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My time at..FC Utrecht Part 1. A day to remember.

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

So at 24 I was making my second attempt at playing football abroad. The stint in France with AJ Auxerre was right after leaving school. This was another great opportunity for me to play at a higher leven than I had been used to for a while.

Utrecht did plenty of homework on me. They watched me numerous times towards the end of the 1998-99 season. Their Technical Director was ex-Notts Forest goalkeeper and Dutch legend Hans van Breukelen.  First team coach was Mark Wotte who has since managed Southampton without too much success.

The transfer was completed in one day. They flew out my dad and I to Holland for talks. As the agents talked money I was at the local hospital for what can only be described as unbelievably thorough medical. I knew that I was in good health if I came through that experience with flying colours. Luckily I did.

All in all it was too good a chance to turn down. There was interest from a few clubs in England but I would have regretted it if I had turned down this opportunity. I agreed to sign there and then so back home in time for tea!

My partner at the time, and now wife, Mandy and I had a few weeks before we set off for our new life in Holland. In between I needed to go over to Holland for another day trip to search for a house for us to live in. The club sent over their removals firm to ferry our belongings over to Utrecht. Mandy was eight and a half  months pregnant when we were due to leave. This meant that we could not fly over to Holland and had to travel by ferry.

Our journey was particularly memorable as Mandy very nearly gave birth on the ferry. We set off from Hull on the evening of 1st July 1999. We arrived at Rotterdam early the following morning where Mandy’s waters had broken. The club official who collected us from the docks at Rotterdam didn’t know what to do. Off we rushed to the hospital in Utrecht which what seemed like a million miles away. Our first son, Jack, was born at 6.33 pm that evening. We were told afterwards that if she had gone into labour on the ferry then, depending on which country we were closest to, she would have been air lifted to the nearest hospital.

Obviously this was a huge day in my life. It hadn’t happened quite as expected but things never do. I received a call from Mark Wotte at the hospital later that evening who congratulated us and reminded me that pre-season training was due to start at 10am the following morning.  My head was all over the place. The last thing on my mind was pre-season training. Given that I was at a new club in a foreign country made this out to be a particularly difficult time. Talk about thrown in at the deep end.

I arrived for training the following day in a bit of a haze. I felt exhausted and completely out of my comfort zone as I knew nobody and didn’t understand a word anybody was saying. We were all weighed initially. This is standard stuff on the opening day of pre-season training. Over the course of the summer I had not done too much of my own training. I had started every match for Scunthorpe United in the 1998-99 season and only had about 4 weeks rest as the season went down to the play-off final at Wembley. I needed to rest. I have to admit to probably eating more than normal though. As Mandy was pregnant I found myself taking on extra snacks than I would usually have. In all honesty I would say that I was about 4 or 5 pounds over my weight from my medical.  It wasn’t ideal but certainly nothing to worry about. Or so I thought.

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

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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.

My time at..Leeds United.Part 3 A Yorkshire derby and stitches.

October 19, 2010 1 comment

 

Obviously now I realise that making your debut was the ‘easy’ bit. Staying there is the difficult part. One thing that has stuck in my mind from my debut game against Notts Forest was the following day. The players who had played were given the day off. I was in training with the ‘fringe’ players, the ones who perhaps were selected to be a part of the squad but didn’t make it in to the 13 players selected for that match.We were just warming up with a simple little passing drill. I remember thinking ‘well Jamie, you are now a Premier League player so you obviously know how to pass a ball 10 yards’. Hence my attitude was not what it should have been. I have learned since that when a young lad works his way up to first team level managers and coaches look out for signs of this nature. They want to see the player wanting to improve and push on. Although my new-found attitude probably wasn’t so apparent  to others it was something that may have cost me more matches at the highest level. To be honest though my good form in the youth team and reserves was not affected in a negative way and I didn’t have too long to wait until my full debut in the Premier League. I came in one Tuesday morning for a normal days training maybe hoping to be in the travelling squad for first team game at Sheffield United. Anyway I soon found out that I was in the starting line-up that night against the Blades at Bramwall Lane. Talk about straight in at the deep end. Relegation fight and a Yorkshire derby all at the same time. Mark Tinkler also got the nod for his full debut so we were in the same boat together which helped. I quickly rang my Dad from the payphone in the dressing room area. Yes, I said payphone. We were still in the ‘ not every body has a mobile’ days. Some of the ‘big hitters’ had them and they were the size of a shoe box in those days but sure enough both my Mum and Dad made it across to Sheffield for the match that night. In the hotel that afternoon during lunch the topic of discussion between the other players was about when they made their debuts. I was sat next to Gordon Strachan who spoke of when he made his debut. I can’t remember the exact date but it seemed like a million years ago to me. When you are 18 years old a 37-year-old can seem like a really old man, even the legendary Gordon Strachan. When I was a senior pro and the boot was on the other foot I was so mindful when speaking about my younger days to players that I didn’t want to come across as an old fart.

Lee Chapman was dropped for that match as I recall. Frank Strandly was prefered to Chapman while Rod Wallace was left out to allow me to play up front. Although this was a really big match I think that Howard Wilkinson had become fed up with a lot of performances of some of the older pro’s. We lost the match 2-1. I didn’t really affect the game much although the atmosphere was something I will never forget. This left us in real danger of relegation with a very difficult home match on the Saturday against Blackburn Rovers who were beating everyone at that time. Strandly had scored against Sheffield United so I didn’t expect to keep my place. Surprisingly he was left out for Lee Chapman to return and Rod Wallace was put right midfield with Gordon Strachan playing left midfield. Somehow I had kept my place. Development at that time was taking place at Elland Road but the attendance was still nearly 40,000. It really was a must win game. Colin Hendry was up against me that day. I remember that it was Colin Hendry because he elbowed me in the head after about 15 minutes of the match causing me to leave the pitch to receive stitches in a head wound. He didn’t want some young kid scampering round him all afternoon so he tried to take me out. It was touch and go whether I would return or not. The doctor seemed to be taking ages putting the stitches in and Howard Wilkinson was close to making a sub. Luckily I was bandaged up in time and as I ran back on the pitch from the tunnel I remember receiving a loud roar of applause. Fans do love it when a player comes on all bandaged up. It looks like he really wants it. To be honest I did want it. This was my big opportunity and I wasn’t going to let a few stitches get in the way. From that moment the Leeds United fans took to me. We ended up winning quite convincingly 5-2 with the master Gordon Strachan scoring a hat-trick. Although I didn’t get on the score sheet I had a good game. I was subbed with a couple of minutes to go to a standing ovation. After the game in the dressing room Howard Wilkinson made a point of mentioning that I was now ‘ready’. I was buzzing.

That night I was out in town. You don’t think I was going to sit in all night and pat myself on the back do you? Not a chance. I ended up getting patted on the back by what seemed to be half of Leeds. I also had the war wounds (about 6 stitches) which made me look like a real warrior.

Are you Jamie Forrester?

Are you Jamie Forrester?

 Are you Jamie Forrester?

I got it all night and loved every minute of it. What a life I thought, I’ve made it. I was even asked to sign a pair of knickers from some young lady. That didn’t seem to happen when I played for the youth team!

Now I do realise that this was a special time in my life. But when I look back I really do wish that I could have kept my feet a little closer to the ground.

So there followed a period of a few weeks when I played continuously in the first team. I was being recognised in Leeds all the time. People were telling me how good I was and how good I could become. My dad was the proudest man in the world. He couldn’t  hide it though. I was living his dream too. He loved the game and wanted it so bad for me. He did get a bit carried away at times filling my head with things that didn’t need to be in there and I was still only 18. I tended to listen to everything he had to say. In all honesty I would never have made it as a professional if it wasn’t for him. He was at every match when I was a kid, rain or shine. And then there was the endless hours of playing in the park. All he used to do was cross balls in to me to finish into an open net. His service was spot on every time. In the end I had to admit that I didn’t quite have enough to be a top player. That admission didn’t come until quite a few years later though.

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

 

One question I am asked most…Do I miss it ?

October 7, 2010 1 comment

One question that people always ask me is if I miss being a professional footballer.

The life of a pro footballer is the best in the world. It is all I had ever wanted to do from my earliest memories and I was fortunate enough to  live it. The memories I hold will be with me forever.

From the age of 15 football was a full-time occupation. I attended the FA  National Centre of Excellence at Lilleshall from that age and it was a very intense way to be introduced to the world of ‘serious’ football.  From that time football took up my whole life for the next 19 years. Apart from the 6 weeks a year when a pro footballer has some time off it really is extremely intense. And out of that 6 weeks there is a 2 or 3 week period towards the end of June where you need to shape up in preparation for pre-season. Naturally, there is constant pressure to perform or you risk being out of a job. That is a reality for a lower league footballer. During my time at Bristol Rovers I seriously contemplated the fact that I would not find another club. I was in my early 30’s playing reserve team football-badly. Who would want me ? The management team of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence thought that my legs had gone and I would have had to agree at the time !!

Luckily enough for me Keith Alexander took a chance on me and, between him and John Schofield, managed to draw out another couple of years out of me. That is what I call good management !

My move to Notts County though was one which really made me think that I had had my day as a footballer. I was awful. Each time I put on a Notts County shirt I turned into joke. I think I had got to a stage where I was over-saturated with football. True, my legs probably had gone by that time. Two games a week was difficult to manage. Recovery between matches took longer and longer. Sundays felt like a hangover ! My performances were suffering because of it and I was no longer the player I used to be. I just couldn’t get to passes that I could get to a year before. This was so frustrating. The frustration was leading me to play poorly too.

I was also beginning to think that I had done all of the training sessions that were ever done. 19 years of 5 sessions a week. That’s a lot of training sessions. I had also heard all of the team talks that were ever talked. There are only so many ways a manager can motivate a team. At Notts County we were losing most weeks too which never helps.

By the turn of the year, January 2009, I was rarely in the starting line up. I think that I knew I had had my time and was not at all surprised that I was not offered a new contract. I knew the phone would not ring over that summer so prepared myself for life without pro football, for real.

I was not naive to the fact that it was coming. Nothing is forever, especially a pro footballer’s career.

Since my retirement I have been able to look at football from a completely different perspective and enjoy watching it so much more because of it. I have had a break.

 I do, however, miss some things about being a footballer. The early finishes to a days work are something you do not get with many other professions, and is easily taken for granted. The banter, something that all ex-players talk about, is something I miss too. And not to forget the buzz of scoring a goal and being part of a winning team. Now that is special !

So,I hope that this reads as an honest answer to the question. As they say…you are a long time retired.

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