WHY STEINY HOME IN HIS

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP -

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.

FIRST CLUB

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.

BEST MAN­AGER

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.

BEST TEAM-MATE

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.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

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.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

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.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

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.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

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

LOW­EST MO­MENT

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

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