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Scunthorpe United vs Leeds United

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

As two of my former clubs go head to head today I thought I would preview the match.

Scunthorpe come into this game in fine form. They are currently on the back of some great away results. The victories at Preston and Watford were just at the right time and have propelled confidence amongst supporters who were beginning to doubt the squad. The addition of a couple of loan signings has invigorated the playing staff and has given everybody a much-needed kick up the backside. Another three points for The Iron today could see themselves knocking on the door for a play-off spot.

Leeds United come in to todays match off the back of two straight defeats and  a disastrous score line in their last match. The 0-4 drubbing sounds like perhaps worse than it actually is. Bellamy is clearly playing way below his level and Cardiff are hotly tipped to be in The Premier League next season. The away victory at Middlesbrough was an excellent performance with a great second goal which was good enough to win any match. This shows that consistency is something that is currently lacking from the team. I see Leeds Utd as a team who can beat any team on their day.

So the form guide is saying that Scunthorpe United will possibly be favourites for this match.Many of Scunthorpe’s points have come away from Glanford Park so far this season. If Leeds United can perform like they did against Middlesbrough then it will make for an interesting afternoon.

Why Newcastle United must keep Chris Hughton

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I thought I would write my thoughts about one of my childhood heroes and current manager of Newcastle, Chris Houghton.

As a boyhood Tottenham fan  I saw Chris Houghton play many times. My dad used to take me many times to watch Tottenham play both at White Hart Lane as well as other grounds around the country. We used to arrive in time for the team coach to arrive and I remember him saying hello to me as a 7 or 8-year-old as he got off the bus on one occasion.

It seems to me that he has done a remarkable job at St James’s Park since becoming manager. The number of high-profile names that have taken up the hot seat at Newcastle and not lived up to expectations is a huge signal that it is not all about having a big name to take a club forward.

Chris has the respect of the playing squad at St James’s Park. This, for me, is where a manager earns his corn. To earn your players respect is the hardest thing to do. It is never given on a plate. Some managers have this awful knack of talking to you as a child. If you can be on their level then you are in a great position to achieve.

The club have publicly backed their manager. So why are Newcastle saying that contract negotiations will be underway at the end of the season. You would have thought that there would be some urgency to tie him down to a long-term contract. Hughton has stabilised the club. Many thought that Newcastle could struggle this season after their return to the top flight but he has exceeded many people’s early season expectations. It seems like he has the majority of the Newcastle fans on his side too. This hasn’t been gifted to too many previous managers there.

So is there a hidden agenda behind the scenes at St James’s Park ? Are the Newcastle United decision makers looking to attract another big name on board at the expense of their current popular manager?

I certainly hope not. Newcastle United should have learned valuable lessons from their recent past and continue with Hughton. They should have some much needed continuity and maybe we could see some real success at St James’s Park in the not too distant future. 

There has been speculation that he would soon leave the club. The bookmakers seem to have taken enough bets on this occurance recently to make this a media story. This week has reinforced his credentials as a fantastic manager. If this continues he will be talked about as a potential future England manager.

My time at Scunthorpe United..Part 5. The play-offs and Wembley

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

So a tough two – legged tie with Swansea City. Our advantage for finishing in fourth position was to have the second leg at home. As Swansea had finished the season strongly they were always going to pose a real threat to us. A 1 – 0 defeat at The Vetch Field was not a terrible score line but you could have argued that we were now underdogs. A full house and a real cracking atmosphere was in store at Glanford Park for the second leg. We got off to a brilliant start with an aggregate equalizer in the first minute or two from a stunning strike from our left back Andy Dawson. He had recently joined from Nottingham Forrest and proved to be a real find. As I played from the left he did most of my running for me that season. Constantly over-lapping me and getting back when not in possession. Great for me! So we were level almost straight away and the momentum was with us. A great end – to end match eventually went into extra time. The away goals rule was in play although it only counted after the extra-time period. After 90 minutes the score was 2-2 on aggregate. John Eyre was sent off harshly for two bookable offences and we needed a goal or else we had lost. I had been replaced midway into the second half of normal time by youngster Gareth Sheldon. I had a quiet game and didn’t have much of an effect on it at all. Gareth proved to be something of a ‘super – sub’ and scored the winning goal to take us to Wembley for the play-off final. A ten-day break awaited us before the final. It was a pretty long time to wait for such a big game particularly when everybody else had finished for the season and were away all over the place on their holidays. The club decided to take us to Dublin for the weekend. I think that the management wanted it to be a relaxing break with a little bit of training to prepare for the final. I think that the lads saw it as a chance to let their hair down and we ended up spending the whole weekend supping Guinness. I know Brian wasn’t best pleased although the players argument was that it was a full week before we played and therefore there was plenty of recovery time. So the manager went with it, begrudgingly. Had we lost the final I am sure he could have brought it up but we didn’t so it was all forgotten. What a great weekend though. In fact, it was more like an end of season piss up. Traditionally footballers get away for a few days. After a long, hard season it is always something to look forward to. Somewhere abroad is normally the place where you will find a squad of footballers during the first two or three weeks of May but Dublin was perfectly fine. To be honest I felt like terrible all week building up to the final. The Guinness can’t have helped but also the fact that I had started every single match that season, league and cup. The last four or five games I had felt tired, burned out even, but I just needed one big effort in the biggest match the club had been involved in for quite some time. I was also out of contract with a baby soon on the way so it was a particularly big match for me personally. Leyton Orient were our opponents at Wembley. In a game like that it didn’t matter who we were up against. It was amazingly surreal to play at Wembley. They say that you don’t remember much about playing at Wembley. Well, apart from walking out, my biggest memory was how knackered I was from the very first whistle. The season had taken it’s toll and I must have lost a lot of nervous energy in the build up to playing in a final at Wembley. Again, the match passed me by. A fantastic 1-0 victory though capped a great season for everybody. Scunthorpe United legend Alex Calvo-Garcia popped with the historic header. We had to endure a bit of an onslaught from Leyton Orient late on but held out to gain promotion. Although I hadn’t scored in the final six games I ended up with 23 goals. My best scoring return of my career. FC Utrecht had been over and watched the last few matches of the season. With my below par performances I was expecting their interest to dwindle. To my surprise they still wanted me. I was invited over for talks in the week after the play-off final. It ended up being a whirlwind visit. In and out in one day and a contract signed. It was an opportunity I could not resist.

It was sad to leave. I really had enjoyed my time at Glanford Park. I had established myself as a Football League player which was needed. Nothing is forever though and so I moved on.

Categories: Football, Previous clubs

My time at.. Northampton Town..Part 2. Off to a flyer

October 28, 2010 2 comments

At one stage it looked like I was heading back to Utrecht for pre-season training. Luckily things managed to sort themselves out before that happened. When I had left there in the December I was hoping it was for good.

The transfer fee was the only thing out of my control. FC Utrecht had somehow calculated a figure as to how much they wanted. Considering they got me on a Bosman for free you would have thought that they would have let me go for free but that would have been too simple!

My wages, although I had to take a cut, was not something which I would have wanted to jeopardise my path back to England. I had decided that money was secondary for me in this. Getting back to England was the top priority here and to come back to Northampton, where I felt so much at home, was my preferred destination.

I had an agent at the time who had some personal issues to attend to which prolonged the transfer. I felt like I was in the dark as I just couldn’t get hold of him for most of the summer. I forced it a bit by calling Utrecht to say that I would be returning for training in July. It was a huge bluff which seemed to get things moving. They really didn’t want me back.

I had lived in the West midlands during my time on loan at Walsall but we wanted to move down to Northampton. I have never enjoyed travelling too far from where I played so this was a good decision. We were lucky that we didn’t have a house to sell so we had moved down to Northampton by the end of pre-season.

Marco Gabbiadini and Chris Hargreaves were the other two big arrivals at Sixfields that summer. Although it was not a big squad there was a lot of quality in there.

There was a pre-season trip to Dublin for a few days which always allows new players to gel that bit quicker. It was a very relaxed ship that Kevin Wilson ran. There was not too much discipline.

This resulted in a bit of a Guinness-fest for the few days we were there. Some managers will allow this on pre-season trips and some won’t. It all depends on the individual. Not that he had much say in the matter. Within an hour we were all in the local pub and the black stuff was flowing.

Who is to say what is right and wrong ? A few beers always makes the bonding process that much quicker. The matches were low-key so all in all it was a great trip. It certainly didn’t affect league results.

We started with a home match against Brentford. Momentum had gathered from the previous season and there was a real buzz inside Sixfields that afternoon. The sun was baking hot, as it always seemed to be on the opening match of a season.

I got off to a flyer with a 25 yard effort. It was one of those shots which can go anywhere. Luckily for me it found the top corner and I was off and running. We drew the game 1-1 after Brentford scored in the second half.

Next was a two-legged league cup tie against Fulham, managed by Jean Tigana. They were big spenders at the time playing amazing football but we managed to beat them at Sixfields 1-0 in front of the live Sky TV cameras with Gabbiadini getting the goal.

Goals came thick and fast for me at the start of that season. It felt like everything I touched ended up in the back of the net. I felt fit, strong and my confidence was high. It encouraged me to shoot from everywhere and most of those shots went in. I can’t put my finger on why this was the case. Looking back I regard this to be the peak of my career. I was 26 years old and things just seemed to be happening for me. I had some good players round me. Steve Howard and Marco Gabbiadini were around and also creative players like Dave Savage helped make chances for me. It was a time that I look back with great memories.

Up to the turn of the year I think I had scored something like 17 goals. I was up at the top of the scoring charts which was fantastic. At around this time Kevan Broadhurst left the club and was replaced by Russell Slade who was elevated from his youth team role. This was a major blow for the club. Kevan was brilliant. He was the brains behind the operation if you like. Tactically he was superb. He knew opposition weaknesses and allowed us to exploit them. Kevin Wilson was not as tactically aware and this was made evident after Broads left. This, in my opinion, was one of the major factors in our poor form after Christmas that season. There had been some disagreements between Broads and Kevin Wilson and I think that Kevin Wilson threatened to leave if nothing was done. As manager I think he pulled rank and the board had to make a decision. The wrong man went. I thought so at the time and I think I was proved right

Categories: Football

My time at…Leeds United. Part 4 Egging..and the South Africans arrive.

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Self-confidence had rocketed since my arrival in the First Team squad. They say that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and I would say that unfortunately I had found myself on the wrong side of that line at times. Don’t get me wrong, you do need confidence to be a professional footballer. All of the top players have it but they manage to churn out an 8 or 9 out of 10 performance every week. Eventually this affected my performances but in a negative way. The problem was that my niave, 18 year old mind  was saying ‘ all you have to do is turn up and it will happen for you.’

Well, gradually my performances tailed off and I was out of the first team.You could say that I was being rested and I probably said that to myself but my form had dropped away significantly. Anyway it was the end of the season barring The FA Youth Cup Final. It was a two-legged affair against Manchester United. There was a lot of bad blood between the two clubs at that time. Eric Cantona had made the switch from Leeds United over to Manchester earlier in the season and he was ripping the Premier League apart. In that Manchester United youth team were the likes of  David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Keith Gillespie, Robbie Savage and Chris Casper. They were a cracking team and were strong favourites to beat us having won the same trophy the year before. The first leg at old Trafford went to us 2-0. A goal  each from myself and Noel Whelan. There was roughly 30,000 on the night even though Old Trafford was being renovated.

So back to Elland Road for the second leg. It was live on Sky Sports too. Interest was that high that the kick-off was put back about half an hour. I scored one of the best goals of my career that night. An overhead kick from about 12 yards. Even Leeds United fans still ask me about it today. We eventually won the tie 4-1 on aggregate.  By this time Kevin Sharp had made his senior league debut too. Three mates living together in the same digs had played first team football. Maybe we all got a bit above our station.

So the end of the summer brought the Under 18’s European Championships to England. Our squad was made up of the Leeds United youth team ,Manchester United youth team plus the likes of Sol Campbell, Darren Caskey, Julian Joachim, Robbie Fowler, and Kevin Gallon.

I started the first match against France. I was replaced by Robbie Fowler who came on, scored, and kept his place for the rest of the tournament. We won the tournament and I played a bit part really.

It turned out to be my last appearance for England at any level. I did not know it at the time. I just thought that I would make the natural progression to U21 level at least.

So back to pre-season training at Leeds United. Brian Deane had replaced Lee Chapman as the target man. Phil Massinga and Lucas Radebe had come all the way from South Africa. They were a couple of years older than myself, Noel Whelan, Kev Sharp, Mark  Tinkler and Gary Kelly but they did hang around with us. To be fair to them both they came with the very best intentions. They were both great lads but swore blind that they didn’t drink. We invited them out loads of times at the beginning with them turning us down on each occasion. Well, bordem must have been a factor because one night they gave us a ‘yes’. Well, they liked the taste of it that’s for sure and couldn’t get enough of it after that. Bacard & Coke was their favourite tipple. In the end they were out on it more than us!

 All of us young lads loved a night out . In fact ,we loved an ‘all dayer’  even more. There were many weeks if there was no scheduled reserve or first team game that we would find ourselves in a pub by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We would always end up in a club called Mr Craigs. There was free entry if you played for Leeds United and we all felt like celebreties in there. Although I enjoyed a night out with my mates I don’t want to paint a picture of on obsessive drinker. I never went out two days before a game which was the ruling of the club at the time. Boredom then was sometimes difficult to surpress, particularly on a night time.  There were 4 of us in digs so what do you do?  We spent a lot of time in front of the TV and also with the Atari. For those that are too young to know what an Atari is: let’s just say that it was the closest thing to a PlayStation ! At the time this was cutting edge gaming. Sonic the Hedgehog was a big part of my life at that stage. But I had passed my driving test, had a car so what would you do if you were bored??

Egging. Yes, egging. This consisted of driving to a petrol station to buy all of the eggs they had available. We then patrolled the streets of Leeds looking for our victims who we could throw our eggs at from the car window. There was a technique to it. Obviously we didn’t want our victims knowing it was us so we would choose people who were walking in the opposite direction that we were travelling. Initially we didn’t want to be in an area where there were too many traffic lights just in case we were spotted although as we became more experienced this gave us more of a buzz. It might not seem that funny reading this but can you imagine splattering some unsuspecting person with an egg and seeing their facial anger that they didn’t know where it came from? We tended to use the Headingly area of Leeds as our preferred target zone. There was always plenty of people stood outside plenty of pubs so we didn’t have to be that accurate. Just lob one in that  direction as we drove past and see what happened. So if you ever got egged in Headingly between 1993/95 there was a good chance that it was either me, Kevin Sharp, Mark Tinkler or Gary Kelly !!

We even carried it over to Tuesday afternoons on home match days. After lunch the first team squad were assigned to the Hilton Hotel in town to prepare properly for the evenings match. I knew if I was playing or not ,most times not, so I found this time to be particularly boring. We always seemed to be on one of the highest floors with plenty of people walking past minding their own business.

We actually got busted. Somebody must have spotted us and we were dragged into the managers office to explain. We denied the whole thing. Luckily for us Gary Kelly was part of our Tuesday afternoon operations squad. He was a regular in the first team and a real prize asset to the club so they would have had to discipline him if they were to discipline all of us and they didn’t want to upset him too much.

I would like to say thank you to the sponsors of this blog: JJB SPORTS who have a 3 for 2 offer.

 

Goal line technology…when will they see sense?

October 26, 2010 10 comments

The great goal line technology debate has again reared its head. Michelle Platini has made his feelings known on the subject again. His comments reinforce the thoughts of those that run the game globally. For such a great player I am amazed that he is talking such dross. The majority of football followers throughout the world may think that the game is run by people who have never played the game before. I am talking about Sepp Blatter of course. But this outburst from one of the greatest players the game has ever seen really does surprise me.

Sepp Blatter has correctly been at the centre of much criticism regarding technology and his stubbornness to not address the situation. Now for me, I would have to put Platini in the same boat and say that these people are stopping the game progressing and evolving.

FIFA have my admiration for doing much good for the game. Some rule changes have been good for the game. The back pass rule, for one, has made the game a better spectacle. The Fair Play initiatives has also been a positive step. This is all being negated though with this lack of intelligence to make our game fairer.

Platini says that by introducing additional officials behind the goal will allow the difficult decisions to be made correctly. This may be true for certain incidents which are clear-cut. I refer to the Frank Lampard ‘goal’ against Germany in the World Cup. I believe that an official on the line will make the correct call there. But there have been many other incidents where a thousand officials would not be able to call it 100% correctly as the speed of the ball is too quick or it is a matter of inches whether the ball has crossed the line or not. The human eye just cannot make these calls, and it is for these reasons why we must introduce some kind of technology into our game.

Blatter has recently suggested that, if technology were introduced, that the decision would need to be made instantly.

Why? Yes, we would like a swift outcome for any decision. But what is more important: A quick resumption to play or the correct decision. We see referees consult their assistants for many less important decisions than if a ball has crossed the line. We are not concerned if the game is slowed down for a reason such as this. The pace of the game is not an issue. It is slowed down by injuries, substitutions as well as the ball going out of play. This is not an issue here.

Considering how technology has evolved, how other sports have evolved with technology and improved because of this then we really must question if those in power are the right people for football. Following on from the World Cup I am amazed how Blatter has remained in charge. To introduce technology following the World Cup would have been a backtrack but would have at least given him back some respect. It seems like he has made his decision and will stick to it. He is a dinosaur living in the dark ages. You would have thought that there would have been some kind of ‘coup’ to remove him from power. I’m sure that many would have backed this idea. Surely there are people within the corridors of power that can oust him from his chair.

But there will be another case of this sometime soon in an important match. What will it take for things to change?

My time at Scunthorpe United…Part 4.Massively misquoted by Loaded magazine.

October 26, 2010 1 comment

 

So by this time we now have players who you really want in your team. Our captain Chris Hope was Mr Reliable. He never missed a game or even a training session and was one of the nicest people you could wish to meet.  Our midfield had a mix of legs, skill and goals  with Paul Harsley, Justin Walker and Spaniard Alex Calvo-Garcia. John Eyre brought some pace to the attack so by now we had half a decent team. 

The goals were going in at a regular rate which was great. I started the season in scoring fashion and confidence grew on a personal level. As a striker it is always nice to get off to a good start to a season. When this doesn’t happen you always feel like you are playing catch up. With this brought a bit more media attention than I’d had for quite some time. I was asked to do an interview with Loaded magazine. At that time Loaded was the magazine of the day and it was a real buzz for me to be in it. The interview turned out to be a nightmare though for all of the wrong reasons. During the interview I was asked the question :

So do you live in Scunthorpe then because it’s a bit of a shed isn’t it?

Now although I was only relatively young at this time I was fully aware of how the media sometimes had a different agenda when interviews were being conducted. My answer was:

‘I don’t live in Scunthorpe. I just drive in, train, and go home so I don’t see too much of it’

The article actually quoted me as saying that I had replied ‘yes’ to the question. It got worse too. A local supporter read the magazine and then wrote in to the local evening newspaper saying how appalled he was that I had disrespected his home town and that I was a disgrace. This then grew to becoming a major news story on Calender News, the regional ITV news station. They travelled to Scunthorpe and stopped people in the town centre to ask them if they thought Scunthorpe was a ‘shed’ and that it was me who had said that it was. The club then insisted that I make a formal public apology. I honestly didn’t say what they were quoting and I had to apologise. I was fuming. I was booed by a section of the home crowd at our next home match and I felt that my relationship was never the same after that with the Scunthorpe fans. In fact I have received  a horrible reception every time I have gone back with different teams. I finished my Scunthorpe career with a decent amount of goals to games and with a promotion thrown in I don’t think that this was too bad a return. Still, people are entitled to their opinions so I just have to live with it.

On the deadline day in March, Brian asked to see me in his office. Ian Atkins, Northampton manager offered £50k for me.  He wanted to know if I was staying beyond the end of the season. £50k was a decent sum considering  I was on a Bosman free transfer a few months later. I think that I could have taken the Northampton offer if I had wanted. I wasn’t really sure about Northampton though at that time. I had heard some negative things from other players about Ian Atkins and I was in a pretty strong position with a decent season behind me. I’d had contact from an English agent working in Holland with interest from Dutch Premier League side FC Utrecht as well as interest from Stockport County, Hull City, Rushden and Diamonds, who were the non-league big spenders. There was also interest from Peterborough and Leyton Orient although it seemed like their interest was not as keen as the others. Although there was no 100% offer by any of these teams I was confident enough to see out the season and see what panned out in the summer.

We comfortably made the play-offs in the 1998/99 season. Although we never really pushed for an automatic spot we were never in danger of missing out on a top 7 finish. With only three or four league matches left of the regular season we seemed to take our foot off the gas a little bit. Our last league match was at home to Darlington. We lost the match with a really poor performance. Going in to the play-offs you could do with being in that winning mode but that wasn’t really the case. Brian wasn’t too happy with how we finished up but the lads felt that it was not too important.  This tends to be the case in football. The players always seem less worried about certain situations compared to the management team. I can see it from both perspectives. Generally lower league players mentality is to ‘cruise’ if they can, this being an ideal example. The Darlington game was an opportunity to play in second or third gear and get away with it. Managers always want to see good habits and professionalism so this result and performance wrangled with the management quite a bit, probably because as a manager you feel like you are less in control.

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