I wasted my best years on the bench at Arse­nal

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

YOU have to feel sorry for Chris Ki­womya. Browse any list of trans­fer flops and he will be there, the man that the 90s for­got.

A free-scor­ing star­let at Ip­swich, Ki­womya was 25 when he joined Arse­nal for a then-hefty £1.25m in 1995, ar­riv­ing on the same day as John Hartson.

Tipped to suc­ceed the age­ing Ian Wright, he was full of con­fi­dence, light­ning quick and ap­proach­ing his peak. But bar a few fleet­ing ap­pear­ances, it would be the last any­one saw of him for nigh on three years.

A cou­ple of weeks later, the man who signed him – Ge­orge Gra­ham – was sacked fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that he had re­ceived trans­fer bungs.

Then came Bruce Rioch and Arsène Wenger, both of whom con­signed Ki­womya to the re­serves. Even there he banged in the goals, but his only re­ward was loan spells at French side Le Havre and Malaysian out­fit Se­lan­gor.

Th­ese days, the 43-year-old – who left High­bury in 1998 be­fore end­ing his ca­reer at QPR and Grimsby – is far from bit­ter. He does, how­ever, wish he hadn’t wasted his best years on the bench.

“I don’t re­gret go­ing at all,” he re­called in 2001. “I played with some great play­ers at one of the big­gest clubs in the coun­try.

“I just think that if I had gone at an older age, like now that I am stronger men­tally, I might have been able to look at my­self in the mir­ror more and say: ‘Keep go­ing’.

“Some of the older play­ers, like Tony Adams, Martin Ke­own and David Sea­man, did try to en­cour­age me. Martin in par­tic­u­lar was re­ally good. He used to tell me: ‘Get down the gym, keep work­ing, you’ll get your chance’.

“But I found it hard. I was at my peak and play­ing in the re­serves. I should have left af­ter 18 months.”

Afresh

In fair­ness, though, Ki­womya is just thank­ful to have got his chance at all. Born in Hud­der­s­field of Ugan­dan de­scent, he joined Ip­swich in his early teens, win­ning an ap­pren­tice­ship af­ter scor­ing a spec­tac­u­lar over­head kick in a trial game.

Yet de­spite mak­ing his de­but at just 17, the striker be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with life at Port­man Road un­der man­ager John Lyall and by 1990 was ready to head back north and start afresh.

“My brother had come down to drive me back and we were just on the point of leav­ing when the club rang say­ing they wanted to see me,” re­calls Ki­womya. “Mr Lyall said he wanted me to stay and I liked what he was telling me. His record with young play­ers at West Ham, like Paul Ince and Stu­art Slater, was im­pres­sive. I owe him so much for mak­ing me a bet­ter player.”

Nick­named ‘Lino’ by Lyall for his ten­dency to end up on the floor, Ki­womya vin­di­cated his man­ager by be­com­ing one of the Trac­tor Boys’ most con­sis­tent per- for­m­ers, strik­ing up fear­some part­ner­ships with Dalian Atkin­son and Ja­son Dozzell and spear­head­ing pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League in 1991-92.

“Chris epit­o­mised the close affin­ity that play­ers can have with the fans,” said Lyall, who died in 2006. “Watch­ing him in those days from the North or West Stands, they felt like they were watch­ing one of their own.”

It was, then, no sur­prise that Ki­womya would end up back at Port­man Road. Af­ter spells as a young coach at Arse­nal, he joined Ip­swich as an acad­emy coach un­der Jim Magilton in 2008 be­fore step­ping up to the re­serves dur­ing Roy Keane’s reign.

“He was a very dig­ni­fied fig­ure when run­ning the re­serve team here, and so en­cour­ag­ing to the more ner­vous younger play­ers,” said John Wark, the Ip­swich le­gend.

That ap­proach would pro­duce striker Con­nor Wick­ham, who sub­se­quently joined Sun­der­land for £8m, as well as cur­rent Ip­swich reg­u­lars Luke Hyam and Josh Car­son.

Tal­ent

And it was that abil­ity to nur­ture young tal­ent that per­suaded Notts County chair­man Ray Trew to ap­point Ki­womya when Keith Curle was sacked in Fe­bru­ary.

“Chris is well re­spected through­out the football com­mu­nity for his abil­ity to de­velop play­ers, as well as spot­ting raw tal­ent in young­sters,” said Trew. “And any­one who has been for­tu­nate enough to speak to him in per­son will have seen his en­thu­si­asm for ev­ery de­tail of ev­ery per­for­mance.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

MISS­ING IN AC­TION: As a Gun­ner, Chris Ki­womya hardly got a lookin, but as Notts County man­ager he is show­ing his bril­liant eye for spot­ting tal­ent. Inset: play­ing for Ip­swich in 1993

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