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
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.