GOOD, BAD AND UGLY

De­fender Dar­ren Purse on be­ing bashed up by John Hart­son

The Football League Paper - - IN­SIDE - By Steven Coney

DAR­REN PURSE may have turned down Arse­nal and Tot­ten­ham as a young­ster but the cen­tre-back says it was the best de­ci­sion he ever made.

And it’s hard to ar­gue with him. Purse de­cided on his lo­cal side Ley­ton Ori­ent and made his de­but for the O’s as a fresh-faced 17-yearold be­fore mov­ing on to play for the likes of Birmingham City and West Brom in the Premier League.

A League Cup fi­nal scorer and Eng­land U21 in­ter­na­tional, Purse looks back fondly on a suc­cess­ful ca­reer – al­though he still has night­mares about his first en­counter with big striker John Hart­son!

FIRST CLUB

I was lucky enough as a kid at the age of 16 to be of­fered a YTS at a few dif­fer­ent clubs. Tot­ten­ham and Arse­nal were two of the sides but Ley­ton Ori­ent ba­si­cally told me they would of­fer me a pro con­tract as soon as I turned 17.

I was go­ing to stay on at school, that was the plan, but when you get of­fered a deal like I did, you can’t turn it down.

I signed the pro­fes­sional deal in Fe­bru­ary when I turned 17 and three days later I made my de­but away at Brighton so it was def­i­nitely the right de­ci­sion!

Ley­ton Ori­ent was my lo­cal club as I was brought up in Beth­nal Green and it was a great place to start my ca­reer.

BEST MAN­AGER

I played for quite a few de­cent man­agers. Trevor Fran­cis and Steve Bruce at Birmingham were both very good man­agers but I’m go­ing to go for one who some peo­ple might not know in De­nis Smith.

What he did at Ox­ford was in­cred­i­ble. When I signed, we were in the old Divi­sion One, which is the Cham­pi­onship now.

He was an ex­cep­tional man­ager and al­ways did the right thing with the play­ers. He knew when to have a pop at peo­ple but also knew when he needed to put an arm around you and give you some space.

I thor­oughly en­joyed play­ing un­der him for 18 months at Ox­ford and when he moved on to West Brom he tried to sign me, but Birmingham of­fered the club more money and thank­fully that move turned out well, too!

BEST TEAM-MATE

Martin Grainger at Birmingham was a bril­liant player and a re­ally good mate as well but later on in my ca­reer I played with Ric­cardo

Best man­ager: Scimeca at West Brom. De­nis Smith

We had a good re­la­tion­ship while we were there and then we both moved on to play for Cardiff. We both trav­elled from Strat­fordupon-Avon down to Cardiff ev­ery day so we hit it off and were very close. He was also a very good player.

We still keep in touch on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and I would con­sider him one of my best mates in foot­ball.

I was al­ways the ranter and raver but he is a very calm guy so we bal­anced each other well. We’ve had some great times over the years.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

My first pro­mo­tion was with Birmingham to the Premier League in 2002 so not a bad first one to ex­pe­ri­ence!

We had been knock­ing on the door for a few years but los­ing out in the play-offs which was very frus­trat­ing.

Steve Bruce re­placed Trevor Fran­cis in the De­cem­ber and we man­aged to get that bit of luck and fi­nally get over the hur­dle.

We had to go through the play-offs again and played Nor­wich in the fi­nal at Cardiff. It was a re­ally tight game and it went to penal­ties. Dar­ren Carter scored the win­ner – he was a lo­cal lad and Blues fan so it was bril­liant to watch him do it.

I’ve been pro­moted since but ob­vi­ously the first one al­ways sticks in your mind and it was great to do it the way we did.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

When I was at Ley­ton Ori­ent as a young­ster, Trevor Put­ney was bril­liant at im­pres­sions and used to have us all in stitches.

I think the fun­ni­est and cra­zi­est has to go to Ian Ben­nett, though, who was our goal­keeper at Birmingham.

They al­ways say that you’ve got to be a bit of a nut­case to be a goal­keeper and that was def­i­nitely the case when it came to Benno! Ev­ery day you went to train­ing, you knew he’d be up to some­thing new on the train­ing ground. Some of the things he used to do were hi­lar­i­ous.

You’d be in the dress­ing room get­ting ready for a big game and he’d be there mak­ing ev­ery­body laugh – he was the life and soul of the team.

He re­tired in the sum­mer but I bet he’s still signed on as a player some­where get­ting his ap­pear­ance money for sit­ting on the bench!

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

There are a few that can’t be printed! One of the fun­ni­est was one pre-sea­son when we were away in Scot­land with Birmingham. I was with Jeff Kenna who had just signed for us af­ter pre­vi­ously win­ning the Premier League with Black­burn.

We had been out for a drink in the af­ter­noon and were on our way back in a cab when Jeff turns to me and says ‘Pursey, I don’t know you from Adam but do you fancy go­ing out for an­other beer?’.

We went back out for a quiet cou­ple – and then it gets to 3am! We had a cur­few for 11pm so we got back to the ho­tel ab­so­lutely leg­less and Brucey is stand­ing in the corridor wait­ing for us so we knew we were in trou­ble.

We fi­nally got into bed af­ter Jeff had fallen over and cut his eye. We went to train­ing the next day with stink­ing hang­overs and Brucey pulls us aside and says we’ve been fined two weeks’ wages. We’ve started do­ing our run­ning amongst a big group of us and there were some younger lads knock­ing the ball around nearby.

One of them booted the ball into the group and who did it hit right in the face? Jeff Kenna!

He fell right to the floor and there he was with his cut eye, han­gover and prob­a­bly didn’t have a clue where he was!

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Pro­mo­tion to the Premier League has to be up there and I was very proud not to be rel­e­gated from the top-flight ei­ther af­ter play­ing for two sides in Birmingham and West Brom that were al­ways favourites to go down.

The proud­est has to be rep­re­sent­ing my coun­try. I played twice for the Eng­land U21 side in 1998 against France and South Africa.

I think my big­gest achieve­ment was scor­ing in a cup fi­nal, though. I scored in the League Cup fi­nal for Birmingham against Liver­pool back in 2001 and it’s a child­hood dream to score in a cup fi­nal. It was a last minute penalty, too!

LOW­EST MO­MENT

I can hon­estly say that I never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced any low mo­ments, I have been very lucky. I just feel re­ally priv­i­leged to have been a pro­fes­sional foot­baller.

Be­ing a foot­baller is most young­sters’ dream so to go and have a ca­reer in the game is some­thing I’m very proud of.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

I al­ways used to hate play­ing against Wolves so I would go with Mo­lineux as the tough­est place to go. I played against them a few times for Birmingham and West Brom so there was the added lo­cal ri­valry, too, which made the game mean a bit more.

I can’t re­mem­ber ever get­ting a good re­sult at Wolves with ei­ther so it wasn’t a favourite of mine! They’ve had some good strik­ers over the years, too, the likes of Steve Bull and Syl­van Ebanks-Blake al­ways gave you a game.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

In terms of qual­ity, it’s hard to look past Gian­franco Zola or Den­nis Bergkamp, those two weren’t too bad!

Tough­est, how­ever, has to go to John Hart­son. I re­mem­ber play­ing against him for Birmingham at St An­drew’s in a cup game. We were on the half­way line and he ab­so­lutely smashed me with an el­bow that busted my nose open.

I was still quite young then and he just turned around, looked at me and said a few things to me that can’t be printed while I was on the floor!

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

I’ve played at pretty much all of the Premier League grounds and my favourite is White Hart Lane.

The crowd are quite close to the pitch so the at­mos­phere was al­ways in­cred­i­ble there and it was a fan­tas­tic place to play. I got a few good re­sults there, too. I re­mem­ber draw- ing there 2-2 in the FA Cup and when we were on our way to the League Cup fi­nal, we beat them 3-1.

Th­ese new sta­di­ums just don’t have the same soul so I’ve al­ways pre­ferred the older grounds.

AM­BI­TION

I’m still play­ing for Welling United in the Con­fer­ence and I still love that buzz you get on a Satur­day morn­ing but coach­ing is where my fu­ture lies. My day job is man­ager of the AFC Rush­den & Di­a­monds U18 team.

We cur­rently play in the col­lege leagues.

There is a good set-up down there and it feels like I’m do­ing my ap­pren­tice­ship which will hope­fully lead to me get­ting a job in the Foot­ball League in the fu­ture.

Nouha Dicko ex­plains why he’s so happy at Wolves – Pages 24-25

Best team-mate: Ric­cardo Scimeca, right Tough­est op­po­nent: John Hart­son Tough­est place to go: Mo­lineux

Big­gest achieve­ment: Scor­ing against Liver­pool in the League Cup fi­nal in 2001 Favourite place to go: White Hart Lane Fun­ni­est player: Ian Ben­nett

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