TONY PULIS WAS MY BEST BOSS AND I HELPED GET HIM A JOB

GOOD BAD & UGLY: ADE AKINBIYI

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Chris Dunlavy Akinbiyi is an am­bas­sador for Prostate Can­cer UK and re­cently joined the Men United v Prostate Can­cer cam­paign after los­ing his fa­ther An­thony to the dis­ease. He will be play­ing for a Celebrity XI man­aged by Sam Al­lardyce in a three-team

HE’S per­formed hero­ics with Palace and turned Stoke into Premier League stal­warts, but with­out big Ade Akinbiyi, Tony Pulis might never have got the chance.

First with Gilling­ham, then at Bris­tol City and Stoke, Akinbiyi was the man who made Pulis’ now fa­mous play­ing style work.

Big, strong, and built like a bull, the striker scored 66 of his 152 ca­reer goals un­der the guid­ance of the no-non­sense Welsh­man, so it’s lit­tle won­der he hails Pulis as his finest man­ager.

Sold for a com­bined to­tal of more than £11m in a 20-year ca­reer that be­gan with a de­but against Bay­ern Mu­nich in 1993, it hasn’t all been plain sail­ing.

Who, after all, can for­get that in­fa­mous af­ter­noon against Liver­pool (see be­low)? Cer­tainly not the man him­self.

Yet, the 39-year-old is fondly re­mem­bered by his for­mer clubs, whose fans re­mem­ber a fella who gave his all and knew how to find the net – even if he didn’t al­ways know which side of the pitch to warm up on…

FIRST CLUB

Nor­wich City. I was play­ing for a youth team called Senrab and we went up there to play in a tour­na­ment, the Ca­nary Cup.

About three of us got asked to stay be­hind with Nor­wich and I ended up sign­ing school­boy forms, go­ing through the youth team and even­tu­ally sign­ing pro.

I ac­tu­ally made my de­but in the fa­mous game against Bay­ern Mu­nich in the UEFA Cup – a nice easy in­tro­duc­tion!

I didn’t know un­til the day be­fore the game. Our main striker, Efan Ekoku got in­jured in train­ing and the man­ager, Mike Walker, pulled me aside and said I was go­ing to be on the bench.

I ended up com­ing on for the last 20 min­utes and be­ing marked by Lothar Matthaus. For an 18year-old it was a great buzz. And we won.

BEST MAN­AGER

I’ve worked un­der Tony Pulis at Gilling­ham, Bris­tol City and Stoke and I’ve en­joyed it ev­ery time.

He’s hon­est, straight­for­ward. If he doesn’t like some­thing, he’ll let you know straight away. And he works every­body so hard – you can’t cut any cor­ners with Tony.

I’d moved to Bris­tol City from Gilling­ham in 1998 and I re­mem­ber the chair­man in­vited me to his of­fice and started ask­ing all sorts of ques­tions about Tony – his meth­ods, how he treated play­ers. I told him ev­ery­thing and the next day in walks Tony as the new man­ager. I should have got an agent’s fee for that one!

BEST TEAM-MATE

Gifton Noel-Wil­liams, my strike part­ner at Stoke and Burn­ley. He wasn’t the most pro­lific striker around but he was a very, very clever player who the whole team used to play through.

He was very tall, very strong. He could con­trol it into feet and he was very good at flick­ing it round cor­ners. His aware­ness was re­spon­si­ble for so many of my goals.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

I joined Sh­effield United in Jan­uary 2006 and that same May they went up to the Premier League.

We’d beaten Cardiff on the Fri­day night and knew that if Leeds didn’t beat Read­ing the fol­low­ing day we were up. So we all came down to the train­ing ground and watched the game on the big screen. I can’t re­mem­ber whether they drew or lost but it didn’t mat­ter – we were up. I only played 18 games but it was still a good feel­ing. Ev­ery player wants to win some­thing so they can show their kids and grand­kids the medals.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

Less funny, more em­bar­rass­ing. When you warm up, you’re sup­posed to use only one touch­line – usu­ally the op­po­site one to the lino. Well when I made my de­but against Bay­ern Mu­nich, I was so new to the game that I didn’t re­alise. So all the other subs were to­gether on one side of the pitch and there was me leg­ging it up and down on the other, prob­a­bly get­ting in the lines­man’s way. I could hear all our fans laugh­ing and point­ing, telling me to get down the other end of the pitch. And I was just think­ing “What are they talk­ing about?” Even­tu­ally, Mike Walker came over and said, “What the hell are you do­ing? Get down there”. They’re re­ally strict on it in Steve the and ev­ery up things to you Sed­g­ley sin­gle some­thing had he to did day. at watch Wolves. can’t He – worse was out be Some printed for al­ways than him of what play­ers you did heard to each Wim­ble­don’s other.

Cut­ting clothes, burn­ing things, putting stuff in your boots and bag. He didn’t get me be­cause when I joined I said to him ‘I’ll be very angry’. I don’t think he quite knew how to take me at the time so I got away with it. That said, I re­mem­ber my car smelling foul for weeks so maybe I didn’t. Europe and some of­fi­cial had had a word.

Thank­fully we won so all the cel­e­bra­tions prob­a­bly saved me some stick in the dress­ing room.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Be­ing paid to play pro­fes­sional foot­ball. If I hadn’t been I’d have done it for noth­ing, so to have ac­tu­ally made a liv­ing at my dream job for so many years makes me very proud. I had plenty of ups and downs and it wasn’t al­ways fun, but I wouldn’t change any­thing.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

Play­ing for Le­ices­ter against Liver­pool in 2001. It was a night­mare and I just couldn’t score at all.

The chances kept com­ing. I had three or four easy ones that I would put away 99 times out of 100. But what­ever hap­pened that day, noth­ing would go for me and we ended up los­ing 4-1.

Le­ices­ter had paid £5m for me and the Press picked up on it, call­ing me a waste of money. It went on for weeks, months. I never re­ally re­cov­ered my rep­u­ta­tion with the Le­ices­ter fans.

But that’s foot­ball. When you do some­thing bril­liant, peo­ple latch onto it. And when you do some­thing ter­ri­ble, they also latch on to it.You have to ac­cept both.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

It wasn’t a seething at­mos­phere or any­thing like that, but I never liked Crewe’s Gresty Road.

Un­der Dario Gradi they were a re­ally good foot­balling side and with the pitch be­ing so com­pact, you had to do a lot of chas­ing. I never en­joyed my­self there.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

The tough­est cen­tre-back I played against was Paul McGrath at As­ton Villa. He was com­ing to the end of his ca­reer, but he still had the knowl­edge.

He was strong, in­tel­li­gent and re­ally phys­i­cal. Whether it was win­ning head­ers or push­ing you around, he was 100 per cent ag­gres­sive.

He wasn’t quick, but with Ugo Ehiogu along­side him, he didn’t need to be. I was re­ally young at the time and it was a real eye-opener for me.You could see what world class looked like.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

I’m go­ing to pick two – High­bury and the Emi­rates. I was a mas­sive Arse­nal fan as a kid, and I still am. I used to go and stand at the Clock End. I ful­filled an am­bi­tion by play­ing at High­bury for Nor­wich – I think I even scored. Then I came on as a sub for Sh­effield United at the Emi­rates with all my fam­ily in the crowd.

AM­BI­TION

I’m do­ing a bit of coach­ing at Col­wyn Bay in Va­narama North, a bit of scout­ing here and there.

Over­all, I just want to help kids stay in foot­ball. I know how tough it is to get into the pro game.

Tough­est op­po­nent

Best team-mate

First pro­mo­tion

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

IN­CRED­I­BLE BULK: Ade Akinbiyi cel­e­brates a goal for Le­ices­ter

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