Home > Football, Previous clubs > My time at Scunthorpe United…Part 3. Finally the penny drops

My time at Scunthorpe United…Part 3. Finally the penny drops

Looking back this was a massive stage of my life. You could say that the penny finally dropped. I don’t know what clicked. I remember one day in the off-season that year taking a long hard look at myself. Here I was, aged 23, playing in the basement of English football and I had one year left on my contract. I had just had a poor season and not really affected too many matches. I had gone from playing in the Premier League to the bottom half of the lower tier of professional football in about three years and if the trend was to continue then I would be out of the game before I was 25. This next season was make or break for me. Something had to change. I had nose dived my way through the leagues in no time at all. I had spent the last few seasons blaming everybody for my decline. Howard Wilkinson, Brian Laws, Kenny Swain, the style of lower league football….everything but myself. I had used all of the excuses there were to use but it was only now that I realised that it was my fault. Had I really given it everything I could give?  Was I being as professional as I should have been? Did I really want it? I was in that comfort zone, not pushing myself enough on and off the pitch and my performances were a reflection of this. I honestly look back and think that if I hadn’t got hold of myself then I would have spiralled out of the professional game and into non-league football and who knows what may have happened. It was fortunate that I met Mandy, now my wife, at around this stage. This really helped me sort myself out. When you are single there are not too many reasons for staying in. During my single days I remember playing away at Swansea one Saturday afternoon. I was so desperate not to miss out on any action that I took my going out gear with me, left it in my car, raced back from Glanford Park to Grimsby, where I lived, to eventually get into Pier 39  by about  12.30am. It was to shut at 2.00am and it was awful. Why couldn’t I just go home? I was too busy thinking that I was missing out.

So my drinking was vastly reduced. I started preparing properly for matches again. I also began to work a lot harder in training and in matches. I lost some weight, which I needed to, and this helped. Funnily enough at around the same time the goals started to go in. Confidence grew once again but this time I didn’t get above my station like I had done in the past.

My good form coincided with the team doing well in the league as well. John Gale had been brought in that close season and there was a real shift in style of play. John was a monster of a man. He was nearing  the end of his career but was absolutely brilliant for me. From then on we could play the ball forwards and not have it coming back anywhere near as quickly. From a physical perspective he bullied most centre halves who he played against and we were no longer a soft touch. The amount of headers he won to flick on to myself and Johnny Eyre was frightening. What a difference that makes at that level. With so many long balls being played if your target man can win a high percentage it means that the ball is not coming back at you all the time and as a result you defend much less as a team. He would admit that he was not the silkiest player around but I am adamant that without him we would not have secured a promotion that year. Previously I was paired with Johnny Eyre up front. Neither of us were  target men and won very few of our headers. With Galey coming to Glanford Park Johnny Eyre and myself played either side of him in a three-pronged attack. It suited all of our games.

He came with a bit of a reputation of a hard man and he used it to his and our advantage on the pitch. In fact, even before a ball was kicked he was in the head of many of his opponents. On many occasions did I see him psyche out  players in the tunnel just before a match. He would always have a ball in his hand when both teams were lined up just before we ran onto the pitch. He would find his victim, eye-ball him with a fierce look as if to say ‘you’re mine today’. He would then hurl the ball repeatedly against the tunnel wall past the players face just missing him. Honestly, many defenders didn’t want to know from then on especially the less experienced ones.

I played in a left-sided striker role with a licence to come inside and the amount of knock downs that came from balls played up to Galey that I managed to get on the end of was frightening. Although he used his reputation well he was a great bloke off the pitch. He was great with the younger lads and people looked up to him.

Another of our senior pro’s that season was Russ Wilcox. He joined from Preston and really made a difference to us. He was an excellent talker. When you have somebody who can do that it makes such a difference. He would tell people what do and where to go but he would do it in the right way. You get respect that way and lads listen and follow a whole lot more. I reckon that is why he has gone on to work under Brian Laws for so long. On the first day of the 1998/99 season we played at London Road against Peterborough. They were managed by Barry Fry. They were favourites to go up so it couldn’t be a much tougher start for us. As we were checking out the pitch shortly after arriving at the ground one of their players who had not been selected in the squad was knocking about. I can’t remember who it was but one of our players knew him and he let it slip that Barry Fry’s team talk a few minutes earlier was all about Russ Wilcox and how his legs had gone and to get at him at every opportunity. Many players would have gone under even before a ball was kicked but you could see that it just made him even more determined to stick those words right back down his throat. We took the lead in that match and had to endure lots of pressure in the second half in traditionally hot weather for a first game of the season. Russ was absolutely amazing that day sticking his body in front of everything that came his way. That is the sign of a great player, the mental toughness and desire to stand up and be counted.

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