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Life as a Professional

The greatest influence on my career has been my family and friends, and my Dad in particular. He never played at the highest level but he knew the game well and worked his way up Newcastle Boys and managed the set up there. The training staff are obviously important to your development, but I'll always remember Ossie Ardiles and I'm very grateful for giving me a go at such an early age - all at the time when he was under a great deal of pressure and could easily have gone for more experienced players.

The manager at the time I signed as a pro was Jim Smith. I got on well with Jim Smith. Although he was the 'old school' type manager and had a reputation for throwing the tea cups around, he also gave me my chance. However I played for him just the once, away to Boro in 1990/91, and then he got the sack.

My career really got going when Ossie Ardiles joined us, he was great for me - and for the young kids in general. There was a large group of us who all came up from the Youth team, it obviously helped that we knew each others game. Travelling to away games were more like going on school trips! Stevie Watson, Steve Howey, Lee Makel, Clarkie, and then Andy Hunt and Matty Appleby also signed. Ossie wasn't afraid to throw us in and never placed us any pressure, just encouraged us to go out and play our games. The results didn't come and wasn't a great shock for me when he got the sack, nevertheless, I'll always remember him as someone who brought my game on and had faith in me.

As everyone knows, Ossie was replaced by Kevin Keegan and what an unbelievable time we had under him. I watched the promotion season for the sidelines, forced out for the full season with a cruciate ligament injury to my left knee. The following season I was battling with John Beresford for the left back role and made seventeen appearances. It was great to be at the club in those days, there was so much excitement as the team improved all the time and got to Europe. Keegan's man-management was excellent, and although Bez and I fought for the number 3 shirt, it was a great time in my career. I played under Bez for quite a few seasons and although I obviously wasn't happy with my lack of opportunities, I was playing fairly regularly AND for the club I supported.

With Steve Watson and the 'Flex' family!

However, in the summer of 1996 we were away in Singapore on a pre-season tour, Kevin called me in and said that Blackburn had come in for me. I didn't know what to think but he told that it would be a good move for me - a club moving forward and with Jack Walker 's money, likely to succeed. I began to get used to the idea but then found out that negotiations between the clubs were hitting problems. At the time there had been bit of bad blood between Newcastle and Blackburn due to the Shearer transfer. The clubs couldn't agree a transfer fee and as a result it was going to tribunal. In these situations each club has to agree to the findings of the tribunal's valuation, but in this case Blackburn wanted a get out clause if they disagreed with the final fee. Eventually the deal fell through. I returned to training after missing a few days and I have to say that Keegan was good to his word, he didn't blame me whatsoever and it was if I'd never been away.

I knew that if Bez was fit then he'd be first choice but as the new season kicked off, we got thumped in the Charity Shield. The next game was away to Everton and we got turned over again. As a result, I got the nod for the third game and that's all I could have asked for…a chance, and it was reassuring that I'd been given such an early opportunity after the events of the summer.

As the season went on, the pressure on Kevin was showing. Eventually he quit the club and although it was a massive shock at the time, looking back I can now see it happening.

His replacement was Kenny Dalglish and with a new man in the managers office, it was another chance to prove myself. Bez was obviously in the driving the seat, but strangely enough, it wouldn't be my usual left-back slot where I'd get my chance. Kenny didn't fancy David Ginola and with Bez continuing to dominate the left-back position, I was asked to play in front of him at left-midfield. In about 16 games I scored 7 goals and I felt very comfortable in the role.

The media perception of Kenny Dalglish is quite wrong. He's a player's manager and the dour image of Dalgish in the press was the opposite in reality. Away from reporters and cameras he was a good laugh and I, and the team got on well. We finished the season very strongly, sneaking into 2nd place in the Premiership after Liverpool slipped up on the final day of the season. With finishing second we were through to the qualifying round of the Champions League, but for me, another chapter of my footballing life was about to begin.

The next thing I heard was that Bolton were in for me! I think looking back I got carried away with all the attention. Wanderer's courted me very well and I was impressed. They had just won promotion with record points and had moved to the Reebok Stadium, a modern and very attractive ground. It happed so fast, and although I have no regrets, I should have taken stock of the situation. It would have been interesting to who else would have come in for me. Ultimately the club's had agreed fees, and that always places you under a certain amount of pressure. Nevertheless, it was probably time to move on and Bolton suited me well, offering guaranteed football.

One of the reasons I signed for Bolton was Colin Todd. As a great defender in his day, I had a lot of respect for the man and I wanted to learn form him. However, things didn't quite run to plan - especially when I broke my leg in my first game for Bolton!

My first game at the Reebok ended in agony!

The season also ended in relegation, so it's fair to say that 97/98 wasn't one of my best!

Bolton bought Ricky Gardner and Claus Jensen in the summer and the season went well until the 2-0 play-off defeat against Watford at Wembley. The defeat left the club deflated and by September we were in 19th position with money problems. Colin Todd was replaced by another defender; Sam Allardyce, a great manager, old school but with an open mind.

Bolton is very much a family club, and with Sam returning to the Wanderer's as a manager after two playing stints, this simply reinforced the feeling of a very happy, well run, and welcoming football club.

The club was on the up, reaching three semi-finals. One of which was the play-off semi against Ipswich. We drew the first leg 2-2 and the second leg was incredible. We had nine players booked and I was sent off for a second bookable offence! The following season saw the play-off's reached again. This time we faced Preston in the final and went through 3-0.

However I was now on a Bosman and I'd been missing the North East. Our two boys had now arrived and the lure of family and friends in Newcastle was strong. Funnily enough I spoke to Bez about returning home and then out of the blue Bobby Robson called. Although he told me that he saw me as a squad player and couldn't guarantee anything, he was offering a route home - and that was where I needed to be.

Although I was very happy to have played in forty games in my first season back at Newcastle, 2002/03 was a year to forget. I was rarely in the first squad and spent the vast majority of time playing reserve team football. As a fan it was great to see the club progress in the Champions League, but as a player I’d have hoped to have contributed more than the few minutes I played against Zeljeznicar. At the end of last season I was also placed on the transfer list. While all players want first team football, it’ll be difficult for me to leave, all my family, and my wife’s family are from the North East and in addition to football, we’re involved in a business in Gosforth. To be honest I’d rather stay and fight for my place – but things change quickly in football and who knows what will happen.

As for the club, it's going to be a tough year, we’ve set ourselves high standards over the last two years and that’ll be very difficult to maintain.