WHY STEINY HOME IN HIS
HIS career may have been cut short by a knee injury that left him “playing with one leg”, but the 14 years that Kevin Nicholls’ playing days did span were certainly action packed.
The midfielder led Luton Town to promotion when he was just 23 after being in the stands at Wembley as Charlton beat Sunderland in one of the best play-off finals of all time.
Leeds paid £700,000 for his services, only for the former Wigan player to suffer ligament damage to his knee in his first training session.
A return to Luton followed after a spell at Preston and he captained the side to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
It proved to be one of the brighter times for the Hatters in a period blighted by financial issues. Now, with Luton back on the rise, Nicholls tells us why that Wembley visit still makes him smile.
Charlton Athletic. I went there when I was about 14 or 15 after being scouted by Lee Bowyer’s dad, Dave Bowyer, and it just went from there.
I was coached by John Cartwright, Neil Banfield, who is now part of the Arsenal set-up, Keith Peacock and Alan Curbishley.
It was a very good family club and I’ll always owe them for giving me my first pro contract and making me a professional footballer.
Joe Kinnear. I left Charlton and went to Wigan for two years. I played very well against the old Wimbledon in a League Cup game and wanted to come back south.
The day I signed for Luton, I remember seeing my name in a book circled by Mick Harford. I had obviously made an impression and Joe and Mick came and got me.
That was the start of some very exciting times and a proud moment.
Joe put a lot of trust in me. I wasn’t captain at the start but Aaron Skelton got injured and, in a short space of time, I was made captain. That was the making of me. It gave me that belief and the club just suited my character. It was the right fit.
The best player I played with unfortunately never made it to the top – Dean Morgan. He’s now at Woking but he was the most gifted player that I ever saw.
The biggest compliment is that I didn’t know if he was right or left footed because he was unbelievable with both.
He was quick, strong and good in the air. It’s a shame that he never reached the top because he had some ability.
We were together at Luton and he was probably early to mid-twenties, but he just had amazing ability.
I was in the stands having had knee surgery, but I was part of the Charlton team that got promoted after that 4-4 draw with Sunderland at Wembley.
The first one I participated in was with Luton from what is now League Two, when we got promoted away at Swansea in 2002.
We went up as runners-up but, really, Plymouth won’t want to hear this, we let ourselves down. We should have won the league.
It was a fantastic achievement, though, leading Luton as captain to promotion at the age of 23.
Graham Stack.This goalkeeper was a very funny character 24/7. He’s just full blast.We could be training and I would just look at him and I’d know something funny was coming.
He’s coming to the latter stages of his career now but I still bump into him and he still makes me laugh.
He’s at Barnet, who are doing well, and Graham will help the happy environment. A happy changing room breeds success and I’m sure Graham will be keeping them amused.
A lot of mine are not printable!
One of the best, though, would be nailing Brian Stein’s shoes to the staff room door where they got changed. It was just a little bit of banter but it seemed to carry on.
It was quite hard with the dynamics of the room. When you opened the door, you didn’t see behind the staff door.
He had got showered and was looking for his shoes. Being quite a joker myself, I had a phone call from Steiny asking “Where are my shoes Nico?” I obviously played it dumb and said “I don’t know what you’re going on about” and I just carried it on.
Apparently, he ended up going home fully clothed with flip-flops on, which is quite amusing. I got a bit of stick the next day but it was all done in good jest.
My time at Luton was fantastic. I was there for two spells and in my first I captained them to promotion, and then I led them to the 200809 JPT at Wembley in my second spell. With what the club was going through with the minus 30 points, it was going to be very tough to keep our League status, so to win the JPT was huge.
I was coming to the end of my career due to injuries so it was big for me on a personal level. I was basically playing with one leg for the last three years of my career.
To do it in front of 33,000 Luton fans, a club I adore, was just great. My kids and family were there and it was the last big game I was realistically going to play in. Best team-mate: Dean Morgan
Retiring at 31. The most frustrating thing was that I couldn’t be the player I once was and that I had made a name for.
You make a reputation for yourself and people speak well of you and I couldn’t be that player anymore. It was tough to accept.
It seemed to come to an end quite quickly. To this day I still haven’t spoken about why it happened and not everybody knows the truth.
Unfortunately, I had far too much surgery and too many injections. I probably played too often when I shouldn’t have.
Sometimes you can carry on playing and just drop down a few divisions but Toughest place to go: Ninian Park