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.