I am still struggling to get my head around what has happened to Gary Speed. As somebody who had the fortune to play alongside him many years ago, even though it was only on a number of occasions, it makes it seem all the more unreal.
At that time back in the early nineties Gary Speed had achieved what I was hoping to achieve. He was very much a role model for me and the other group of young pro’s at Leeds Utd. He had established himself amongst the regular Leeds United first team and was achieving his potential.
He led the way for other youngsters of the time such as Gary Kelly, Noel Whelan, Kevin Sharp, mark Tinkler and Andy Couzens.
There were times when he would assure us that we were on the right road and to keep going. Howard Wilkinson was a fearsome figure to a teenager back then and Gary knew what we were going through. He made us feel that we were OK on many occasions with a quiet word or a reassuring glance. He was the like and soul of any social events too and also had the professionalism and dedication which enabled him to have such an illustrious career. He was the fittest of the Leeds United squad which is saying something. He was the hardest trainer who never missed a session.
I remember him popping into the dressing room shortly before our FA Youth Cup win at Elland Road against Manchester Utd to wish us all the best of luck.
I remember him integrating that group of young players into the first team squad by going out of his way on so many occasions.
I also remember rooming with him in a hotel the night before my last Premier League start against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. His ritual was to have milk and cookies before bed. He treated me to the same in our room. It didn’t do me any good as I had a stinker but he scored one of his trademark headed goals in a 2-1 defeat as Alan Shearer scored 2 that day.
I remember playing against him when he was at Everton. He went out of his way to ask how I was getting on. He had time for everybody and was one of footballs great men. People that knew him much better than I have all said similar things to me and there are countless other people both in and out of football who he has effected in a positive way.
Football has lost a great man who will never be forgotten.
This was something I had been looking forward to greatly since winning The Yorkshire Masters regional heat. When you are retired this is the closest thing we get to a decent competitive standard of football.
The organisers of the event are fantastic. The players families are well looked after and the free kit and boots is always nice!!
My good mate and man Utd goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington travelled over to Manchester with me from Lincoln. Somehow we knew we would play against Man Utd during the course of the evening.
As those who watched will probably agree, Rangers proved to be one hurdle too far for us. Although they were the best team we did have a slight disadvantage given the amount of recovery time we were given before the semi-final against Manchester Utd and Rangers in the final. Having said that there is no real other way of doing it seeing as it is being screened live on Sky TV.
Having watched Watford be well beaten in their only match we mentioned that we didn’t just want to turn up and play the one match. Luckily enough we got off to a great start against Liverpool. Although we showed signs of throwing it away against them towards the end we had a big enough goal advantage to see it through. Clyde and Hucks had a great understanding with each other and were too powerful for the fancied Liverpool.
The first game is always the easiest. Adrenalin and fairly fresh legs get you through the first game although we all knew that the legs would tire as the games continued. Paul Butler had a slight hamstring issue so we ended up being a man down for the whole evening which also took its toll.
So on to Manchester United in the semis. The profile of the evening had been raised significantly with the inclusion of Roy Keane. Although I played against him when he was at Notts Forrest during my debut for Leeds Utd it was still special to be on the same pitch as him.
The Leeds Utd following made themselves heard during this game enormously and we gladly paid them back with a victory. Although Man Utd had the lion’s share of possession we turned our chances into goals to claim our place in the final.
Now although as ex-players we play down the winning feeling we get there was no denying that we were all buzzing after this game.
We were told that we had only 4 minutes before we had be back on for the final. Rangers kept the ball very well and Michael Mols was different class up front for them. In the end it was too much for us although it was great to be a part of it.
This has been my third year playing in The Masters and I look forward to playing each year. There is always somebody who you catch up with who you haven’t seen for a few years and the football banter is something that you miss when you no longer play full-time.
Hopefully I will be asked to play again next year when we can go one better and win the trophy.
I’ve not blogged for a while but wanted to give my thoughts on the current situation at Blundell Park.
The controversial confrontation from Rob Scott following Grimsby Town’s home defeat to Darlington has brought about a debate which could be seen as a turning point in the season of Grimsby Town.
The post on You Tube has propelled this incident into the limelight which may allow everybody connected to Grimsby Town to take stock of where the club is at present.
So where do I stand on this?
They say that fans pay good money and therefore can say what they like. This is true, of course. But at what point does this become too much?
Clearly the majority of Town fans back their team.The decline of Grimsby Town is obviously not easy to take for the real supporters. It unfortunately been slow, painful and predictable. From my days as a player in the second tier where we were considerably over achieving their was, even then, disgruntled fans. People may have forgotten this but it was there back then. Maybe not as much as nowadays but there was still a contingent of supporters who were never happy. We were playing regularly against the likes of Wolves, Birmingham Leicester and still coming under criticism if results were not as expected.
I think that we all accept that criticism is a part of being a football manager and if it is constructive then we must accept it. This was clearly not the case so I feel that Scott has a right to stand up for himself, his players and his club in the way he did.
For my money, the terrace moaning has become the culture at Blundell Park. New supporters get on the bandwagon and the culture continues and grows.
Although I wasnt at the game, by all accounts Town played well enough to win but didn’t take their chances. Their work rate and application wasnt questioned so if there is a right way to lose then this can come under that category.
Reading the comments from Mr Fenty I think that he has been wanting to air his views on this for some time and I agree with his comments.
The negative atmosphere at Blundell Park, although is not to blame totally for the clubs decline, has certainly been a factor in the fortunes of the club.
Grimsby Town supporters must now re-group as a unit, get behind their players, managers and board and give it a real go.
I thought I would try to put into words my London Marathon experience seeing as though I haven’t blogged for so long.
My training programme was provided by Ian Willows (Director at V2 in Lincoln). http://www.vital2.co.uk/
Initially I found the training quite easy. As the longer training runs became more frequent I must admit that I struggled both mentally and physically. When I announced to people I knew that I would be running the marathon the vast majority of people cast aside my apprehension by declaring that I would be fine given my footballing background over the last 20 or so years. I knew that it would be a different ball game though as the training was so much different to football. So, without wanting to come across as negative I let that go a little bit.
I trained up to 16 miles as my longest run. The training at this stage was becoming a chore and I was getting lots of aches and pains as a result. I decided to stop my training about 4 weeks before race day to save some in the tank. Looking back it was the right decision.
Race day was one of those days I will never forget. I was really up for it. The atmosphere on the way to the start on the tube was special. To see so many people in the same boat was very inspiring.
For the first few miles I was taking it all in. I felt very comfortable and was still running on adrenalin I think. I managed to get to half way at about 1hr 45 mins. I was worryingly way ahead of schedule. At around this time I realised what ‘the wall’ felt like. Everybody talks about it and you know that it will come but when it does it really knocks you sideways. I imagined that my wall would be around mile 16 given that I trained to that distance. In fact it came earlier at 13-14 miles. I think that was because I started so quickly. From then on my running technique was all over the place. It was a mental and physical torture until the end- nearly two and a half hours. I can safely say that I have never experienced pain such as that. I cramped up in my hamstrings on 3 or 4 occasions which worried me slightly. I think the heat on the day was a major factor for that.
As time went I saw more and more walkers, as well as more people requiring medical attention. At 22 miles I was done. I was very close to walking to the finish but I somehow talked myself out of it. Once the 24 mile marker was in sight I knew I would make it home.
The crowd along the way were absolutely superb. Others had mentioned the influence that the crowd had but you really have to experience it to understand the positive effect they have, particularly towards the latter stages.
So 4 hours 09 minutes and 35 seconds. I had hoped to be sub 4 hours but I feel an enormous sense of achievement in, not only competing, but running for such a worthwhile cause (The Lincoln Multiple Sclerosis Centre).
I have received many messages of congratulations. Many of those messages had the ‘I couldn’t do it’ in there somewhere. Well, when you have a man in his 60’s encouraging you along after 23 miles with a smile on his face it makes you realise that this is something that anybody can do.
Please follow the link below to my Just Giving page if you would like to make a donation to The Lincoln MS Therapy Centre.
It seems that English football has had such a terrible year. An awful World Cup showing and now the humiliation of our 2018 World Cup hosting campaign.
It would appear that our standing as a nation in world football is certainly not what it used to be. The fact that we are seen as the inventors of the beautiful game and the memories of 1966 do not hold any pull with the voters.
We rolled out all of the big guns for this particular campaign. Royalty, the Prime Minister and David Beckham are national icons known the world over but all of this was not nearly enough to bring The World Cup home. Our exit at the first stage of voting really does ask the question: where do we go from here?
FIFA, from the outside, look like they are wanting to spread the World Cup hosting out to countries who have never hosted a World Cup. This has many advantages of course, all of which push England even further down the pecking order. It will bring new supporters of football to the world game. It will bring new stadia and facilities to new countries to enjoy as a legacy to the next generations.
The English bid used many great arguments which went in their favour. We have the stadia and facilities. We have the experience of holding tournaments of this size. We have a multi-cultural society and would embrace a World Cup whole heartedly. But the fact remains that the decision makers always wanted new countries to be hosts.
We could argue that the recent bribery scandal has been a major factor in the voting process. We will probably never get to the bottom of the real truth unless an independent enquiry takes place. Even if this does happen it would be covered up and watered down. FIFA are such a huge animal that they have the power to limit any such proven accusations to a minimum.
I think there is a mentality in this country to believe that we are the best at everything and that by being English we deserve more than we get. This only goes to prove, as in The World Cup, that maybe we are not as good as we were or think we are.
It was just before we were to leave the dressing room for the opener at home to Brentford in the 2000-01 season. The club had just achieved promotion and it was a massive game. We were all focused on the game when sent the whole squad into a fit of the giggles. Obviously he wanted to send out his team with some positive, inspiring words of wisdom but got so wrapped up in it that it came out completely wrong.
It had no bearing on the result but it sure was funny.
There was another instance where he shot himself in the foot. He had a big disagreement with a senior pre after a Saturday match. During this rant he declared that the player would never play for Northampton Town again. He was adamant. Sure enough, a week later with a couple of injuries to the squad he was in the starting line up. Either don’t say it or stick to your guns. That type of action does make players lose a bit of respect I have to say.
Kevin was a young manager. Ian Atkins had recently left Sixfields. Officially he was player-manager. With the arrival of Marco Gabbiadini and myself in the close season and big Steve Howard meant that he didn’t need to play too much. There was a speight of matches where he brought himself on for 10 minutes or so. I think that had as much to do with the fact that he had scored 199 goals during his career. He tried all sorts to get to 200 but unfortunately he didn’t manage it. What a great scoring achievement nonetheless.
Kevin paid a record transfer fee for me from FC Utrecht. Money was given to him that summer so he broke the transfer record at Sixfields by paying £150,000 for me.
He wasnt a particularly tough disciplinarian. He adopted more of a friendly approach. This was great when we were winning but when we were having a tough time then he didn’t quite have the personality to mix it up and put players out of their comfort zone. He was very lucky to have such a good assistant in Kevan Broadhurst who did most of the important work for him. As soon as Kevan left then things started to go wrong.
There were plenty of days off and the days we were in his training sessions were short and sharp. You will very rarely get players complaining about this because we all like days off when they are on offer.There was very little done in a tactical sense. During our bad run of form towards the end of the 2000-01 season the players did have their say. We felt like we were not working on tactical issues enough and that we were having too many days off. It must have been bad. It didn’t change anything though.
I do feel like he held me back during his reign ay Northampton Town. Millwall offered good money for me, about £325,000 I believe. This would have more than doubled their investment in less than a year. He told the club to ask for £1 million for me. Ridiculous. I was in form at the time but that figure was out of the question.
It would have allowed me to play at a higher level but all Kevin could think about was himself. He told me that if he let me go then he would get stick from the fans which would lead to him getting the sack. Well, as we know he got the sack anyway. There were a couple of other players in that team that could have played at a higher level but he held them back too. James Hunt could have played in The Championship with QPR who offered good money for him but he held him back too.It does leave a bad taste in your mouth.
I enjoyed working under Kevin but when he lost his job we were in a real relegation scrap. Although it is the players who cross the white line it is always the manager who bares the brunt of it all. I think that we lacked direction and results were showing that this was the case.
Our small, experienced squad made it difficult for us to have a settled team. Michael Johnson struggled to play 3 games a week. Although I was in a bit of denial at the time about this (I thought I could play 3 games a week but couldn’t either) he was pretty honest about it. He was a great player. Not just for Notts but at his other clubs.
I remember playing against him for Grimsby Town against Birmingham City many years ago. I recall a situation during the game where I had about 10 yards on him chasing a ball. I sauntered through only to find that he had eaten up the ground on me and easily dispossessed me. Although at Notts he had lost some of his pace he could read the game amazingly. It was his last season that year and was a true Notts legend.
Training was always pretty good during my time at County. This was something that was very important to me. I had been at some clubs where training was a joke. Lots of standing around….very boring stuff. At the age I was 34, I was not going to get any better. In fact I was getting worse! So good training was essential. Lots of small sided games, passing drills, shooting drills.
The managements were very sensible with us older pros. We did slightly less training than the younger boys which allowed us to recover quicker. Ian was very good with us in this way. He had suggested that we would not be needed on Mondays for training but given that our results were not anywhere good enough then it was not an option.
We played some great stuff that season without really being too effective. We were great up to the final third but didn’t have the required quality to win enough games. We missed chances at vital times in games and conceded against the run of play too often. I was as guilty of anybody for this. I think I actually played too deep which meant that I was not in the penalty box enough when the ball arrived. Miles Weston was so quick that nobody could keep up with him !!
Myself, Delroy Facey, Sean Canham and Spencer Weir-Daley were the striking options. The highlight of my season was my hat-trick against Port Vale. It was a day to remember for me. Unfortunately there were not enough days like that for me personally at Notts County.
By February I was starting less matches than ever before. My form was poor so I had no complaints really. Jonathan Forte was brought in and he started scoring immediately. He had the pace that our attack was missing. I remember thinking to myself at around that time that I was getting too old for this. I just wasnt a god as I used to be. age had caught up with me and it was showing. This in turn led to me becoming frustrated with myself which affected my form even further.
From then on I knew that I would not get a new contract. I also knew that this would probably be my last season in pro football.
Unfortunately Notts County didn’t see anywhere near the best of me. At the end of the season was the time when all of the out of contract players learned their fate. The season had been a failure. Our league position was poor. There were times when we flirted with relegation but it never looked like a reality to me. We lost to non-league opposition in The FA Cup to Kettering and the squad was too old. When you have a season like this then not too many players are taken on. Most of the out of contract players were released. Gavin Strachan, Richard Butcher too. I was surprised about Butch because the club were keen to discuss a new deal with him in January before his injury against Kettering.
Ian was very good when I was called in. We were not aware that it was happening but once I got the call I knew the score. He didn’t go around the houses and just told me outright that I was to be released. I replied that I didn’t deserve a new deal after the season I had so it wasn’t a sour encounter like many of these are with other players.
So there it was. Game over…literally. I knew it couldn’t last forever but when it actually happens it took a while to sink in.
C’est la vie.