. The likes of Bremner, Charlton and Hunter were hard but fair.
Any regrets on your football career?
No, none at all
Not managing Stoke?
No. It was an unbelievably hard decision, but I listened to my wife. She was right. Kate didn’t want it to go wrong as that would hurt me more than anything.
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up in Manchester.
I would say I was probably the most hyperactive kid around. I just wouldn’t sit still and would spend most of my days when not at school in the local park from nine in the morning till night fall, only occasionally going home to tell my parents I was okay. We would play football non-stop and never get bored. I have an older brother who was a decent player at non-league level and I would go and watch him play everywhere with my parents.
Who did you support?
I grew up a Man United supporter and all our family were reds. There was always a debate of some sort going on at my dad’s local because where we lived you were either United or City – no other team existed. It’s safe to say that I was a huge Man United supporter from as early as I can remember and I still support them now, but I also have other teams that I follow, too.
How did you get spotted by United?
At the age of nine I was at Man City and we trained once a week down at Platt Lane, just across the road from Maine Road. One Sunday, when I was playing for my local team, Brian Kidd approached my dad and asked me to go to United. It was a no-brainier, especially with me and my family being such big reds.
What was the youth set up like at United?
Second to none. We would train on Monday evenings and my first two coaches were World Cup winner Nobby Styles, who was a great character for the young lads to learn from and such a bubbly coach which was great for us youngsters, and Brian Kidd who eventually went on to be assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson.
You made a handful of appearances at United – can you summarise them for us…..
Although I only had a handful of games for United’s first team they were all real highlights of my career. I remember my first appearance: Away at Barnsley on the last day of the Premier League season in 1998. I was on the bench but wasn’t expecting to come on. Then with twenty minutes left I got the curly finger to tell me I was going on. My mum and dad were there, which was great, and it was a dream for me to come on. We won 2-0. My next appearance was in the Champions League against Sturm Graz at Old Trafford. United had already qualified for the next round and I came on with about 30 minutes left. To come on at home was an amazing feeling. Then, on that Saturday, I made my full league debut against Leicester in a 2-0 win that is still one of the highlights of my career. I was very fortunate to have been able to have played just a handful of games for such a great club, one that all my family supports.
United had a relationship with Royal Antwerp where you were loaned to. Enjoy it there?
My time in Antwerp was a fantastic learning curve for me, that I believe took me from a child to a man. I was alone in a foreign country for three months, where few spoke English and it was a completely different style of football. I made some great friends there that I am still in touch with. Antwerp is a great city and I enjoyed my football there playing for such a big club as Antwerp.
You left to play regular football and were signed for £2 million by Derby. Did you feel any pressure?
When I left United I was 21, and Derby put a bid in for me. It was a lot of money for someone so young with little Premier League experience, and of course there was pressure. My first six months were a disaster. I was in and out of the team and I was struggling to get used to playing in a team that was constantly on the back foot and defending. But when I got used to this I went from strength to strength. The first season ended up with us winning at Old Trafford which made us safe for another year and that was a great game to be involved in.
My second season there was bittersweet. We had three different managers and got relegated but I got Player of the Year and had a great season personally, but it was really gutting to get relegated. I stayed until Christmas of the next season, then myself and some other younger lads were sold because the club needed to get some money in.
You moved to Southampton. How did it go, and how miffed were you to miss the FA Cup final in 2003?
Yeah, I then moved to Southampton who were on the crest of a wave. My old mate Rory (Delap) was there and it was great team and great team spirit. We finished 8th and got to a Cup Final and qualified for Europe as well. I was on the bench for the FA Cup Final and felt like an imposter because I had only been there a short time.
A good few seasons then followed before we got relegated in what was a shambles of a year: going through too many managers. I had one year in the Championship then my love affair with Stoke began.
Talk to us about your move to the Britannia Stadium in 2006
I had a year left on my contract at Southampton and a few promises that were made to me were never fulfilled. I had had enough and when they offered me what I thought was a disgrace of a contract I knew it was time to move on. I turned down the contract and was then informed by the Press Officer that I was now on the transfer list.
Tony Pulis came calling and sold the club to me, and I couldn’t wait to move and get going at Stoke. The season didn’t start great and there was also talk of a protest before the Preston game. This fortunately didn’t happen and it was the day we signed Lee Hendrie. The following week, when Tony believed he had the players he needed, we went to Elland Road and beat Leeds 4-0 in what was a magnificent performance, and our performances went from strength to strength.
Dubes left in January and I was honoured to be made captain, but unfortunately we just missed out on the Play Offs, but it was a fantastic season to be involved with Stoke, with the club growing all the time.
Put us straight on that ‘transfer request’ in August 2007.
The transfer to Sunderland the following pre-season had a lot of people questioning me. Let me get a few things straight. I have been asked on numerous occasions why I missed a cup game for Stoke against Rochdale. Was it because I didn’t want to get injured, because I was moving, or did I refuse to play?
This is laughable for two reasons: One I have never feigned an injury in my life and secondly, more importantly, I actually did play. Please look through the record books. I came off in the game when I strained some of my ligaments in my ankle after going up for a header. I guess there will always be Chinese whispers but this was laughable, especially considering I played in the game.
Then there was the transfer request. Yes I did hand one in, but that was only because the club told me they had accepted an offer for me from Sunderland, but in order for me to be able to go, I had to hand in a transfer request. I had no problems with this: I know a club will be around long after a player has gone, and I respect that, so I handed one in.
My time at Sunderland was very mixed. Scoring some important goals in both derbies against Newcastle and Middlesbrough, and also against Villa, was great. The goal against Newcastle gave me my greatest buzz there and it was an amazing feeling to have scored against such bitter rivals. I believe I should have done better at Sunderland and I will not try and make excuse for why I didn’t do better -it was simply down to me. No one else was to blame for me under-performing.
I always take responsibility for my good times and bad times in football, and this was no different.
So you returned to SCFC…..
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to come back to Stoke after they had been promoted and I will be forever grateful for Tony bringing me back. That year was the best year of my career in every way. The way were underdogs and everyone expected us to go down, and how we upset some of the big teams at the Brit…..The atmosphere that season in particular used to make my hair stand on end every time I walked out of the tunnel. It was truly a phenomenal atmosphere to play in.
Left back or centre half? Your favourite position and why?
I would say my preferred position was centre back, but at Stoke playing left back wasn’t a problem because first and foremost, you were expected to be a defender. When I was younger it would annoy me that I would be playing centre back one week and then left back the next, but as I got older it definitely gave me more games, and I was appreciative that I could play in two positions.
Your first goal in the Premier League for us – a penalty after some unknown bloke called Gareth Bale was sent off?
Yes, Bale had been sent off for a foul on Tom Soares. I have never missed a penalty in my career but this one really tested the nerves. The ball kept blowing off the spot in the typical Brit wind. I was determined not to take it until the ball was staying still and it took what felt like a good few minutes until I was comfortable enough that the ball wasn’t going to roll off the spot. Fortunately for me it stayed still, and I scored the penalty.
How hard was it when you lost your place to Danny Collins?
Losing my place to Danny Collins when he came in was hard because I had started the season well and we had just beaten Sunderland at home the previous week 1-0. I got on well with Danny and it was Tony’s decision to drop me. That’s what he gets paid for. I didn’t agree with it one bit, but that’s football though and you just have to get your head down and prove you should be playing.
That goal against West Ham – describe it for us and how you felt after it went in and the days afterwards?
The goal against West Ham was a highlight in my Stoke career, and something that seems like only yesterday. I remember the previous week we played them away but I didn’t travel because my wife had just given birth to our son, and she was still in hospital. So Tony allowed me to miss the game. We got beat, but were determined to rectify it in the cup.
If I remember right, Jermaine took the initial free kick and Scott Parker handled it in the wall, so we were given another one closer in, which was more my range to smash it. I remember Huthy and Ryan in the wall and they were my target because I knew they would move some of their players out of the way. I aimed at Huthy and he did just that, getting a few out of the way, and the ball went through the wall.
Rob Green got his hands to it, but I was convinced that it had gone over the line. My first look before celebrating was over at the linesman. When I saw him run back to the half way line I knew it was in and then the celebration really showed what a close knit group we were, with everyone showing such emotion. It also showed in how we managed to hold on in the last few minutes, when they laid siege to our goal.
Describe the injury against Chelsea, getting the results of your injury and knowing you would miss Wembley….
If West Ham was a high in my career then the 90th minute injury against Chelsea two weeks before the semi final at Wembley was the lowest point in my career.
We were drawing 1-1, and for some unknown reason in the last minute I decided to go up for a corner. Usually Tony would be ordering me back but not this time. How ironic is that? I remember going up with Cech and beating him to the ball and my header being cleared off the line by Ivanovic, and then all I remember was Cech accidentally catching my shin, but only very lightly. But the problem was that my leg was straight at the time.
The initial pain was unbearable to the point I was punching the ground so hard I hurt my fist. Then after a few seconds of this all the pain went. I would later find out this was because my cruciate had snapped. Dave our Physio, who is a good friend, and Doc Dent came on and had a look but I said I was okay to carry on. I remember jogging back to the halfway line and feeling okay. I then challenged Drogba from a goal kick and as I landed my knee was just rocking from side to side. I carried on for a couple of minute and then just sat down and had to come off.
I knew it was a big problem and my fears were justified by a scan in which the lad doing the scan said to me that my knee looked liked I had just been involved in a skiing accident! Missing Wembley was a huge blow for me, but when you put things in context I have been very fortunate in life and this was just an unfortunate thing to happen. I wasn’t bitter about it and I didn’t want any sympathy from anyone, either.
Many go on about the Bearpit Britannia. Does a great atmosphere really help the players?
The atmosphere at the Brit was without question the greatest atmosphere I have had the pleasure of playing in front of. It helped us so much when we were clinging on to a lead in the last twenty minutes of games and gave us the energy to hang on. It always felt like when we won we all celebrated together, and there was no better feeling than hearing ‘Delilah’. Great memories for me.
What was your relationship like with Tony Pulis?
My relationship with Tony was great, and still is. Yes, we had our fall outs and there were times when I felt unfairly treated, but that is part and parcel of the game. He taught me so much as a player and without doubt he brought the best out of me during my career. It was a pleasure to play for him.
Rory Delap, and the underpants story….
This is an interesting one. Rory had just joined us and he had an awful injury against Sunderland. I remember him being in so much pain as I ran over to him, and it’s safe to say that his leg, rather his shin, wasn’t where it should have been and he did remarkably well to come back and play to the level he did.
Right that’s enough of me being nice to him…..
Our mate John McKeown, known affectionately to us as ‘Scouse’ for obvious reasons, had known me and Rory for years since our Derby days, and was now sports scientist at Stoke. He went to see
Rory in hospital and when he came out I called him and said I was going to see him and did Rory need anything? Scouse said he was fine, but maybe I could take him some boxers because he had no clean ones and was still in his kit.
It was quite late and all the shops were shut, so I decided I would be a good mate and give him some of my better ones, so I went through my boxers and got him five or six of my best pairs and headed off to the hospital. I also got him a big teddy as well to lighten the mood! As I got there I gave him the teddy and the boxers. He looked in the bag where the boxers were, then just put them to the side. I thought “you ungrateful git”, but thought it was just the pain killers making him groggy, so I just forgot about it. We had a chat for a while then I left. It wasn’t till a few days later that Rory decided to ask me why I brought him boxers. I told him because Scouse had told me he needed some, when in reality Helen (his wife) had bought him everything thing he needed. So there was me bringing him my used, but clean, boxers in a bag, and him having no idea why. Needless to say I looked like a right dick!
Tell us about what has happened to you after leaving Stoke…
My career after leaving Stoke was only going downhill and I believe my cruciate injury played a big part in this. I didn’t come back exactly the same player and that can be the case when you have such a big injury at any age, let alone 32. I fell out of love with the game and tried to get it back, but when it’s gone it’s gone. I had some time at Sheffield United, which is a big club, but never really enjoyed it and as good as walked away from the club with a year left.
I went to Chester to try and get something back, thinking that part-time might help because I could do my media work as well, but this only worked for a while. Then I went to Altrincham my home town club, to give it one last go, to get me through till the end of the season. But that didn’t help, and in fact I only played two games for them before I decided enough was enough.
People say you retire when your legs go. My legs haven’t gone but my head had and when that happens you may as well leave, because that 10 yard run feels like a forty yard one, because you don’t have the desire or determination anymore. I have never been the most technically gifted player and it was always my desire and commitment that got me through. I knew when that went, that was me done. I have still got a promise to fulfil, which is to play my final two games for Gibraltar in March against the Faroes and Estonia. I said I would do this to help the younger players out and also the Gibraltar FA, and personally, I think it will be a nice way for me to end my career.
I made my debut against Slovakia in November in an outstanding 0-0 draw that gave me the buzz I had been missing from football for a long time. The manager wants me to play in the qualifiers, starting in September, but I don’t see how that is possible.
And what does the future hold?
I’m really in to my media career now and everything is going great. Sky, Talksport, BT, MUTV, 5Live, and PLP have been great with me. It’s been full-on, but I get a buzz that football was no longer giving me. Don’t get me wrong the match day buzz after a win during my enjoyable times can never be beaten, but I don’t miss it.
I’ve had my time. I consider myself very fortunate, so hopefully media is the way forward for me, but only time will tell!
We’re a bit fond of getting Stoke City heroes interviewed in DUCK. And I think it’s fair to say that Thomas Løvendahl Sørensen is a modern day Potters legend.
If you ever doubt that, just consider the following: ‘Tommy’ was a goalkeeper who did as much as anyone to keep us in The Premier League, stabilise our position in The Premier League, get us to an FA Cup Final (and keep us in that game!), and into Europe. A man who played through the pain barrier for the red and white stripes, and someone who played for us with real pride, dedication, and enormous talent.
Tommy started his career with his local side Odense BK and then had spells with Vejle, Svendborg, Sunderland, and Aston Villa, before joining us in 2008, and during his career won over a century of caps for Denmark!
Tommy and his family now reside in Australia, where he plays for A-League club Melbourne City. We caught up with him recently……
Tell us a bit about growing up in Denmark. What kind of lad were you?
I grew up in a very secure enviroment with my parents and my younger brother. My father was a very good handball and football player and I think that inspired me from an early age. I remember always wanting to be the best at everything I did…..in school or sports.
You were born in Fredericia. Can you describe it to us please.
It’s a very historic and commercial town. Old fortifications go back to the war of 1850 and the big modern harbour is the central hub of the area. I grew up in the suburbs and only have good memories from that time.
Were you always a goalkeeper as a kid or did you play out of goal?
I tried my hand at all positions at an early age, but settled on goalkeeping at Under 14 level. I think I had a good feeling about my ability and really enjoyed the challenge of being the last line of defense.
How did you get spotted by Odense BK?
I went through trials for the regional team and eventually got selected for the final squad. Not long after that I was contacted by Odense and offered an opportunity to join their youth team. It was one of the best youth setups in the country.
After impressing on loan in the Danish League you went to Sunderland. How did that happen?
I had been involved with the Danish Under 21 squad for a few years and had drawn a bit of interest from Ajax and Udinese. In my mind it was really a choice between those two clubs, until I had a late invitation to visit Sunderland. I was blown away by the club, the passion and this amazing opportunity. Everything else is history.
Were you ever homesick after leaving your home country?
It is always difficult to leave your friends and family behind but I felt ready for the change. The club, players and my girlfriend, now my wife, also made the transition a lot easier than it could have been. The huge success we had on the pitch in the first year also played a huge part in settling in.
You kept 29 clean sheets in a season at Sunderland; a record, and you won promotion. They loved you up there, didn’t they?
I had an amazing time at Sunderland and will forever be grateful for the opportunity Peter Reid gave me, and the support of the fans. It is always a pleasure going back to the Stadium of Light and get the sense of appreciation for what I did at the club.
The Shearer penalty save – what do you remember of it? Sunderland fans will always remember it, won’t they?
It is really funny how certain moments can define your career. At the time I did not totally grasp the significance of the Shearer save, but that has certainly been reminded to me a lot since! I guess it’s not going to be forgotten anytime soon.
Why did you leave Sunderland to go to Villa? And weren’t Man United interested?
I never really wanted to leave Sunderland but their relegation and financial problems forced a lot of players out, including me. A few clubs were interested in me, but Villa offered the right package for me at the time. Throughout my career it has always been important for me to play, and it weighed highly in my decision.
Villa chose Scott Carson over you. That must have hurt?
After four really good years at Villa I got injured in preseason and ran into a brick wall with manager. The last ten months ended up being the worst of my career.
How did Tony Pulis/Peter Coates sell Stoke City to you?
I have never shied away from a challenge and that was exactly what Tony Pulis and Stoke City offered me. They needed players with experience and leadership to try to establish a foothold in the Premier League. I, among others, fitted the bill – and we truly succeeded.
Were you at your fittest and best whilst at Stoke?
As a goalkeeper you tend to peak in your early 30’s and those were the years I was at Stoke. So maybe I was at my best, but it is so hard to judge. The only thing I know for sure, is that I did my best.
Who were your best mates in the dressing room and why?
We had a really strong goalkeeping group during my time at the club and some of my best friends have come out of there. I speak regularly to Asmir, Jack and Andy Quy. The respect I have for those guys and the great moments we have shared will never be forgotten.
You’ve had your fair share of injuries due to being a brave and totally committed last line of defence. You almost lost your eyesight when playing for us – tell us what happened?
Part of goalkeeping is sometimes going into situations head first. Call it brave or stupid, but that’s the job. In a game against Tottenham at the Britannia I slid out to a through ball but got caught by Alan Hutton’s outstretched leg. Luckily it ended up with only 18 stitches and not lost eyes!
You also dislocated your elbow at Chelsea. As someone who has dislocated their shoulder and cried like a big baby – just how much pain were you in that day?
I have dislocated my elbow twice during my career and both times have been very painful. Without the gas and air I got on the pitch and on the way to the hospital, I probably would have cried like a baby, too!
What do you remember about the crowd that first season at Stoke in the Premier League?
The crowd at the Brit had a massive part in the team’s success in that first year in the Premier League. I especially remember the game against Manchester City, where we, one man down, battled to a 1-0 win. The atmosphere that day is probably the best I have ever experienced.
We got a lot of criticism for how we played at Stoke in our first few seasons – was this unfair?
At the end of the day it was all about staying in the Premier League. We had a clear game plan that everyone bought into, and that was designed around our strengths. It certainly annoyed some within the football establishment, but none of us really cared. If anything, it only made us work harder.
How does it feel to join a long list of goalkeeping greats that have played for Stoke?
The club has really been blessed with a long line of good keepers. To be counted among them is a huge honour.
Did you ever get the chance to have a chat with Gordon Banks?
I have had the pleasure of talking Gordon a few times and he has always been very supportive. Whenever a true great opens his mouth, you listen.
The FA Cup run…..culminating in THAT day in the semi final. What are your memories of the day?
It was an amazing day for everyone connected with the club. With 35,000 Stokies behind us we totally outclassed at tough Bolton side 5-0. It was a very proud moment for myself and the team. Very surreal in a way, as none of us had ever imagined that scenario.
The Cup Final was two weeks earlier than usual due to the Champions League final being played at Wembley – did those two weeks (and our injuries) stop us from winning the FA Cup?
It’s always easy to find reasons to why you did not win. In my mind were very close with that late Kenwyne Jones chance just before Man City scored. We tried everything but it was just not to be.
That save off Ballotelli in the Final – was that your best/favourite one?
I took a lot of pride out of my performance in the final. The Ballotelli save is a nice memory but it will never make up for losing.
The Europa League was a brilliant experience for us – what do you remember of it?
It was a great experience for all of us. Playing against European giants like Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas and Valencia and reaching the latter stages. The final night in Spain symbolised the whole journey and the spirit of the fans. To see so many travelling Stokies singing loud and proud is something I will never forget
Summer 2016, you completed a marathon bike ride with your wife and others across America…..
For the last 10 years I have been involved in a kid’s charity in Denmark helping sick and disadvantaged children. On top of that I have always loved a challenge and a bit of adventure. All that ended up in a 5900km bike ride across America last summer. An amazing experience which raised £80.000.
You have now started a new life in Australia – will you go back to live in Denmark one day?
Where we go after Australia is still an unknown. It depends on the opportunities and what the family wants I guess. Denmark is certainly an option.
What does the future hold for you?
I don’t have my future after football nailed yet. I have a lot of things I want to do, but I know that football will always be a part of my life. In what capacity I don’t know, but I am starting off with my coaching badges. Then I will see where I go from there. I also want to devote some time to my painting.
What 3 things do you miss about Denmark?
Family/friends, food and culture
I hope that you felt loved and hugely appreciated by the fans whilst at Stoke: do you have a message for the fans who worshipped you?
I had seven great years at Stoke and YOU fans played a big part in that. The songs and appreciation means more than you know, and for that, I am forever one of you.
Huge thanks to Paul Stretford and Triple S Sports and Entertainment Group for making this interview happen. We really appreciated the chance to put our questions to a Stoke City legend!
Tell us a bit about growing up in Cornwall
I feel very lucky to have grown up in Cornwall. It’s a beautiful part of the world where life is really relaxed. When the sun shines there really is no better place: you have beautiful coastline, beaches …. The only problem is it is quite remote. Therefore you can be forgotten about quite easily and that’s the reason why my parents decided to move to Peterborough. They saw I had a talent and gave me the best possible chance to fulfil that.
How were you spotted by Peterborough, it’s a fair way from where you lived…
I was spotted playing for my Sunday U10/11’s team. We won everything in Cornwall and had some really good players. I was invited up to train with Peterborough every weekend from then on. I’d travel up most weekends to train with them until we decided as a family to move up there permanently.
Barry Fry? As crackers as he seems?
Barry was nuts, but was brilliant to me personally. We had a good youth team at the time that got to the semi final of the Youth Cup, which was unheard of for a League 2 club. He always encouraged the young players but wasn’t as patient with the older pros. I heard many a rollicking!!
Peterborough realised they had a great group of young players coming through and really gave us every chance to make it in the game. Many went on to play in the 1st team there.
How daunting was it to make your debut at just 15?
It was so surreal. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was still at school and Barry had to get the headmasters permission for me to play on the Saturday. Camera crews came to the school and filmed me in my lessons. It was quite a big thing at the time. The actual match day was quite daunting but as a youngster you’re fearless and I played really well.
I came up against an experienced right back in Brian Statham who had played for Spurs during his career, I nutmegged him early on in the game and went past him easily. His reply was ‘do that again son and I’ll break your legs’. Safe to say I didn’t try and nutmeg him again. We won the game and it’s a day I’ll always remember.
You and Simon Davies moved to Spurs – any regrets?
No regrets whatsoever. It was the right time to move on I feel. I had played a good number of games at Peterborough in the first team and wanted to play at a higher level as I knew I could. I was becoming somewhat of a target in the league and got little protection. I had toughened up mentality and was ready for my next, bigger challenge.
I did well in spells at Spurs, in fact very well at times. I just feel I never got that break you need to break into the first team at a big club. It was frustrating but I played with some top players. Ginola, Ledley King, Anderton, Sheringham, Poyet, Redknapp, Les Ferdinand……
Your move to West Ham in 2003 really kick-started your career. Did you enjoy your time there?
I loved my time at West Ham. It’s a great football club. I wanted first team football at that stage of my career and I got that in the Championship. We reached the Play Off final in my first year and I got Hammer of the Year, a trophy with some legendary names on it, so that was special. We went up via the Play Offs again the following season and then in our first season back in the Premier League we got to the FA Cup Final. So it was eventful! I had some great times at the club and will always remember my time there fondly.
You had some great times there culminating in the 2006 FA Cup final. Tell us about your West Ham highlights?
There were lots of highlights. My favourites were the Semi Final Play Off goal vs Ipswich at the Boleyn, live on Sky. One of my favourite ever goals. Another would be supplying the cross for Bobby Zamora to score and get promoted in the Play Off final at the Millennium Stadium. A game at home against Arsenal where Pardew/Wenger had a pushing match and I crossed for the winner. I always loved beating Arsenal!
Your gambling addiction has been well publicised. Was it a case of having to join us at Stoke City rather than simply just wanting/needing too?
Yes, in some respects that was the case, my life was spiralling out of control and I needed to get away from London. However, as soon as I met Tony Pulis, I knew it would be a great move for me and he would be a great manager to work under. He was so passionate about Stoke City and so eager and driven to succeed in the Premier League.
The day we went up to agree personal terms, everything was agreed and they wanted me to sign that night, I was waiting on some money owed to me by West Ham so until that was signed off and agreed by West Ham I wouldn’t sign the contract with Stoke. So me and my agent stayed in the Holiday Inn that night and gave our word we would come back in the morning to sign the contract, once West Ham sorted my money out. TP rang me all night making sure I wasn’t going to change my mind!! I had to turn my phone off in the end to get some sleep!! Rest assured the contract was signed that morning. The rest is history as they say.
In what ways did moving to Stoke City help you with your gambling (eg. Being out of London etc)?
It helped without doubt. Although not right from the start. I was still gambling up until September that year. Once that stopped my form went through the roof and resulted in me becoming Player of the Year that season. I wasn’t socialising with the same people anymore and the ‘hangers on’ were gone. I could fully concentrate on playing football and that helped so much. Once I came clean, such a weight was lifted off my shoulders. The relief was huge. I had nothing to hide anymore.
How important was Sporting Chance in your rehabilitation?
Sporting Chance played a huge role in me rehabilitating myself. Although you need to want to do it yourself first and foremost, they give you the tools to combat your addiction and move on with your life. It’s a brilliant organisation that has changed many people’s lives. The work they do is amazing. Peter Kay who has sadly now passed away was a key figure in helping me through my recovery, a great, selfless man.
What would you tell young pros to do with their spare time/money?
Keeping yourself occupied is the key, you get so much money thrown at you at such a young age. You become so protected and guarded from the real world. Your club and agent basically do everything for you and you are told to go out and play football. That is definitely a hindrance later on in life. Unless you have the right agent, family, friends behind you, when you finish playing you have no life skills whatsoever.
I still know players who pay people to pay household bills for them! I think that the PFA, clubs, agents should do more to educate young players how to manage their time and money. Not enough is being done in that regard in my opinion.
You really hit the ground running for us, and the arrival of yourself and James Beattie was the impetus we needed to stay up in 2009. How different was the dressing room environment at Stoke to other clubs?
The one thing that stuck out for me the most was there was no egos at Stoke and TP wouldn’t allow that if even there was. He always signed players with the right type of character. That was the key. Everyone was pulling in the same direction and that was the main reason we stayed up in those first couple of seasons. We gave 100% every game and if someone didn’t they were pulled up on it. No one suffered fools. It was a special dressing room to be in.
How did Tony Pulis/Peter Coates sell the club to you?
I touched on that before. As regards to the chairman, he always liked me and we had a good relationship. He is a good man who loves Stoke City. Chairmen like him are very hard to find these days!!
Your role in the side seemed to be to attack your full back but also put a real shift in when we didn’t have the ball. Is this a fair assessment?
I’d like to think I had a bit more to my game than as simply as you put it!!!!!! But yes, TP always told me to be positive when I had the ball. He believed in my ability and that helps no end as a player. Defensively my game wasn’t that good at all until I came to Stoke. He really drummed into me the work he wanted me to do defensively and that improved my overall game. It was hard work but it was for the good of the team and I loved doing it.
Were you at your fittest whilst at Stoke?
Yes without doubt. I was as fit as I have ever been whilst at Stoke. TP’s pre seasons were somewhat ‘old school’ but he got us incredibly fit as a team. The trips to Austria pre season were as hard as anything I have ever done in my life! You know it’s hard when Jonny Walters is throwing up!!
You hit the ground running – what do you remember of that game against Man City where you supplied that killer cross for the winner?
I remember that it was Mark Hughes in charge, and I remember all the stars of whom they had spent millions on. Regardless, teams just didn’t like coming to the Brit, you could tell in the tunnel on the way out we had most teams beat already. That day I remember Rory getting sent off in the first half and us scoring not long after. It was a brilliant header from Beats from my cross. We held on brilliantly, again showing that mentality we had in the dressing room.
Our reputation in the national media was basically as a team of hoofball thugs, yet we played with two out and out wingers….. did this work to our advantage, others thinking we were Wimbledon Mk2?
Without doubt we used it to our advantage. TP created this ‘us against the world’ mentality and it worked. Anything someone said about us negatively was normally pinned up round the training ground or pinned up in the changing rooms at the stadium and it definitely spurred us on. We wanted to prove these people wrong, and more often than not we did.
The FA Cup run…..culminating in THAT day in the semi final. What are your memories of the day?
It was one of the best days of my life without doubt. The week leading up to the game I had such a strong feeling that I was going to score and play well. Even my dad was saying to me ‘this is your time son’ and it felt like it was.
Scoring that goal was just indescribable, I wish I could bottle the feeling I got running towards the Stoke fans after the goal. To get man of the match and win 5-0 in what was the best team performance I have ever been involved in, made it a special, special day. I get goosebumps now even mentioning it!!
…And then you did your hamstring against Wolves. Can you sum up what you were feeling as you lay on the stretcher?
From the elation of the semi final, it was complete devastation when my hamstring went that night. It was two/three weeks before the cup final and I thought my cup final dream was over. I was sobbing as I left the pitch. When the scan came back, it said it was a grade2/3. A grade 3 is a rupture so it was a pretty bad tear. I actually remember being told it was 16cm long. The normal recovery time for this injury was 8 weeks, if you’re lucky, so I obviously thought there was no chance of me being fit.
The Cup Final was two weeks earlier than usual due to the Champions League final being played at Wembley – did those two weeks (and you and Huthy’s quickened recovery from injury) stop us from winning the FA Cup?
That may be a bit harsh, although the extra two weeks would have certainly helped me and Huthy. How Huthy played in that cup final was beyond me. A week before his knee was the size of a balloon. It shows the character of the man to even try and play, let alone get through 90 minutes. It could have ruined his career, although I suppose FA Cup Finals don’t come along every day.
As regards to me, I had treatment on my hamstring literally morning, noon and night. It was an 8 week injury and from the day I tore my hamstring to the cup final was around three weeks I think. We went down to London two days before the Cup Final. On the day before the game I sprinted for the first time and crossed some balls, it felt ok but it I was worried of how it would hold up in the actual game. The manager gave me the opportunity to play and I wasn’t going to say no.
As for the game itself, it took me a while to get into the game and feel/trust my hamstring was fine. We were dominated in the first half and Thomas pulled of some great saves.
I felt myself and the team grew into the game in the second half: I put the ball through for Kenwyne when he should have scored and I started to feel good. Then after 60 minutes the manager took me off. I was fuming, because I thought I was getting better and better, I felt physically fit enough due to all the fitness work I had been doing (swimming, cycling……) that was never an issue.
I thought I should have had at least another 15/20 minutes.
Europe was a brilliant experience for us – what do you remember of it?
I loved playing in Europe as did the players. You could tell the fans embraced it as well. It was a great time for the club. The manager somewhat prioritised the league, you can’t blame him for that. I played in a few games but not as many as I liked due to the manager wanting to keep me and a few others fresh for the Premier League game a few days later. I would have loved to play at the Mestalla, what a time for the club though to be coming up against teams like Valencia and more than holding our own. It just showed how far the club had come.
Injuries have plagued you over the last few years and eventually you left Stoke. How hard was it to take (leaving us)?
It was very emotional leaving the club, I have had so many good times at Stoke City it was hard to come to terms with that I was leaving. My back over the last 18 months was gradually getting worse and worse and although I was doing everything I could to combat it, I was fighting a losing battle somewhat. I know I wasn’t the player I was when I first joined and obviously that was frustrating. After any game I played or strenuous training session in my last season at Stoke, my back would lock up completely and I would be in a lot of pain. It was a difficult time as all I wouldn’t to do was play.
Who were your best mates whilst at Stoke, and what are your thoughts of Tony Pulis?
I got on with most of the boys to be honest. I was close with Crouchy, Whelo, Dean Whitehead, Asmir, Huthy, Ryan, Walts, Wilko, Tom Sorensen…. all great lads. Honest, good people who can play a bit as well!!
There is no secret as to how much TP helped me when I came to Stoke. He helped me on and off the pitch. He was so meticulous in everything he did, so passionate about football. He didn’t suffer fools either which I liked about him: very ruthless when he needed to be. Everything he did was in the best interest of Stoke City. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, people are starting to realise how good of a manager he really is now. We had a great relationship. I was a confidence player and he knew that and got the best out of me.
You played for England U20’s – how frustrated are you that you didn’t earn full international honours when you fully deserved too?
I played for every age group for England apart from the senior team. 16, 18, 20 and 21. I have learnt never to have regrets in life. Everything happens for a reason and I have learnt from every one of the mistakes I have made. However, not playing for England may be the only regret I will have as I know I deserved a call up and was good enough to do it. I had a time at West Ham and without doubt at Stoke where I feel I was in the top 3 English wingers in the league.
It didn’t happen and that did frustrate me. England managers past and present say they pick players on form – complete rubbish in my opinion. It’s never been the case, and maybe that’s one of the many reasons we struggle at every major tournament?
We’ve seen your dad at many an away game. Just how important has family been in your career?
My dad has taken my retirement harder than anyone!! He loved going to watch me home and away. My whole family have been amazing towards me, especially through the tough times, I know I am very lucky to have them as not everybody does unfortunately. Those two amazing days at Wembley they were all there, 40/50 people went. Amazing memories, no one can ever take away from me.
What does the future hold for you eg. coaching, media, book…?
The media side of things really does interest me, I love football, always have. It’s not easy to get into too straight away, but I really do feel as though I have something give in that respect. I’m doing my coaching badges in the summer, but that takes time.
Who knows, I may manage Stoke in 5/10 years time!! I will bring out a book as well in the future, largely based on my gambling but also going over my career as well. I have some stories people won’t quite believe so it will be worth doing. I would like to help people who have had the same problems as me also.
After THAT pre-Christmas game v Arsenal, did the players actually go into London for their Xmas bash?
Yes, we did have our night out that night, but as you can imagine the main conversation was about what happened in the changing room a few hours earlier!! The lads were in shock.
I hope that you felt loved and appreciated by the fans whilst at Stoke, and do you have a message for them?
I definitely feel the love and appreciation off the Stoke fans, especially now I have left the club and retired. They are so passionate about their football club and very, very loyal people also.
My message would be to them as follows…….
It was an absolute pleasure and honour to represent your great football club and help bring some memories I’m sure everyone will never forget. Thank you for the amazing support you gave me personally, I came to the club at a time where I needed to turn my life my around and you all helped me do that. It was a match made in heaven.
Lastly, thank you for the amazing send off I got at the Brit and at the Hawthorns, it was so humbling and nothing like I expected. When the whole stadium sang ‘my song’ at the Brit against Fulham it made me well up and it was hard to keep it together. Thank you for that.
Special club, special memories.
Hark back to the final Match of the Day of the 2017/2018 season: it saw the opposite ends of the football supporting evolutionary scale, but in some kind of parallel universe.
Down at Wembley, we had the surreal sight of someone dressed like they’d failed an audition for a JLS tribute band walking down the stairs back to his seat at the Spurs game – carrying two massive buckets of popcorn! Meanwhile, 181 miles away at the Liberty Stadium we had the sight of a packed away end serenading a team that had just stunk the Premier League out for the previous nine months or so. Possibly more.
It summed up all that I hate and love about modern football, and yet gave me hope for the future.
Football stirs the emotions like nothing else on earth. That’s why going to see your team play association football will always be one of life’s great delights. And when you see them win it’s almost as if the previous nine months have never happened.
It would have been very easy and understandable if the Stoke crowd had turned after the Palace and Swansea games. After all, this is a club who shouldn’t really have been relegated last season; but we were, and it was entirely our own fault. No-one can point the finger at anything other than the things that we control for our own relegation. No ref’s decisions, no bad luck……just a culmination of poor decisions on and off the pitch which have ensured that we are now in The Championship as you read this.
But is that so bad? Really, is it?
They say that the Premier League is the place to be – but it’s not the only place to be. And it’s only a a footballing mecca to me if you’re mainly concerned about finances. Did Wigan or Accrington have more fun than we did last season? And it’s not because they’ve had success this year – it’s because there are far more things than the actual football match, and indeed, winning the match. It’s certainly not about the league you’re playing in.
I’ll repeat my thoughts from previous articles – I enjoyed 1992/93 far more than any other season, and I’ll be honest, I even in some morbid way enjoyed the Alan Ball years more than the season just gone. Because I felt a sense of connection and community, and matches and matchdays weren’t pre-scripted, and let’s be honest, bloody bland.
A lot of the Premier League, no matter what SKY tell you, is simply beige as hell. It’s any number of colours of beige off the Dulux Fawn Colour Chart, it really is. The main plus for me from our decade in the top flight of English football was to see a new generation of Stoke City fans inside the ground, proudly wearing The Potter’s colours during that time. Whereas a Stoke top used to be the exception on the streets and in the parks of The Potteries, nowadays it’s the norm. And the real trick now for the football club is ensuring that support remains, in a throw-away, want it now, drive-thru society.
I’ll be honest, I went through the full range of emotions last season. Anger gave way to acceptance of our fate, and then back to anger, bitterness, to tolerance, and everything in between. I accepted our impending relegation after the West Ham home game to be honest with you, with Newcastle knocking another nail in our coffin in ST4. And not grabbing a striker, any striker, in January all but consigning us to The Championship.
Ah, The Championship. A place we’ve not visited for a decade, and a place it’s still hard to believe and accept we’re now in, but in it we are. But every time I have a look at the teams in that league I get a real feeling of football supporting excitement again.
What would you rather have, an 8pm watching us at Palace or a weekend fixture in Sheffield; or how about a Monday night game at that amazing football-watching cathedral in Stratford or a Saturday 3pm in the brilliant, underrated city of Bristol? I mean, a few years ago, Norwich was the scene of one of my best Friday nights out with mates I’ve had in years. The second tier is choc-full of big clubs, ace awaydays, and we also have the chance of winning more matches than we lose. If it’s a one-season-deal, then it’s one that might just quench our supporting thirst. It could reinvigorate us to 2008/2009 levels in the stands, and don’t say that no matter what the football was like on the pitch, that season wasn’t a white-knuckle-ride of thrilling proportions, where every match was an event.
No, I accepted and embraced Championship football a long time ago, and that was reaffirmed for me at Anfield, around 13:20 on Saturday 28th April……
It was the day that I took my nine year old to his first ever ‘proper’ away match, certainly his first Premier League awayday. A couple of years ago we went to Brentford pre-season to see Bojan’s return to football action in the famous red and white stripes, but that doesn’t really count in the great scheme of things. I specifically chose Anfield for a few reasons….
He also got to have a walk around the ground beforehand with his great mate Harrison and his dad – both huge Liverpool fans.
He also got to see first hand the Stoke away following in full flow, asking me why so many blokes “Had a patch on their left sleeve, dad?”. As he’s only 9 he had to stand on his seat with my arm around him – safe standing eh, Mrs Crouch – which was fine until Ryan Shawcross almost won it for us at the death. Archie then got to witness and bear the fruits of what we’ve all been through – a seat surge that meant he ended up with bruised and grazed shins. We’ve all been there, but then we don’t mind taking one for the team if the team actually scores, yeah?
At half time of the Liverpool game, we stood together. He read the programme that he was given for free by a kindly home fan before the game, and I just looked around. Then, the PA bloke dropped Echo and The Bunnymen’s ‘Nothing lasts forever’ – a truly great song by a truly great band. But one I hadn’t heard for a while. It summed up our current situation at that time perfectly and acted as a calmer; that spoonful of Calpol, that first sip of an ice cold beer on a blazingly hot day, that sundowner on a Mediterranean beach…..it was just a perfect song for an imperfect time, yet a perfect time. If you get my drift.
“I need to live in dreams today……” is one lyric from the song, and yet when you’re midtable in the Premier League what really do you dream about, if anything at all? A cup run? Well, we’ve been knocked out by lower league teams in the last few years, so that’s a non-no? At least if we are near the top of the league, any league, we get to live in our dreams rather than just dreaming them?
During half time at Anfield, I watched as blokes my age chatted with their excited kids, and I listened to the chants of the away following echoing up from the concourse. But I also saw the corporate home sections empty en masse, and not regain their places upon the start of the second half and I also saw masses of daytrippers, absolutely clueless about what was going on in front of them……but I felt far more at peace with where my club was heading.
The Championship? So be it. I’ll be there with my lad, we’ll love it, and we won’t be holding big bloody buckets of popcorn, either! Nothing ever lasts forever? Supporting your football club does.
The electronic gates open at Stoke City’s Clayton Wood training complex, just over a mile as the crow flies from their Britannia Stadium home. I park my rather embarrassing family hatchback amongst the vehicular glitterati that belong to The Potter’s first team squad.
Parked cars, then…..
Enough has been talked and written about Peter Odemwingie and that transfer deadline day/night back in 2013. Indeed, as I’m met by Colin Burgess, the extremely affable head of Media at Stoke City, and led up to his office, it’s the present and the future I want to talk to Odemwingie about, not so much the well-documented past.
And specifically I want to discuss the injury he suffered almost twelve months ago, and the lengths he went to get himself back in the famous red and white stripes.
Peter Odemwingie has had a pretty eclectic life both within and outside football. It’s obvious that he loves talking, loves football, and has a real love of life. Born in Uzbekhistan in the Soviet Union, he spent a large part of his childhood living in the USSR and Nigeria.
It soon becomes apparent that it’s hard not to enjoy yourself in Peter Odemwingie’s company. Rarely is a sentence not accompanied by a smile, a laugh, or a pun: whether he’s talking about his career, his current club, or even about making his own Adidas three-stripe kits himself as a youngster growing up in the Soviet Union. Possibly underrated as a player by some, Odemwingie has played in World Cups, The Olympics, The Champions League, The African Cup of Nations, and five different leagues: The footballing Judith Chalmers of The Six Towns. Indeed, he fulfilled one of his biggest personal dreams in the Summer of 2014 by scoring in the World Cup Finals – and it was past his good friend, and ex-Potters’ goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, too.
“I have always wanted to score a goal in the World Cup”, Odemwingie beams, “and by doing so that means I have scored in every big competition I’ve played in. I really wanted it badly. Scoring past Asmir wasn’t my target, but scoring at a World Cup was”.
Those who know Odemwingie talk about a softly-spoken, well-mannered, family man, and he admits that he even apologised to Begovic for scoring past him afterwards. Although on their return to the dressing room for pre-season last Summer, Odemwingie brought into the changing room the boots that he had scored in and asked the giant goalkeeper if they looked familiar!
Odemwingie arrived at Stoke City, his seventh club, from Cardiff City in January 2014. Whilst Mark Hughes has transformed The Potters into an attacking, attractive, top-half-of-the-table side, when Odemwingie arrived at The Britannia Stadium (in a swap deal that saw Kenwyne Jones head in the opposite direction), The Potters were facing a potential relegation battle.
Ask anyone in ST4, and they will put a lot of credit for Stoke’s eventual ninth place finish that season to the arrival and impact of one Peter Osaze Odemwingie.
It also led to an after-the-watershed terrace song sung about the Odemwingie/Jones interchange by The Potter’s faithful; a song Odemwingie admits does make him smile. As do most things, in all honesty.
“Yeah, that song”, a lean and beaming Odemwingie acknowledges, “my son loves it too, and when I was away at the World Cup we’d Skype and he would be at his happiest when I was singing it. But let me tell you two things – I mean it as no reflection on Kenwyne Jones, plus I obviously do have to change one of the words, too!”
Odemwingie laughs and sighs at the same time. In fact, he laughs a lot as we talk. He’s articulate, bright, knowledgeable on a number of issues both within and away from football, and admits to loving life at Stoke.
In fairness, after the events of 30th August 2014, rather than laughing and joking, Odemwingie would have had more than enough justification to be defensive, tired, and rather less enamoured with his footballing lot.
Whilst his Stoke team were recording a shock 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium in a league game , Odemwingie’s season, and possibly career, looked to be in real danger of ending. After entering the pitch as a substitute, Odemwingie fell to the floor with no one around him after almost setting up a second Stoke goal. Indeed, even as he was later receiving treatment in the Etihad away dressing room he had no idea of the extent of the injury.
Odemwingie, sits a couple of yards in front of me in training top, shorts and trainers; legs crossed, clutching his injured right knee up to his chest. He has a vivid of that day. “Yeah, sometimes you hear a noise with that kind of injury, but I really didn’t know the extent of how bad the injury was at the time”.
Frank and totally honest about the injury over the course of the next half hour, Odemwingie admits that he was “in huge pain at the time” and was actually scared at the time that he had dislocated his knee due to hearing the crack of his knee bone as he fell. Taking a long swig from his bottle of water, the player talks candidly and openly about what happened next on that fateful day, plus the self-education process he went through to aid his recuperation.
“I looked down and my knee was straight, so I knew that it thankfully wasn’t dislocated. We did the Lachman Test immediately (a clinical test used to diagnose injury of the anterior cruciate ligament). It was 50/50 at that moment as to whether there was ligament damage or not”.
During an injury-ravaged season, where The Potters eventually finished an excellent 9th place once again and boasting a second consecutive record Premier League points tally for the club, Odemwingie wasn’t the only key forward at the Britannia Stadium to suffer knee ligament damage that would effectively end their season.
Bojan Krkić was in a period of devastating form for Stoke when he too went down under no challenge, this time at Spotland in the FA Cup. “Bojan was on fire, playing superbly for us, but with his injury I think they could tell straight away the extent of it, but with mine they couldn’t tell until I went in for an MRI. This confirmed it”, comments Odemwingie.
Many footballers, indeed non-footballers, would have felt sorry for themselves after such an injury. You know, lock yourself away, put your fingers in your ears, play Leonard Cohen cd’s, and generally feel sorry for yourself. Not Odemwingie.
Despite his apparently fragile, lithe frame, Odemwingie is obviously made of mentally stern stuff. He admits to being an extremely positive person – as did Mark Hughes about the player the week after the injury – and also in having an inquisitive anatomical mind, possibly due to his parents both being medical students.
The first thing Odemwingie did was to find out just how long he would be out of the game for. He soon sourced a long list of players who had suffered the same injury, and he took comfort that players did come back from it, and that the likes of Roberto Baggio did so relatively quickly. Indeed, quite matter-of-factly, Odemwingie then cites and describes in detail some of the many testimonies he found on the internet by people who had gone through this injury.
It’s pretty uplifting and very educational how Peter Odemwingie discusses this major injury. It’s an injury that, quite rightly, strikes fear into footballers. But seemingly not Peter Odemwingie. For him, knowledge was power, and central to the recovery process was a desire to find out as much information as possible about ACL injuries.
“Well, I firstly prayed that the diagnosis was wrong, but the bad news came, and so I decided to be proactive and positive and looked myself on the internet about all the relevant details of the injury: how long it would take to get back to full fitness, and what the operation involved and things like that”.
Odemwingie studiously spent hours on various websites trying and succeeding in educating himself about the injury, and the appropriate recuperation process.
The player uncrosses his legs, and leans forward pointing at his knee, hardly taking a breath as he continues, “I looked at the operation procedure on YouTube quite a few times. It was scary the first few times, but I got used to it and got it in my mind that players had come through it and come back strongly”.
Whilst acknowledging that, football-wise, he had more good years behind him than in front of him, Odemwingie was encouraged by his own research work. He also took comfort that his friend and colleague at West Brom, Zoltan Gera, had exactly the same injury in front of him in a match, and he had returned strongly and is still playing. Indeed, Gera has suffered the injury twice.
Describing himself as “naturally fit” and a “glass half full kind of person”, Peter Odemwingie’s long road back to fitness wasn’t without its problems. A second minor operation put his recovery back for a few weeks. The player leans forward and examines the knee, pointing out various incisions and lumps on and around it, making light of both the injury and how it’s left his knee looking.
When I ask if I can have a closer look at said knee, Odemwingie is obliging and moves towards my chair, lifting his knee up. “It feels stronger, but the scars are thick as they went over them twice, but they should be settling down soon.”
By this stage, the Stoke media team are all gathered with me around the Nigerian international’s right leg. Once more, Odemwingie’s perma-smile turns into a chuckle. “Folks, if you look closely at my leg it looks like a face has been drawn on it with the scars from previous injuries. See, there are two eyes, a nose and a mouth further down my leg, ha ha”.
When asked about the ‘smile’ that is on this rather unusual and macabre face – a wide scar across the inside of his right shin – Odemwngie laughs again as he recalls the day as a youngster that he ran through a glass door.
Probably the only time that Peter Odemwingie’s face turns deadly serious during our interview is when discussing his comeback appearance for Stoke, back in April. OIt’s well documented that Stoke fans took to Odemwingie from day one, and the renowned Britannia Stadium decibel level was raised a notch or two when he returned to action as a substitute (ahead of schedule) in the 1-1 draw with Sunderland on 25th April 2015.
Odemwingie’s eyes narrow as he recalls the crowd’s reaction to him warming-up down the touchline during the first half, and the ovation he received when finally entering the fray.
“I was always surprised how quickly Stoke fans took to me. I came here and fans saw I was really happy with the move. Everything about the club was right for me. The reception I had that day at comeback game was truly amazing. Ryan Shawcross has been here a number of years and even he said at training during the next week that he had not heard anything quite like it!”
The odd twinge of pain apart, Odemwingie’s speedy recovery has been rewarded by a new contract at Stoke City. He’s well-liked by players and staff at Stoke and despite being 34 has no thoughts of retirement yet. So will Odemwingie remain in sport or possibly even follow in his parent’s medical footsteps?
“I’ve not given it too much thought to be honest, and I could remain in sport. But I definitely do want to get some more education. You never know what will happen next in life….do you?”
And with one last chuckle and smile he was off for another day’s training. Another day on, quite literally, the treadmill of getting back to his fitness levels of yore. Whatever happens to Peter Odemwingie, he’s a unique player – indeed, as he says himself, there are few people about who actually have two smiling faces on them at the same time!