During the summer I went to California for a while to have a holiday and do some coaching. On my return there had been a call from Bobby Gould who was manager at Bristol Rovers and invited me for pre-season. I expected managers to be on the phone offering contracts; after all I had played for Tottenham Hotspur. How wrong I was because football was changing and money was getting tighter.
I travelled down to Bristol and stayed in digs with a lovely family. Being at a club in the old third division was like a culture shock to me having been at one of the top clubs in Europe and one instance really brought it all home.
We were playing away in a pre-season friendly and Mr Gould was compiling a list of pre-match meals. He asked me what I wanted and I naturally replied what I had eaten for years. He turned around and said “DOVER SOLE!!”, no its either eggs on f###### toast or beans on f###### toast. I started laughing having realised that I was now in football reality. Also the football was a totally different kettle of fish to what I had played all my life. At Spurs they passed the ball from defence to midfield so you always went short to take possession from full-backs or centre-halfs so midfield players were the pivotal king pins and Spurs had them in abundance at every level. So, I naturally went short to receive the ball keeping an eye over my shoulder checking for markers and when I turned round the ball was smashed up the pitch for forwards to chase and I was left having to run forty yards to catch up with play.
I just couldn’t get used to playing this style because I felt my game was being sacrificed. I wasn’t getting enough touches to enjoy it. This was an introduction to my career of the “Graham Taylor” effect and Mr Gould was adopting the programme. I stayed at Rovers for three or four months playing in a few league and cup games but the end came in a Milk Cup match at Newport. When the team was selected we played six defenders and the midfield spent the whole game running and getting tackles in. Anyone who knows me knew that this was like watching a fish out of water and gasping for breath and I had to leave.
By now I was feeling very low and totally lost. In my mind I was searching for answers and couldn’t find them. Deep down, and now nearly buried, I knew I had talent and a good attitude but I was struggling to find my passage in football and so I went on a Romany existence of going from club to club, non-league to league, America to home in a desperate attempt to find my footballing haven. Looking back now football gave me the opportunity to travel and meet lots of people but every player wants stability to blossom and a gypsy life doesn’t give you the security to express the full range of your talents. I went back to California and bummed around trying to get my head together. Life out there was easy and being a London lad people were really warm and friendly. Everyone loved the accent and word got out that I was a professional “soccer” player and I was offered a couple of coaching jobs. It would have been so easy to stay there and mould a new life but something was nagging inside me to go back home and give football another shot. I think it was that old English work ethic that’s instilled into a lot of us and also at twenty-four I felt I still had so much to offer.
Brentford here I come...