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Life as a Professional

Pro football was great, and now I had my first pre-season - all at the not so tender age of 25. When the season kicked off I felt great, much fitter and stronger than I'd ever been. Things went well for me, although in January Ian McNeil was replaced by Asa Hartford. Asa brought in David Moyles (now the Everton boss) as his player-coach and as the season came to a close, so did my contract.

I knew that Bruce Rioch had been interested in taking me to Millwall, but then Asa came in and said that Sam Ellis wanted to talk me at Bury. I fancied the Millwall move, but out of courteously I drove up to Gigg Lane to see Sam. They say first impression count, well when Sam shock hands with me, he nearly ripped my hand off! Again, Bury wanted me and at the time the club had some money and looked to be very ambitious. Sam asked for 24 hours to come up with a package for me. I was driving back to Shrewsbury when my phone went, it was Sam saying that he'd got the package for me and could I come back? I actually went back the following day and ended up signing for £175,000.

I got off to a good start and was enjoying my football, although the family were still in Shrewsbury and the driving was a bit of a drag. When I look back at those days with Bury, I have to laugh when I think of one of the greatest characters I've known in football... Wilf McGuiness. He was on one the Busby babes and was an absolute scream in the dressing room. Although technically only the 'kit man', he was so much more. He lifted spirits like no one else could ever do, whether it was old war stories about George Best, wise cracks or practical jokes - he had the lot! Another Bury character who had the lot was the Hugh Eves, the Chairman. When I arrived at the club, money wasn't a problem, I then learnt that Mr.Eves was somehow involved in the Polly-Peck financial scandal and the cash dried up. We went from one extreme to the other, within six months you couldn't even got a pair of boot laces out of the club! As a result all the players were asked to attend a club meeting. It was then explained that at least six players would have to be sold to balance the books. Just prior to this, I'd spent a period injured and when I recovered, they wouldn't play me. I'd signed a contract with a financial bonus that meant when I hit ten goals, I'd receive some cash. You could see their perspective, they knew it was going to be pretty difficult for me to score if I wasn't in the team!! This was a lesson I learnt and I never again signed a contract with a similar bonus clause. So as I left the room, I was pretty sure that I'd be one of the six. My instincts were right, and after around 30 appearances and 9 goals, the bags were being packed again!

Bruce Rioch came back in for me and I joined Millwall, initially on loan. Once more it was another step up for me, a move in the right direction. I was playing with guys like Teddy Sheringham, Malcolm Allen, and Chris Armstrong, but something else changed when I went to the smoke. I was now 26, an easy come, easy go type of lad who didn't take life really seriously. But now I was working for Bruce Rioch and my laid back days were behind me! Bruce is well known as a disciplinarian, and I tell you what, he helped me reach new standards and I'll be eternally grateful to him. What a man, and what a manager, I've played for some good ones, but Bruce Rioch is the top man! Bruce gave you one chance, but you knew where you stood with him, and that's all you can ask for.
Archytypal 'Old-School' Teddy Sheringham

Archytypal 'Old-School'

After only ten months with Millwall, Bruce resigned and was replaced by Mick McCarthy. It was a loss for me, and I was upset with the way it happened. Danny Baker, a Millwall supporter took it upon himself to start a 'Rioch out' campaign, his position in the media with his 'Football 6.06' programme gave him the platform to turn the fans against the manager. People were even turning out at reserve games to give him abuse!

My loan period came to an end and the move became permanent with an £80,000 transfer fee. Bury took a loss on me, and I think the £80,000 represented the sum outstanding that they owed to Shrewsbury. Although I found Millwall a good footballing move, I didn't enjoy living down there. We moved to Bromley in Kent, where none of the neighbours spoke to us! Luckily Colin Cooper (Coops) also moved in and we got on great. By May 1991 Teddy Sheringham had knocked in 38 goals and we managed to reach the play-offs. Brighton saw us off.

I'd made up my mind to go, and when Bruce joined Bolton, I'd hoped he'd come in for me. Due to Bolton's finances nothing happened, Bruce told me to sit tight at Millwall and see what came up. I started the 1991-92 in the first team but by the end of September Bolton had come up with £125,000 and I was re-united with Bruce. I took two minutes to sign. Money's never been my driving force, I was just glad to join Bolton. I actually took a pay cut, lost around 1/3 of my salary and also my club car. But Bruce told me to trust him, he was going to turn Bolton around and when he did so, he'd see me alright. It wasn't a gamble, I trusted him and was now about to start the best period of my life with a club that I will always love and a town that has made my family and I so welcome…

I remember speaking to Gordon Sharrock's of the Bolton Evening News, I told him that the move 'felt right' for me. It was time to sell the caravan, I'd had enough of the gypsy lifestyle and Bolton was where I'd now call home.

My first game at Burden went well, a 2-0 home win against Hull. 'Didsy' (David Lee) was with us on-loan from Southampton and we formed a good understanding. We had a great run in the F.A. Cup holding Liverpool at Burnden and then beating them at Anfield where I scored in a 2-0 win. We won promotion and consolidated our league position but repeated the cup run, this time with notable wins over Everton, Arsenal, and Villa.

The following year, '94-'95, we were going well in the league, and again did fantastically in the cup, losing the Coca Cola Cup final 2-0 to Liverpool. Apart from the two goals, there was very little between the sides. I also think that playing at Wembley helped us prepare for the play-off final against Reading - one of the most incredible games I've played in! Prior to the game, we had a week in Portugal to get some sun and provide focus. We lost David Lee with a broken foot and as a result Bruce asked me to play wide right with Mixu up front. Reading started off fantastically and we just couldn't get the ball off them, it was like playing Brazil! By the 26th minute we were 2-0 down and then the ref awarded a penalty against us. Keith Branagan saved it, which not only kept us in the game, but it also gave us a psychological boost. Bruce always insisted that when the half time whistle went, the team should get straight to the changing rooms. We trotted of the pitch and sat in the changing rooms with not a great deal being said. It seemed an eternity before Bruce appeared and we were all expecting a real going over from him. In actual fact he was very calm and reassured us that if we continued to play as we'd done in the latter period of the first half, we could find ourselves in the Premiership.

The atmosphere changed and when the second half got under way we tore them apart. We got the two goals to take it to extra-time, Mixu scoring a cracker. We then went 4-2 up before big Jimmy Quinn got one back for Reading in the final moments. It was an incredible feeling for me. With getting into the game so late, I'd only dreamed about playing Premiership football and now it was reality. I had about forty friends and family down from Scotland so it was just perfect. You can only feel sorry for the Reading boys, so near but so far. At least Shaka Hislop, who had had a tremendous season, got a move to Newcastle and also made it to the top flight.

The only thing that tarnished the day was the continued speculation that Arsenal were in for Bruce. As the promotion elation subsided, these rumours were becoming unsettling. If we were to survive in the Premiership then we'd need strengthening and the loss of our manager would be a great blow. Gordon Hargreaves, the Chairman took me to one side. As club captain Gordon was telling me that Bruce was staying at the club and I was to reassure the players that they'd be OK. However by June it became apparent that Bruce was indeed off to Arsenal, a move to a massive club that professionally he simply couldn't turn down.

A new management team took over, Colin Todd and Roy McFarland. It never worked as no one really knew who was doing what. If you went to Colin with a problem you felt you were going behind Roy's back - and vice versa. We were struggling in the league and I felt that Roy was then made a scapegoat. By January he had gone. I was playing wide right with Nathan (Blake) up front on his own. This was happening for both home and away games, a very negative tactic that simply wasn't working. We couldn't keep a hold of the ball and Sasa (Curcic) was beating players then losing possession. The whole team used to get caught out of position because he hadn't laid off the ball. The inevitable happened and we were back in the first division.

During the pre-season of '96-'97 we signed two great boys; Per Frandsen and Michael Johansen. Not only were they very decent players, but they had a professional work ethic and mixed well with the rest of the lads. We had a great start and the team just clicked, we knew we'd get promotion and finished the season with a record points total. The last game of the season was also the last at Burnden Park. It was a historic day, we were Champions, we needed two goals to hit a century of league goals and I was very close to winning the golden boot whilst also being voted centre forward in the PFA Division One team. All my friends and family were there and we were determined to go out in style. Mid way into the second half we were awarded a penalty, it was my chance to score the last goal at Burnden and also edge closer to the golden boot, I stepped up and it hit the back of the net! But it wasn't over yet, Jimmy Phillips crossed the ball and I slid in to score a good goal from open play - my dream had come true. It was one of the most emotional days for me, we were leaving behind so much history but almost in tribute the old ground, we'd given it a hell of season to bow out from.

There was a great deal of optimism and we were looking forward to season '97-'98 especially with a new stadium to play in! We'd bought two good full backs in Robbie Elliott and Neil Cox and things were looking good.

However, Colin Todd was to pull me to one side where I was informed he saw me a squad player and he couldn't make any guarantees about my future. I was now 32 and the club had brought in Peter Beardsley and Dean Holdsworth. That said, we'd just got promoted and scored 100 league goals. I still felt that he should have given me and Nathan ten games or so to see how it went. If he'd done that, he may have saved some money and been able to strengthen elsewhere. I had half and eye on the world cup and needed to be playing first team football. Manchester City and Birmingham were said to be interested, and then I got the call from Chris Kamara at Bradford. I was interested, but Bolton wanted a lot of cash. They disappointed me as I'd been told I was only a squad player and it wasn't as if I had given my all for the club. Eventually a deal for £650,000 went through, and after the greatest time in my career, I was on the move again.

I'd joined Bradford in November 1997 with a bit of a niggle in my Achilles tendon. I'd had a cortisone injection and this had freed it up. However I could feel the symptoms returning and I was more than a little concerned.
I was partnered with Lee Mills or Edinho with Peter Beagrie throwing in the crosses from the left wing.

I was still feeling the Achilles and the time between cortisone injections was getting shorter and shorter. It took me 30 minutes to warm up and I knew I had a problem. One day, when we were playing Man City I came off at half time and couldn't so much as walk! I rested it for a few months but on returning it soon reappeared. The only answer was surgery - which also meant a premature end to the season and waving goodbye to any chance of France '98.

I reported in for the pre-season with the other boys, but I tore the achilles once again, and this time the surgeon wouldn't operate as it was too soon after the first operation. He recommended another six to eight months of rest. With no guarantee that the rest would heal the weakness, I had to accept that my career at the top was coming to a close. I had a three-year contract with Bradford, but I didn't think it was right just to hang around and collect my salary month after month - especially as the problem had started when I was at Bolton. After a meeting with Geoffrey Richmond, I took six months pay and we cancelled the contract.

Next Part: Hanging up the boots