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Growing Up

I was born in Middlesbrough on the 5th of December 1982 and until signing a professional contract for Leeds in August 2002, I spent all my time on Teeside. Football played a big part in my childhood and I was brought up a Boro fan. My dad, Dave has been a builder for the last 20 years and my mum, Jackie works in a care home and also works in market research. I've one brother; Nicky, who presently part of the management team for a nightclub called 'The Cornerhouse'. I was kicking a ball as soon as I could walk - not that I can remember that far back! At seven years old I was playing for Cleveland Juniors and attended Beechwood First School - where Stuart Ripley's (ex-Boro, Blackburn, and Southamtpon winger) dad was the headmaster! I enjoyed my football at Cleveland Juniors, but at the age of ten I moved to Marton Boys - who had a reputation for bringing on the best local players. Pro's such as Jonathon Woodgate, and Stuart Downing also played for Marton.

At the age of eight I was joined Middlesbrough and played for them until the age of 15 when I then moved onto Leeds. I was playing for Cleveland County at the time when the Leeds United scout Derek Cluey approached me and asked me to come along for a trial. I played in two trial games scoring a hat trick on my debut against Manchester City and also notching two against Newcastle in the following game. I was then offered a four year professional contract and after much discussion decided that this was the best option for me and I signed on the dotted line. As a schoolboy I represented the U17 team in the six remaining fixtures - scoring ten goals. Before making my decision to sign for Leeds I had trials at a number of different clubs, including for example both Coventry and Birmingham. All in all I had over ten clubs offer me a contract. I made the decision to sign for Leeds because at that time they were bringing a number a young players through the ranks - Alan Smith, Jonathon Woodgate, Harry Kewell, Ian Harte etc and I believed I would be given the best education training alongside world class players. As a Boro lad I'd always wanted to play for 'my team', but sometimes your head has to rule your heart. Leeds offered the best opportunity, The fact that I was selected for England within two months of signing for them just goes to show that professionally, I'd made the right choice of club. I went on to represent England in the European Championships in the Czech Republic scoring aginst Slovakia, although unfortunately we were eliminated by the hosts in the quarter finals.

Apart from a brief time when I played wing-back for Boro, I've always played centre-forward and grew up following players who liked to get forward and score goals; John Hendrie and then Craig Hignett at the Boro, Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler at Blackburn and Liverpool respectively. You can't but help admire Shearer, it's almost boring to mention it again, but with all his injuries and the way he's had to adjust his game, he deserves all the awards and paudits that come his way.

Alan Shearer - you can't help but admire him

At sixteen I was playing for England with players such as Jermain Defoe, Leon Knight (now at Brighton), Stuart Parnaby (Boro), Peter Clarke (Everton), and Rory Fallon (Swindon). Manchester United's Jimmy Davis was also in my England team. Tragically Jimmy died in a car crash last year (2003), he was such a nice bloke and my regards go out to his family.

It soon became clear that getting anywhere close to the Leeds first team was becoming increasingly difficult. I was a regular in the youth and reserve team but even reserve team games became fewer as at one stage, Alan Smith, Marc Viduka, and Robbie Fowler were playing for the second string!!!

Fowler, Viduka and Smith - not a bad reserve team attack!

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