TONY PULIS WAS MY BEST BOSS AND I HELPED GET HIM A JOB
GOOD BAD & UGLY: ADE AKINBIYI
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
INCREDIBLE BULK: Ade Akinbiyi celebrates a goal for Leicester