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!
I need to drop a bra size. Possibly two.It’s coming up to our annual break in Abersoch, and I don’t want to put the Whale into North Wales. I love my open-water swimming (“hark at Robson Green”, I hear you shout) but you won’t get me playing my part as Wetsuit Man to the assembled several familes we go on holiday with, unless I’ve shed some serious weight.
And that’s where trainers come in. And where trainers come in, that’s usually where New Balance come in.
You know my love of New Balance by now. But they’re usually seen under a pair of selvege or cords. This time, it’s serious. They’re under a pair of shorts – that’s right, it’s my annual get-fit-for-Wales two month exercise binge where I
I need to drop a bra size. Possibly two.
It’s coming up to our annual break in Abersoch, and I don’t want to put the Whale into North Wales. I love my open-water swimming (“hark at Robson Green”, I hear you shout) but you won’t get me playing my part as Wetsuit Man to the assembled several familes we go on holiday with, unless I’ve shed some serious weight.
And that’s where trainers come in. And where trainers come in, that’s usually where New Balance come in.
You know my love of New Balance by now. But they’re usually seen under a pair of selvege or cords. This time, it’s serious. They’re under a pair of shorts – that’s right, it’s my annual get-fit-for-Wales two month exercise binge where I do all I can to get into that wetsuit.
And I’m doing it in a couple of pairs of NB’s finest: the 580 Elite Edition Solarized and Vazee Pace.
Why two pairs? Off-roading sees me don the chunkier solarized beauts, whilst the gym sees me with the more slimlined (unlike me) Vazee Pace’s…..
The 580 Solarized’s are a great modern take on a 20 year old classic. But these have bells and whistles such as well as a beautiful suded/mesh upper. For example, you get glow in the dark bits and bobs on the outsole and the N logo’s. Snazzy, and will stop me getting lost in the Leek hills. A Stoke Weirdo in The Moorlands, as the film would be called. A REVlite midsole gives me the cushioning, flexibility and comfort I obviously require and I get to still wear a pair of 580’s
The Vazee Pace’s are lightweight. Go on, feel free come out with the obvious joke, I can take it. These are what serious runners wear, and if it’s good enough for them…… Again there’s REVlite technology involved, but these are sock-like in fit, giving you the feel that they were made just for your good self. They weren’t, as clowns like me can buy them!Proof of the pudding will be August 12th 2016. Grrrr, I mentioned pudding!
2. Roads by Portishead
A song that is timeless now as it was 22 years ago when it was first released. Portishead were so much more than part of the Bristol sound of the early-mid 90’s, captained by Massive Attack. Claustrophobic, soaring, sad, string-laden, dark; ‘Dummy’ is one of the greatest debut albums ever in my view, and ‘Roads’ is the best song on the album.
Melody Maker thought that Portishead “were undeniably the classiest, coolest thing to have appeared in the country for years”. Classy? Yup. Absolutely. Portishead can be majestic. Cool? That’s in the eye of the beholder, the listener, but coolness wasn’t sought and their sound was and is so fragile, understated and emotional, that it seems churlish to label them with such a term.
You don’t go running in down dark, empty streets listening to Portishead. But I’d recommend in any other place or situation, stick ‘
3. The duck out of Rosie and Jim
Two ragdolls, living on a canal boat, travelling the waterways and coming to life when they wanted to? A bloke they called Tootle, steering said vessel around this fair country?
Absolute tripe, but wouldn’t everyone in life love a Duck that warns us of imminent danger?
Forget the name of this humble magazine – this isn’t favouritism. I’m just fed up of superheroes who shoot fire or act like spiders. I want a kids TV programme character who has a special power that can really come in useful……..like when Rosie and Jim followed Tootle to the supermarket, put loads of stuff in his trolley that they wanted that he didn’t see, and he paid for them whilst they scarpered back to the canal boat.
Genius that is, but even better is that when they got back to the boat they could have a chat, read a paper, or have a cheeky whisky……. and it was Duck, sat atop said barge, that warned them when Tootle was on his way back. A simple quack or two sufficed, and the two ragdolls went back to being ragdolls again.
Now that is a superhero worth knowing. Well in, Duck.
4. April showers
Football matches are for putting on a big coat and going around in it. That’s what football matches are for. None of this blouson or rain jacket malarkey.
So how ace is it to see snow and sub-zero temperatures again this week? How mint was it to de-ice the car on April 27th?
No? Well just think of the opportunity to purchase a new big coat, and then go around in it. And once you’ve done that, thank the Great British climate.
Thirty two years ago I was stood in a six bedroom house in Leamington Spa. It was my (older) brother’s first day at Warwick University, and our Austin Allegro pulled up alongside Marazion House on a bright September afternoon…..
In we traipsed, laden with bin bags, holdalls and a suitcase. Another ‘fresher’ was already there – a Man City fan from Hale called Ian. He’s still good mates with my brother, and was/is a sound lad. On his bedroom wall was a huge poster, absolutely massive. Ian’s New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84 poster probably got me into Simple Minds in some daft roundabout way. How? Well, on his return to Stoke-on-Trent my brother continuously hammered their stuff on the family stereo. Stereo’s – remember them, eh?
And so a kind of love affair started. Like all affairs, it started off strongly, and weakened somewhat the more popular Simple Minds became. They weren’t my mistress anymore. Because in the early 80’s they were our Simple Minds, weren’t they? You know the score……you meet someone else, then you get married, mortgage, then you have kids, etc etc, blah, blah, etc…..The moment that they went big over the pond kind of coincided with the House music scene in the UK and then Madchester, so that was kind of that with Simple Minds for me.
But the great thing about music is that it’s timeless. Great music certainly is. And Simple Minds have made some great music. Great music.
And what Simple Minds do have that others from a bygone age struggle to achieve, is penning cracking new material, too. So their gigs have no real fillers, no real awkward first date silences of songs that wait for the conversation to flow again with a huge, iconic anthem. There’s no need for a warm-up act when your headliners are going to play early thirty songs over two and a half hours, is there?
So we kicked off at 8pm…. Starting off with ‘Let the day begin’, it was pretty obvious what kind of night it was going to be: A stadium concert in a cracking medium-sized gig venue. Big enough (and with the much-vaunted Viccy Hall ace acoustics) to sound huge, but intimate enough to make you feel a real part of it. Back in the mid-80’s I was in a different postcode to the band at the NEC, and I felt detached. Here, it felt like it was in my backyard. The band felt the same….
“Last time we were in Stoke, tickets were just £2. Well, we’ve done you this time, haven’t we?” joked Jim Kerr about the Premier League prices for the gig. But it was a Premier League performance, alright. Worth every single penny. Kerr was on good form all night.
He still dances the same, still looks at, clicks his fingers at and waves at seemingly invisible people on the roof, and still possesses the richest of voices, backed by a wall of beautiful sound for the quicker stuff and moments of musical tenderness for the slower stuff.
Shifting rapidly and effortlessly from singalong-anthems to new (old) romantic/synth beasts of songs, the crowd became more akin to a Stoke City last minute winner in ST4 than a concert in ST1. Personal highlights were the impeccable, surging Love Song and New Gold Dream, plus the always beautiful Someone, Somewhere in Summertime. A song everyone should hear at least once in their lives.
Perhaps it’s just me, but it really looked like the band were a bit taken back by the level of love and noise afforded to them by a packed Viccy Hall. Its concerts like this that my city should be getting on a regular basis. Tonight showed just why Stoke-on-Trent was always seen as a concert and clubbing mecca. It’s ALWAYS an up-for-it crowd in the Six Towns. Always.
Tonight was the best of kool-skool-discos. Indeed, that really does it a disservice. This was a band that the NME once cited as “one of the 100 Most Influential of All-Time”. Tonight showed why: but they’re even better live now. Shame when I got up the following morning I looked in the mirror and someone stared back at me who was 30 years older than when I last saw Simple Minds.
It won’t be another 30 years.
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.
You treat this place like it’s a hotel!!!!” In fairness, the wife had a point. I’d left it in such a state that I even had to give it a crap rating and write up on Trip Advisor later that day! Arfing aside, we normally have a day or two at a North Walian Travelodge in February – and it’s a chance to don my favourite comfy walking trainers once again. The old faithfuls of sneakers. 1984 wasn’t a very good year to be a Stokie, but it was quite an iconic year elsewhere as we got to see the first Apple Macintosh computer, the first CD-ROM and also the first ever laser printer. We also got our first glimpse of the outstanding Adidas ZX Series. They’ve literally been running things since 1984……. These have always been my favourite go-to Adidas trainer. Originally made in their Scheinfeld factory in Bavaria, West Germany, they have the perfect balance between style, functionality and comfort. This was the range that really kickstarted the three stripes in the running market and were a direct competitor to Nike’s Air Max. And they were adored just as much by those climbing the terraces as those jogging and climbing up the city’s hilly streets. As well as having the perfect running shoe silhouette, they also tick virtually every trainer box including plastic lace loops and standard constitution of mesh, nylon and suede. Absolutely beautiful. Can’t wait to traipse through some errant dog faeces on the coast in ‘em.
1. Follow us on twitter (@DUCKmagstoke)
2. DM us the answer to the following:
– Click on our Infinities advert on this website – count how many brands beginning with the letter ‘P’ do they have on their website?
– How much are the Adidas Topanga trainers?
December 1st: 15.41
Orfy makes his way onto platform 1, Stoke station. “Got time to get a coffee to take on board?”
Five minutes or so later the train pulls in, and we enter carriage B, and spot our seats. £37 isn’t bad for a London return, and with guaranteed seats it was an hour and a half of us two ed’s actually being able to have a decent chat about the magazine. Snatched phone calls and crap text message are usually the communications de jour, and so it was nice to have a natter about the previous eighteen months and also the future.
Whilst proud of the magazine, and how it has been received, we needed to reach more folk. We felt our ace writers deserved to have their stuff read by ore folk. My dream is for the mag to be a bigger part of my future and to spend more time on it to make it as good as it could be. And so the journey to London was unique: we normally catch the train to watch Stoke there and have a few beers, balloon about, and try to forget the working week.
Growing up, eh? Bloody hell!
At 5.20pm we pulled into Euston. Those first few steps onto the platform always gives me a rush. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting London. Some hate it. I don’t.
We made our way through the onrushing throng of totally miserable looking folk: some sprinting, most looking like they simply hated life.
“*******! I’ve left my coat on the train”. And so Orfy jogged back to platform 16 where hopefully the train was still parked up. It was, but it gave me the chance to take the Twitter-mick out of him and his best Lonsdale gear which was retweeted to Virgin trains who, rather amusingly, got straight in touch with me! In fairness, ace customer service for a £9.79 coat!
Oh, and I also saw Emma Willis from TV in the station. And yes, her eyes are THAT gorgeous.
Orfy’s poorly leg, done in a 5-a-side, made the five minute walk from Euston to St Pancras drag like, er, Orfy’s leg actually. We eventually got there at 5.45pm to be greeted by the sight of a hotel you only see in far posher magazines than ours. The Renaissance, St Pancras,is simply a stunning-looking building.
And so we checked in with a young lady holding a FSF clipboard and were taken up the staircase that was apparently used in Spice Girl’s ‘Wannabe’ video, to the most elegant of conference rooms.
Two Stoke lads, in the middle of London, with a complimentary hotel bar in front of them!
As you well know, I have the Andrex touch when it comes to luck and circumstance, and we couldn’t really drink as our cars were waiting back for us at Stoke station. Not for us, staying over and getting trolleyed, like most of the other folk there. Oh no, we were booked on the 11pm rattler back to God’s Country. Out rock ‘n roll THAT!
Eventually, the great and the good arrived and we had a good natter with the lads from United We Stand fanzine – and in fairness, all were good, sound lads who love their club. We’ve had a beer with a few before. Indeed, one lad hadn’t missed a Euro away since 1991 – whatever the club, that’s some effort. He must have a) an ace wife or, b) no wife!
We were eventually shepherded down to where the awards were taking place – quite simply a wow of a room that had been built on/out of an old platform at the station. We felt a bit like, er, Stoke lads at a posh awards do, as we plonked ourselves down on our table which featured Crewe’s liaison officer and Amanda Jacks from the FSF (both really sound). Sam Wallace from the Independent hadn’t turned up – shame that, until we nabbed his pudding, obviously. You can take the lads out of….etc…etc…blah..blah….
The starter was smoked salmon and a quail’s egg with caviar. “Waiter, this egg’s off mate”, didn’t go down too well, unlike the top notch plonk that was being shovelled down by everyone else in the room, especially by the lads from Leeds, Doncaster, Manchester United, and Sunderland fanzines – all staying over in the capital that night.
The first award was for Player of the Year. Funnily enough it was won by Sergio Aguero as he was both, a) the best player in the league last year and b) the only nominated player that was there that night.
Aguero made his way past us, probably dying to ask us how sales of issue 11 had gone at Anfield 48 hours beforehand. He collected his award, with his interpreter informing everyone that “DUCK bobble hats were available in green and grey”* and were struck by how tiny the bloke is. Indeed, his bodyguard was Cliff Carr!
The main course was beef and was decent enough but not in the same league as the starter: it was proper Alexis Sanchez compared to Bojan fodder! However, the break did give me the chance to act like a kid and interrupt Aguero’s evening and get him to sign issue 11 for my lad whose birthday it was the next day (honestly!!!!).
We also had the opportunity to natter to Stoke’s liaison officer, Anthony Emmerson. We say as we see, and what we saw was a really decent bloke and one who we’ll be interviewing soon to drill into, to ascertain what he can do for our supporters and what his role is.
The superb James Richardson (BT Sport/Football Italia etc) was hosting, and as the throng settled after various toilet visits and vino requests, it was the Fanzine of the Year Award time.
Whilst trying hard not to accept our fate like a TP ‘”bonus” away game, we knew we wouldn’t win. Winning for us was being nominated and shortlisted in the first place (this after we sent a pile of mags off to be judged by the FSF), as we were up against magazines that sell in thousands and thousands, and also have social media followings that Piers Morgan would dream of. All are ace mags, mind.
Leeds’ excellent The Square Ball won. We were happy for them. Indeed, so rare is it that they get some good footballing news in that part of West Yorkshire that one of their lads actually fell backwards off the stage! No one saw mate. Really.
The last award of the night saw Stoke adding silverware to the likes of The League Cup; The Watney Cup; Autoglass Trophy; AutoWindscreen Shield; and Crouch’s missus winning Strictly Come Dancing last year. Anthony Emmerson looked suitable humbled as he made his way to shake hands with Mr Richardson as he collected the Liaison Officer of the Year Award, and in all honesty, absolutely nailed his acceptance speech. Indeed, it wasn’t a prepared speech as he answered Richardson’s questions with a passion and honesty of one of us, the rank and file. Impressive stuff.
All that was left was for me and Orfy to give out a few mags to the other fanzine lads, and to eventually give in to Messrs Richardson and Robbie Savage, whom had been pestering us all evening for a picture with our latest issue.
So, at 10.45pm, we walked out into the crisp, London air. Euston Road at that time was buzzing, as always, and the hotel looked simply breathtaking as we had one last look back on a great night.
Think God is a Stokie? Not quite: we sat ourselves down on the train at a table facing a solitary bloke on his Ipad. Five minutes into a two hour twenty minute journey we struck up a conversation with him. He was an Arsenal fan.
I hate life, sometimes.
*er, he possibly didn’t
From 1pm tomorrow look for our sellers near to the away turnstiles.
Unless the stewards are mard, and then we will be as close to the away turnstiles as possible.