It’s a grey Thursday in April, and I’m sat in the foyer of Holiday Inn, by junction 15 of the M6.
It’s late morning, and the hotel reception and café is full of business types running around: all contrasting-coloured pointed shoes and slicked back hair. They don’t stop to see they’re in the presence of true greatness. They don’t see that the greatest goalkeeper to ever walk this planet has just entered.
Gordon Banks OBE is a true great, a true legend. In an age where these terms are thrown around like confetti, where this man is concerned – believe the hype.
I count myself blessed to have spent around ninety minutes with the great man, who looked in great nick and was on great form……
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up Gordon. What kind of kid were you?
I didn’t like school. I wasn’t brilliant at school at all. I just looked forward to playtime and kicking a ball about to be honest. I left school at 15, and my first job was a local coal round. I was the youngest of four sons and we all had to get a job as soon we left school in those days.
The wagon would come to the sidings full of coal, and we’d be in a lorry and we’d shovel the coal into a bag on the wagon. The bags would be stacked on the lorry and we’d take them to houses and put the bags into house cellars. We got paid next to nothing but we had to bring money into our house.
So how did you got spotted?
I played for my school team and for the Sheffield boys team. My brother, David, got me a job on his building site as an apprentice bricklayer. I was digging ditches, mixing concrete…..crikey!!!!!!
Then, when I was about 17 – I work until Saturday lunchtime to get some overtime. I’d then run home, get washed and changed, and get the bus or tram into town. I’m a Sheffield lad, and used to go watch United and Wednesday when they were at home. It didn’t matter which one, I just loved the sound of the crowd, and all the sights, sounds and smells of a game.
This particular Saturday I missed the bus, and so went to watch my local team on the rec. I was leaning on the fence and one bloke came over to me and said to me “Didn’t you used to play in goal as our goalie has not turned up?”.
So, I rushed home, got my boots and stuff……after game they asked me to play regularly for them.
Walking off the pitch one game, a bloke came over to me and said he was from Chesterfield FC, and they likes me to play for their youth team until the end of season and assess me then. So I did that, and they signed me on as a semi-professional at the end of the season. I was still work on building sites but I trained Tuesday and Thursday nights. It was all so different in those days…….there were only two televisions in our street as folk couldn’t afford them, so kids were all out playing football as there was nothing else to do back then. You rarely see that nowadays.
Why were you a goalkeeper?
Well, when we played five a side no one wanted to be a goalkeeper. So, we took it in turns. I went in one day, and I’m diving about and making saves, and I’m thinking “This is quite exciting”, so I started playing in goal a little bit more.
Ever think you’d have the career you had when at Chesterfield?
Crikey, oh no, no. I played six games at Chesterfield, which I enjoyed, but I never thought I’d have the career I did. I did my national service when I was 18 and afterwards they signed me on as a professional.
You moved to Leicester and were superb for them – then you, you moved to us. Tell us about the transfer……
I’d been playing really well, and despite losing a few times at Wembley, I felt I was at the top of my game. A very young Peter Shilton was coming through the ranks and was highly rated, quite rightly, by them. There weren’t goalkeeping coacjhs back then and so I’d take quite a bit of the coaching duties. Peter looked a really good goalkeeper, no question about that, but stated he wanted first team football. At first, I took no notice, as he was only young and starting his career. But I was playing for England, as well as in a number of finals – including the World Cup Final, and it was a real jolt out the blue when Leicester’s manager at the time came over to me one day and said “Gordon, what would you think about leaving?”.
It was then that I knew – I had to leave. I said “if that’s all you think about me, then yes, I’ll go”.
You had plenty of interest from other clubs – why choose Stoke?
I couldn’t have picked a better club. I was delighted to come to Stoke. Waddo was so charismatic – he really sold the club to me. I knew the fans were great from playing in front of them, but everyone at the club was great, from directors, to fans, to the manager…….different class.
Waddo had a great knack of putting experienced players with younger players. He’d give kids a chance, but he also brought in some great experienced players, too. We had a great blend of youth and experience, and I could see it was a club going places.
What was it like having the (in)famous homegrown back four in front of you? Bloor, Smith, Pejic, Marsh: What a defence that was! They all did their jobs superbly. Hopefully, if you ask them, they will tell you I helped them to play well, too. Modern goalkeepers don’t seem to communicate with their back four. Jack Butland does it, but I’d always be shouting at the lads in front of me if players were unmarked or to make them more aware.
The social side of playing at Stoke……..you know have ex-players meeting on a weekly basis. It’s brilliant to see….
Yeah, you had the likes of my great mate George Eastham living in Sneyd Green (yes, behind The Sneyd Arms, near us – ed) no disrespect to the area, as I love it, but can you imagine Premier League players doing that now! I love the walks, lunches and meet ups that ex-Stoke players have every week. It kind of sums up the football club and the area – amazingly friendly, and loyal.
We loved socialising together. We played and trained hard, but we loved life. Is there another club in this country that does this? I don’t know, but I do know that our friendship and camaraderie is lovely. It would be nice to think the players of this age would be doing the same in twenty years’ time, but I doubt it.
Would you swap your memories for the money around in the Premier League as a player in 2017?
No, not a chance. Never. Absolutely no way. It’s a different game now anyway, and one I don’t like anywhere near as much as when I played.
And how about being a goalkeeper in 2017? No way, ha ha! Not with how much those balls swerve!
So, would you have made the save from Pele with a modern ball, Gordon? Oh, and the answer is ‘yes’ by the way……
Ha, ha. I’d do my best! You’ve seen Asmir Begovic score with those new footballs – crikey, I struggled to get those old heavy balls out of my own ar!
Who was your best mate at Stoke…..
George Eastham. Yeah, we’re big mates, still are…..he’s now living in Cape Town.
Your finest saves…….everyone knows about the save from Pele’s header. What are your choices?
Obviously, everyone talks about the Pele save, but there’s two that stick out. The first one is the save after Mickey Bernard’s backpass in the League Cup Final– as it helped us win the cup, that makes it a really special one. And then there’s the one from Geoff Hurst’s penalty in the semi final…….
Geoff says that my save from his penalty was better than the save off Pele. I just remember his run up……..it was massive. He rarely missed penalties, he was a great striker of a ball. He started from outside the area and when he started his run up, I knew he was going to put it to my right if anything as from his body position I knew he couldn’t rotate and put it to my left. He just absolutely walloped it, just right of centre. I looked up, and I’d pushed it over the bar. Then all I knew I was screaming at our players to stop jumping on me and start marking their players for the corner! I was pushing them off me!
Which leads us nicely to the club’s finest ever day: did it fly by or do you remember lots about it?
I remember most of it. I’d played at Wembley lots of times before and in cup finals. But I knew how important the day was – the chance to help Stoke City win their first ever trophy. So, I was having a joke on the bus and trying to get our players to relax.
It was a huge thrill and honour for me: walking down that tunnel with those players, and seeing and hearing those Stoke fans…..an unbelievable feeling. We were massively the underdogs, with Chelsea being the firm favourites. It was such a thrill. What a day it was!
What did you do after the game? I remember on the Thursday night before the final we went to see Trent and Hatch – the players had a few beers that night, too!
We had a ‘do’ at the hotel in London with our wives there after winning the cup. It was The Russell Hotel, I think. The menu had things like “Soup of Bloor” and the like on. All the courses were named after the players. At least we had a ‘do’ that night – the FA put nothing on for us after we won the World Cup! Can you believe that?
Talking about England – how big a thrill was it to play for your country? The ultimate accolade. Every
Everyone talks about 1966, but did we have a better team in 1970? Possibly, but history states we won it in 1966, so it’s hard to argue that wasn’t our greatest ever team. But we had two great teams back then. Superb players, and we played in some amazing matches. It’s often said by Brazilian players that the day they beat us 1-0 was the day they won the trophy, not the final.
And what about the heartbreak of the West Germany game?
It was amazing. We all ate the same food, drank the same drinks, at the same time, together, every day. And yet I was the one who was violently sick and had absolutely terrible diarrhoea. I couldn’t do anything – the sickness came straight out of me.
There was no way I could have played. No chance at all. I do wonder why it was just me who was that violently sick. I couldn’t believe we’d lost when I was told.
Going back to Stoke, and 1972 (as we love to hear tales about it), and the open top bus………
It was obvious just what winning a trophy meant to Stoke fans that day. Absolutely thousands upon thousands of them lined the streets. I pray we get to see something similar soon. We had a great team then, and we deserved to win more trophies. We were robbed in those FA Cup Semi Finals against Arsenal……
My dad never ever forgot those games, Gordon….
Same here. One thing always rankled me……We never ever played injury time in those games. Yet on that semi final day the huge Hillsborough clock was nearly at ten to! Whilst in the other semi final we had that infamous linesman confusing an ice cream seller for a Stoke player. Twenty yards offside, their lad was!
How come they sold ice cream at football matches?
Ha, ha. They did back then. Programmes, ice creams, the board with Golden Goals…….
It seems to me that your talent and knowledge as the best goalkeeper of all time has been criminally underused by professional clubs and others….
Well, that’s not for me to say. I wanted to stay in the game and help out as much as possible, but that’s probably a question for other people, not me? I did bits and bobs, but I couldn’t seem to find work in the game. I still do the Pools Panel, so I still get to say Stoke will win a game!
Like Stoke 15 Arsenal 0, then? Ha, ha – yes, I’d absolutely love that!
So, come on then, the Pele save, I’ve been dying to relive this with you….
He was a great player, a truly great player. It was the way he headed it, a punched header, so precise. I never stood on my line much, and I was three yards off the line. The pitch was like concrete. The ball bounced all over the place, and I think this is what made it a harder save than it possibly would have been on a lush, grassy pitch.
We played at midday, over 100 degrees…..it was sweltering. Balls travelled like missiles when they were hit or headed. When he headed it, it was going to bounce a yard or so inside the post which was going to be hard, and also I needed anticipate how high it would bounce off the pitch. As said before, balls were bouncing far higher than they would over here on our pitches.
(Gordon mimics the save now – unbelievable stuff. Goosebumps everywhere) So, I got the top of my hand to it, and I honestly thought it was a goal, I really did. By now, my body was hitting the hard ground, and the momentum saw my head turn and I glimpsed that the ball had gone over the crossbar and behind the goal. I won’t tell you what I called myself – it did have the word ‘lucky’ in though, ha ha! Bobby Moore then came over and with a big smile on his face said something like “Banksy, try to get a hold of those, for Christ’s sake!”, ha, ha!!
Brazil were the hot favourites that year, but we played just as well as they did that day, created just as many chances as they did, but they grabbed the one goal of the game.
What were your main strengths as a goalie? My positioning was a major one. I only dived when I needed to. I watch some goalkeepers nowadays and they seem to dive for the sake of it, for the cameras.
Your thoughts on Jack Butland, Gordon?
Cracking goalkeeper, and it’s lovely that he said he’s in awe of me even though he’s too young to have ever seen me play. He’s a lovely lad with a great attitude, and he’ll go all the way, make no mistake about that. He’s got it all.
And keepers you rate nowadays in the UK? Jack Butland, without a shadow of a doubt. And one I really like is Kasper Schmeichel. He earns his teams points and I’m amazed another club hasn’t come in for him.
I’ve spoken to Jack about goalkeeping, but it’s not about technical stuff – just talking about keep training hard and keep being positive. Jack will come back from the injury well, I’m sure of that. He does the right things, he has a great attitude, he’s a lovely lad. He’ll be fine!
You have never left this area, like so many of the players that played for us in those great Stoke teams. Why?
We love the people. We love the place. Everything we need is here. My grandkids and great grandkids are big Stokies, and it’s simply a great area to live in. I’m so honoured to be Club President – I have a real pride in Stoke, and have never seen any reason to leave.
Oh no. To have a career like I’ve had, and the experiences I’ve had – no, no regrets.
What makes Stoke City FC so special? It’s obviously not cups, trophies, glory, or awards. It’s the same as what makes our city great – the people. As the second oldest club in the country we have a trophy cabinet that is hardly the envy of many. But pick an All Time World XI, and we’d probably have numbers 1 and 7 sewn up. That’s some going for a club of our size.
One of those players is (obviously) Gordon Banks.
Banks is a son of Sheffield. But he’s also an honorary Stokie, one of us. To see him using salt cellars and the like to discuss zonal marking was one of the most beautifully surreal moments of my life, as was greeting him by a sign in the hotel saying ‘The Gordon Banks Suite’.
He’s also a man who played 37 games in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for Fort Lauderdale Strikers five years after losing the sight in one eye. That he then helped his team win the league and was named NASL Goalkeeper of the Year shows just what the man is all about.
Gordon Banks is a gentleman and a legend. As we all know, he’s not been particularly well recently, and I’m immensely grateful that he gave up his time to speak to DUCK.
Gordon is backing United Against Dementia campaign (www.alzheimers.org.uk) launched by the Alzheimer’s Society, with three of his World Cup winning team mates now living with the condition. DUCK will be making a donation to this superb charity.
COPYRIGHT: DO NOT USE SOME OR ALL OF THIS INTERVIEW WITHOUT GAINING PERMISSION FIRST!
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!
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.
It’s 2pm on a Thursday, and I’m down at Clayton Wood, Stoke’s training ground. I’ve just driven through the autograph hunters who look, ahem, ‘slightly’ disappointed when I turned the corner and my 09-plate Kia crawled apologetically past them and through the security gates……
I’m armed with any number of things, ranging from bobble hats to dictaphones, and from framed prints (of THAT cover) to a sheet or two of questions. The telly is on, and Mark Hughes and his trusty lieutenants walk past.
We exchange ‘Good afternoons’, and they are off to do a press conference or something a bit more important than nod their heads and say hello to some giddy, mid-40’s bloke from a magazine.
“He’s about, he’ll be here in a minute”.
I was early. Very early. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?
It wasn’t really akin to being at the end of the aisle waiting for your partner to show up on your wedding day – it’s far worse. This is Bojan Krkić Pérez , El Petit Geni, or just simply BOJAN, we’re talking about!
As we take a seat and start talking, one thing becomes absolutely clear: Bojan takes his football unbelievably seriously. And why wouldn’t you when you have his God-given talent? For the entire interview he never moves his gaze away from me when he’s talking. Bojan is supremely well-mannered and polite, down-to-earth, and very serious…..and we’re there to talk football, family, friends, Spain…..and Stoke.
Tell us about the young Bojan…..
I grew up in Linyola. It’s got a small population and my family are from that town. My mother’s from there and it’s my best place, my favourite place. My family still live there, although I don’t have any brothers or sisters. It’s about an hour from Barcelona. I love it there.
I was a quiet boy. It’s great to go back. I really started getting into football when I was about four years old and I eventually signed for Barcelona when I was nine. My father was a professional footballer – I watched a few games, but not many. He played in my position; he was a number 10.
I heard you were a good musician when you were younger?
(laughs) Yes, I enjoyed playing the violin when I was young, and I love music. I would like to get back to playing music one day.
How were you spotted?
I was playing in a tournament in France. It’s an international tournament and there were lots of scouts there. They (Barcelona) saw me and liked me. A lot of teams had scouts there, but I signed for Barcelona, the team I loved. It was a dream.
So I went to La Masia (La Masia de Can Planes, usually shortened to La Masia) the Barcelona training ground at the age of 9. For the first three years I was travelling from home, but when I was 12 I moved there to live there with my grandparents where we lived in a flat. In the morning I’d take a bus to school and spend all morning there.
What’s different about La Masia compared to other academies and training camps?
Well, everyone has different ways of coaching kids and what they believe in. I think that Barcelona’s is the best academy because they put your schooling first and after that its football. I like the idea of that. School is very important as it’s everything when you are a youngster growing up.
Barcelona like to have that education philosophy and mentality in their football. But when we trained it was almost always with a ball.
So do you have any plans to coach in the future?
Yes, in the future I would like that, but that’s a long way away. But yes, I think I would like to coach in the future.
You made your first team debut at Barcelona when you were just 17 – breaking Messi’s record. Were you starstruck?
Yes, of course, because before I played for Barcelona I was always a fan. I was in the stadium to watch the games, and then suddenly I was playing for them! It was a fantastic feeling; a dream come true to play for Barcelona and with such great players. I had an amazing time there.
Who were your best friends at the club?
I wouldn’t like to single out just one player. There are a lot of players there and they all helped me, but special players like Henry, Pique, Iniesta, Puyol….they all really helped me to develop.
There was a lot of pressure as a 17 year old, but you don’t really notice it at the time. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m very, very proud to have played for the club I supported, such a big club, and I tried to do my best at all times. It’s hard when you’re 17 as you think as a 17 year old thinks, but when you are playing for such a great football club you must expect pressure. That’s why having such a good schooling is important. I loved my time at Barca.
Roma, AC Milan, Ajax……fans of those clubs liked you. Why weren’t you signed?
Yes, after Barcelona I played in some great cities and for some great clubs: Rome, Milan, Amsterdam…. great cities. I had a big contract at Barcelona and it’s hard when you’re on loan. But when the loan ended at Ajax I said to my family that it was now the time to settle down, sign a contact somewhere, and play regularly.
What did you know of us Stoke before you signed for us?
I knew Stoke were a Premier League club and had played many years in that league. I knew Stoke City has a lot of history, too. I knew of the reputation they had before I came and some people said to me ‘look at their reputation’ – but I knew Mark Hughes was the manager and I replied to them that if Mark Hughes wanted me then I know he wants to play in a certain style.
Mark Hughes was hugely important in getting me to Stoke. He’s the gaffer and he knew I wanted to play games. He gave me confidence and it was a really good move and I feel really comfortable here.
What changes did you need to make for playing in the Premier League?
Most important I think was to add more muscle to my body. I can quite easily get used to the pace of the game and wasn’t worried by that when I first came, but when I first came here I wanted to add more muscle as the game is more physical here. I am now far stronger.
That run of games last season from Spurs away to Rochdale: was it the best form of your career so far?
That’s difficult to say. I think I played consistently in that period. I’ve played really well at all the clubs I’ve been at, but the gaffer here knows that when I came to Stoke it was really important for me to play regularly and to be happy and feel wanted. That is how I feel. I was happy with how I played last season.
I feel a lot of love at Stoke but I also felt a lot of love at Barca and also at Roma, too. I am happy.
That night against Rochdale – did you know immediately it was serious?
Yes. I knew that something strange had happened straight away and that it wasn’t nice. I was running and my studs stuck in the turf, it was just a complete accident. Things can happen like that as we play football. It was a complete accident. I now feel strong and good.
Did you ever have any doubts that you’d be back playing?
I felt a lot of emotions at that time. You always have doubts, but for me the key is to think if you have a doubt then you have ten positive thoughts to make up for it on the same day. I looked at the injury as though your leg is just a small part of your body, and I was very positive. Recovery is about your body and mind. It’s hard when you have an injury but that’s football and that’s life. I am a positive person.
So to your recovery and recuperation. You went back to Catalonia?
Yes, it was very nice and important for me to go back home to recover. It was hard to move away from the team and the club, but I had to as I felt that it’s so important to get your mind totally right and focussed, without distractions. For that, you have to be around family and friends. The sun also makes a difference too, ha, ha!
Thousands monitored your recovery work on social media? Was this your idea?
Yes, it was my idea to put videos of my recovery on social media as we as footballers are important to our fans. But not only when it’s going well and you are in a good way – it’s easy then – but more so when it’s hard. I worked really long hours to get back to good health and get my leg strong, and I even wrote a daily diary, but it was worth it!
I wanted to show my fans that ‘ok, this hard, but I am going to come back stronger and I am doing my very best to do so’. I feel they have the right to see how I am doing and they liked doing so. I’m not at 100% yet but I am working hard towards that goal. It’s was a long time that I was out of football, but I am working so hard to be at my very best. I need games to get that fitness, plus training of course – but I am very happy with how it’s going.
What are the things you miss about home?
My town, my food, my family, my friends, the views……..I don’t need to be surrounded by a lot of special possessions, I just like the normal things in life to make me happy.
My family came over last Christmas and they are doing so again this Christmas. That means a lot to me – it’s a very special time of the year where I come from. In Spain you don’t play at that time of the year, so that’s a big difference, but it’s a very special part of the year.
You have won one cap for Spain – ambitious for more?
Of course, I’d love to play for my country again. It’s very difficult to play for Spain as they have great players and it’s so hard to break into the team, but I know that I first have to play a lot of games, be 100%, and play a lot of good games at Stoke City. Then, it’s up to others.
What’s your message for Stoke fans?
Yes, thank you for your support it means a lot to me and the guys. We are a team, a group, always together. The season is a long season and we didn’t start that well, but we try every game to do the very best things, and it’s now getting a lot better as the season goes on.
Keep supporting us, whatever the result, no matter if we play well or not – we love your support! Oh, and Happy Christmas!
…..and that was that, apart from Bojan then taking the time to sign prints that had been auctioned off for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice. Bojan was really keen and happy that the print was so popular and had raised £600 for the Donna Louise, and asked questions about the organisation.
Not only is Bojan an outstanding footballer, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a lovely bloke too, an absolute gentleman. It’s great that such a well-known, world famous ‘name’ player can fit so easily into the Stoke dressing room DNA of being a decent human being and having time for the fans.
We shook hands, I thanked him for his time, gave him a Bon Nadal bobble hat and a framed print, and I walked back to my car. As the security gates slowly opened, I could see the autograph hunters were walking away from the training ground. I would the window down…..
“Bojan’s still in there, and is on his way out soon”.
They all turned round and jogged back to the gates. Just as I would have done. THAT, is the Bojan effect!
The electronic gates open at Stoke City’s superb 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!