My next mission was to see if I could stay in professional football after being exiled on the bench for a season at my Brentford. A very difficult situation, because once you are ‘out of the frame’, other managers want to know why, and then phone the manager that exiled you and he certainly isn’t going to give you a glowing reference. He doesn’t want you to go to another club and be a success because then his judgement is questioned so I am sure other managers were told that I was disruptive or a bad influence of which nothing could be further from the truth. So now I had to start again and prove myself of which at the age of 28 I felt was a bit of a joke. I did a pre-season at Brighton and was offered to stay on a non-contract basis of which I refused because I saw that money was getting tight in the lower leagues and more players were just being used on non-contracts. And when they had finished with you, you were cast aside.
English football was at an all time low with more and more players were leaving clubs and being forced into the insecure world of non-contracts. I had a contact number for an agent moving players abroad and by now my finger was itching to dial and the calling of foreign pastures was looming. My type of midfield play was out to graze and the appeal of the continent was getting greater. I made the call and he told me to send him my C.V. and if possible to get a video of myself. Both I did and within two weeks I was meeting him at Brent Cross ready to get the hovercraft from Dover to France and travel through France to Belgium.
Peter Harrison was a mid-thirties Geordie with a likeable personality and had played for a Belgium Premier team called Charleroi. This was the guy taking me across two countries to try and fix me up with a club. He had watched my video and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t playing at a high level in England and said he had every confidence in finding me a club abroad. Peter had arranged a game in France first at Lens of which I turned up and a training game between reserves and first team was being played of which I was allowed to take part. I walked into the changing rooms not knowing the language nor the players and got changed into their kit ready to play the game. One of the coaches that spoke broken English was assigned to tell me what was going on and where I was playing. I was selected in centre midfield, my favourite position, and then made my way with the reserves to warm up on the pitch where the 1st team play their home games. The pitch was surrounded by a red-ash running track, the track by a small moat and then came the stands. This was a typical continental stadium. We played 3 half hours and I knew I was having a really good game. The pace was slower and midfielders were encouraged to take possession of the ball from defenders on a regular basis (that makes sense doesn’t it!). This was football heaven, being played on the deck with quality, pace and skill. The game ended and Pete and I were taken upstairs to meet officials and the manager who had watched me play and while I was showering had seen my video. Pete was talking to them in French and I was sitting next to him like a ‘numpty’ but could tell by facial and body language that things looked OK. Pete stopped now and again to let me know what was being said and told me they were interested but he felt I should play more games for teams in Belgium.
It was a weird situation, Pete saw my ability for the first time, except on video, and he convinced me to go to Belgium and play a game for his ex-club, Charleroi, in the Premier division because he was confident about the outcome. He explained the situation to the Lens officials and they told him to keep them updated on my decision. So, there we were back in his Mercedes travelling to Belgium for another game and me feeling like a footballing prostitute being touted to all clients. It was exciting in a way because I knew I was playing really well and so did Pete.