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    The Beautiful Game


Life as a Professional

At this time I doubted whether I'd be able to continue a professional career. A guy called John Steel who was manager at Dagenham and Redbridge offered me a deal. My scepticism about dropping into the Non-league was unfounded, and after a really great two-year spell at the club a new manager, Ted Harding took over.

After another 18 months of regular first team football, John Steel called me with the offer of a move to Maidstone. John was now working with Keith Peacock, the father of Gavin who played for Newcastle a couple of years before I joined them. We had a good season and only just missed out at the play-offs for the then fourth division. At this time there were a few rumours going around that I was being watched. I then found out that Ossie Ardiles, then manager of Newcastle, had put in an offer of £250,000. A move to the North East was put off when Bobby Gould upped the bid to £300,000 and I June of 1990 I was off to join the 'Crazy Gang' at Wimbledon.

I'll always remember my time at Wimbledon with affection, not only were successful on the pitch, but what a time we had off it! Throughout my time there we had so many characters at the club, players, managers, and a mad Chairman!

My debut was made at home against my boyhood idols - Arsenal, we then went up to Anfield where I was up against John Barnes, talk about in at the deep end! We went 1-0 down at Anfield, Jimmy Carter scoring for them, but then we were awarded a free kick. I curled the ball over the wall and past Bruce Grobbelaar into the top corner! What a start to my life in the big time!

We finished 7th in my first season and I was also given the Young Player of the Year award.

In 1995 I was picked for England, an honour that any pro will tell you is something very special. Of course my Wimbledon team mates weren't for the boring 'pat on the back' type of congratulations. I came back to the changing rooms to find my tie had been cut in half - to be honest I got off lightly, I've seen tailor made suits ripped and set on fire!

I remember a journalist from 'Shoot' or 'Match' magazine coming down to the training ground. Fair play to him, he came out on a run with us around Wimbledon Common. At just about the farthest part of the run away from the changing rooms, John Fashanu and a few of the lads jumped on him, stripped him naked and legged it back to the changing rooms. He wasn't a pretty site and I don't think he was that impressed with us, or at least he never came back to see us!

Joe Kinnear and Sam Hamman were fantastic with us. Sam used to play 'Trivial Persuit' against us - often it was him against about nine of us. The loser had to do a forfeit, like Sam running around a football pitch, ankle deep in mud wearing his shoes and suit! He also had penalty shoot outs against us, he had to score one and we had to score four out five.

Sam was a bit mad, so much so that I remember an away game at Everton. It was a massive game for us and the pressure was on. We went up to Merseyside the night before the match and stayed in the Warrington area. In the morning we found that the team coach had been burned out. It makes you wonder whether this was one of Sam's motivational techniques!!!

After about two years at Wimbledon the rumour were starting to appear that a number of clubs were in for me. My agent called me to say Kenny Dalglish was interested in taking both me an Robbie Earle up to Blackburn.

We were actually travelling up when the deal was called off. Although it was very disappointing at the time, little was I to know that a few year later I'd be working with Kenny at Newcastle. We returned to Wimbledon and Sam reassured me that the club would look after me. As the 92/93 season came to end, I was linked to Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic, and Everton.

Then I heard that my boyhood idols were also in for me! This was certainly exciting and I was looking forward to hearing from Highbury. At around the same time, I also got a call from Kevin Keegan. Ironically Les had also been linked with Arsenal, but before we knew it, we were both on our way up to Tyneside. Keegan spoke to me and I immediately knew I was joining Newcastle. I remember him saying to me…"Warren, this club finished sixth last year, that simply isn't good enough". This one sentence made a big impact, as for years we'd struggled on at Wimbledon and in overachieving we'd never managed to finish as high as sixth. This was the big time, and I couldn't wait to get started.

As it happened, I'd never heard any more from Arsenal. I knew that after losing Bruce Rioch, there was little bit of uncertainty over the future direction of the club. Compare this to Newcastle where there was no doubt that they wanted me, and that the club was going places.

People have asked me if I had any doubts about moving so far north, but when you get up here, look at the City, meet the people, it really is a great place to live. You can be at the ground in the centre of the city, and then fifteen minutes later you can bedriving along in the countryside. The nightlife is fantastic, and just like the atmosphere in the ground, Saturday night on the Quayside is something special. At the time, the £4,000,000 transfer fee was a record for Newcastle, but this lasted all two days as Les arrived for £6,000,000!! It was still a big fee for a defender, although it never bothered me. Players are often asked if big transfer fees place them under pressure, but in my opinion, it was simply an honour.

When I first arrived Les, David Ginola, and Shaka Hislop and I were all staying at the Gosforth Park hotel. It made it easier to settle in as all four of us were in the same boat. Not that it took much, Peter Beardsley and his wife Sandra made us very welcome.

The season started as if we'd planned it ourselves, the first game against Coventry was played on a hot Saturday afternoon and I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. The noise as we ran out was tremendous and after Rob Lee gave us a good start, we ran out 3-0 winners with Les bagging last one.

I played the first 38 games then Steve Watson came in after my form wobbled a bit. It was an incredible season and I still find it hard to believe that we didn't carry off the Championship. To lose such a commanding lead was painful but that's football and you have to deal with it. Looking at the positives, to play in that team was an absolute joy. I developed a great understanding with Keith Gillespie and with Ginola on the left, both of them were throwing balls into Les who banged in loads of goals.

The following pre-season was dominated by the news that Alan Shearer had signed for his home-town club. I remember how I found out about the signing…Les Ferdinand had pulled me to one side. He told me that the club asked his permission to take his No.9 shirt and give him an alternative. It was explained to him that the shirt was wanted for Alan Shearer but he was to keep this secret until the club officially announced the deal. At the time Al was the biggest player in the world, a fact underlined by the size of the transfer fee; a world record £15 million. You can't blame Les for telling me, you can't keep that sort of information under your hat for long! The players were all excited with teaming up with Shearer, we'd come close to winning the Premiership and now we'd signed the greatest centre forward in the world. One thing I'd like to set straight, the media got hold of a story that Les wasn't happy about losing his No.9. This simply wasn't true. Les had won the PFA Player of the year award and was very happy at the club. He also knew how important the No.9 shirt was to the Geordies, so when it was put to him, he had no hesitation in handing over the shirt. The only hassle was finding an alternative shirt number, Les wanted 99, but the authorities wouldn't allow it, in the end he settled for No.10.
We started the season with optimism, but with back to back defeats against United in the Charity Shield and Everton in the Premiership, we didn't get off to a good start. However, results improved and we played a classic against Man Utd and hit 5 past them without reply.

However we drew Charlton in the FA Cup, and after an uninspiring 2-2 draw, Kevin resigned. I remember Terry McDermott calling us into a meeting in the changing rooms. He was quite emotional and when he gave us the news, I couldn't quite believe it. Looking back there were a few warning signs, but even so, it was a massive shock.

Kenny Dalglish took over and we climbed the table so that going in to the final game of the season, it was possible to finish second. As it happens, Liverpool slipped up and managed to claim second place - for the second successive time! But this time it mean Champions League football. I remember Sir John Hall coming into the changing rooms and celebrating with us. For him it was a dream come true. We all knew about his vision for Newcastle and in reaching Europe's elite, he was over the moon! He wasn't quite the extrovert as Sam Hamman, but he got on well with the lads, particularly Les, Clarkie, and Watto. He called me up last year, at the time when the player's strike was threatened. As the club PFA rep he wanted to know my opinion, and he told me what he thought about the issue - he wasn't exactly in favour of action! Freddy Shepherd is a little bit quieter, he'll sit back and listen to the views of players - as opposed to making big speeches. I've got great respect for both men, and when I moved to Derby they were both on the phone wishing me the best of luck.

The two highlights during the 1997/8 season were undoubtedly the 3-2 win over Barcelona in the Champions League, and reaching the F.A. Cup final. Both the Barca game and the semi final at Old Trafford against Sheffield United were excellent victories set against great atmosphere's. However whilst the Champions League petered out for us, the F.A. Cup final led to a one sided final against a dominant Arsenal. We struggle in the league and after the opening 0-0 draw at home to Charlton, Kenny Dalglish left the club. His replacement; Ruud Gullit was an excellent coach, although his man-management style upset a lot of the pro's at the club. Again we struggled in the league, and again a good run in the F.A. Cup saw us reach Wembley for the second successive year. We improved on the previous year's performance, but Man United were still able to run out comfortable victors. After a poor start to the 1999/00 season, we faced the derby against Sunderland at St. James. Ruud dropped both AL and Duncan Ferguson, and after Kieron Dyer put us one up, Sunderland came back to snatch a 2-1 win. There was no way back for Ruud, the following day he tended his resignation.

It was September by the time that Bobby Robson joined the club and we were bottom of the Premiership. We faced a crucial home game against fellow strugglers; Sheff Wed, and in front of the TV camera's managed to chalk up an 8-0 victory. That's the way football is! All the players were given a fresh start, all had something to prove, and we thumped Wednesday 8-0!

We recovered well and finished the campaign in mid-table. The following year, 2000/01 saw me play around 30 games during the season. I was coming under pressure from Aaron Hughes and as we kicked off the next season, there were rumours a few clubs were in for me. One of which was West Ham. We played the Hammers at Upton Park on a Sunday afternoon and were turned over 3-0. It was probably the worst performance of the season and to make matters worse, it was shown live by Sky. Shortly after the game Glen Roeder was reported to have said that West Ham were not interested in signing me and that after my performance at Upton Park, they wouldn't even take me on a free! To be honest, I couldn't believe it. I even received calls from Stuart Pearce and Peter Beardsley who both said that they didn't believe Glen would come out with something like that. I picked the phone up and called Glen, he assured me that he didn't make any such remarks and that the club's press office had used journalistic interpretation to publish the report on their web site. I told him that I wanted him to set the record straight, to which he agreed to do. Alan Oliver, a Newcastle based journalist wrote a piece with quotes from Glen and now it's just water under the bridge.

By the new year I'd only made about fifteen appearances - many of them from the bench, so when a bid came in from Derby I had some serious thinking to do. I'd been at the club for six and half great years, but I was now 33 and effectively frozen out of the team by Aaron's performances. Derby are a big club with a great stadium and a good set of fans. I went down to Pride Park and spoke to John Gregory who offered me first team football, responsibility, and a fresh challenge. It was a package that I couldn't turn down. I was made captain, an honour that I take seriously, and made a winning Sky debut against Tottenham.

'Who would have believed both Al and Rob would go off after this collision?'

The club were also linked with Rob Lee, and yours truly was doing as much as possible to convince him to join Derby. Eventually he joined us and I genuinely thought we had a chance to stay up. Perhaps the cruellest of games was the visit of Newcastle to Derby - another game that went live on Sky. After going 2-0 up with only 20 minutes to go, Newcastle came back with a winner scored in the last minute. We played a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light in the final game of the season, both Rob and I received a 'great' reception. Unfortunately we were down, but over the summer we've had plenty of time to plan the new campaign.

Although no club has the divine right to play in the Premiership, we're a big club and deserve to be up there at the top level. The first year in Division One was particularly difficult. We struggled to make an impact on the pitch and with dire financial problems and the loss of a manager, it was a season to forget.

The pre-season has been very promising, the boys have played very well, and the victory against Mallorca was well deserved. OK, we also did well this time last year – and the season turned out to be very disappointing. All I can say is that the club has been through the mixer, we’ve a now got a change of manager, there’s been plenty of player movement, the youngsters are now that little more experienced and the pressure isn’t quite as intense as last season. When I talk about the pressure, don’t get me wrong, we fully expect to be up there fighting for Premiership football – whether it’s a top two finish or the play-off’s. But last year other clubs raised their games when they played us, we were the big boys just down from the Premiership – and that mantle has been passed on to West Brom, West Ham, and Sunderland. To be fair, I don’t think we handled the pressure very well, but we’re all learnt – and after 18 years in the game, I also learnt lessons form last season.!

Nevertheless, looking at the competition I feel that all three teams dropping down have a good chance, although West Ham have sold a massive amount of players and Sunderland will also find it tough. Sheffield United and Forest will also do well, Paul Hart’s a very decent manager – great at nurturing young talent. I’d also watch out for Cardiff, I’ve a feeling that Sam Hamman’s team won’t be far away. I know the guy well, and they’ve strengthened since May’s play-off victory against QPR. But we can be up there, and when we face Stoke it can be start of season that returns Derby to where we belong.