GOOD, BAD & UGLY
Paul Boertien tells us of bizarre justice at Walsall – and much more
PAUL Boertien is the first to admit his playing career wasn’t exactly sprinkled with stardust. “I always seemed to be battling relegation or knocking about in mid-table,” laughs the former Carlisle, Derby, Walsall and Burton full-back. “There definitely weren’t any glittering successes!”
Nor was it without pain. In the space of ten years, he suffered a broken kneecap, torn cruciate, another fractured knee, medial ligament damage and was twice advised by specialists to throw in the towel.
But does the 36-year-old care? Not a bit. Growing up in the Northumberland outpost of Haltwhistle, all Boertien ever wanted to do was play football for a living.
And after rising from the depths of the Third Division to play at Old Trafford and Anfield, he retired in 2011 with his life’s ambition fulfilled.
Here he tells us which England star tied him in knots, which manager divided and conquered – and why a giant cuddly bird dispensed summary justice at Walsall...
Carlisle United. I was actually on trial at Sunderland but they never took me on so that obviously didn’t go too well. But Nick Ingle, the guy who’d recommended me, was convinced I was good enough and set me up another trial at Carlisle.
A week later I was offered a oneand-a-half year YTS. They’d just won promotion at the time and had a really good side – people like Matt Jansen and Rory Delap. I ended up staying there for two or three years.
I worked under a couple of good ones – and a couple of bad ones. Jim Smith was my first manager at Derby. He was really old school but very good tactically.
But the one I liked best was John Gregory. He was just my kind of manager – training was really enjoyable, he was always positive and upbeat. And it helped that he liked the way I played too!
Mind you, I must say that I really liked Best manager: Billy Davies. I John Gregory know he’s got a bit of a reputation but he is very good at what he does and his record bears that out. He’s forensic in his attention to detail.
His problem is that he tries to forge a siege mentality. Billy wants it to be him and the players against the world. For the lads in the dressing room, it’s great. They all like him. But eventually that rubs the chairman up the wrong way, the directors or the Press.
I’m sure he’ll get another job and I’m sure he’ll do well. But I’m also sure he’d end up causing trouble again!
It would have to be Stefano Eranio. He was just on a different level. He’d played for AC Milan and had probably had his best years before he came to England.
But everything was still there – his touch and technique were out of this world. To be honest, I could never understand what he was doing at Derby!
I’ll always remember we went for a warm down, which was basically a walk round the golf course. Stefano walked round the whole course – and I’m not exaggerating – and kept a football up the entire way.
He was up and down hills, in between trees. I was walking round thinking ‘Am I really seeing this?’ If that was me I’d have been chasing all over the place. He never even broke stride.
I played with Georgi Kinkladze, Fabrizio Ravanelli. But none of them matched the out-and-out class of Eranio.
And the best thing was, he was a proper nice guy to go with it. He wasn’t the least bit big time, worked really hard, always had time for the young lads like me. I wish I could have played with him longer.
To the Premier League with Derby in 2007 – though I never really felt part of it. I’d started the season and done quite well. But then I got injured and ended up making just 13 appearances. I wasn’t even in the squad for the play-off final, then got released in the summer.
I do wonder what might have been. I’d played 11 games in a row and Billy Davies seemed to be happy with me. You never know anything for certain in football but, if I hadn’t got injured, I do think I would have been offered a new contract.
But that’s typical of me – I’ve never really had glittering successes in my career. I was always fighting relegation or knocking about in mid-table!
I’ve played with so many but Seth Johnson was probably the craziest. He would hammer your clothes, hammer your car, hammer everyone – even the manager.
Stephen Hughes at Walsall was funny, too. He was coming to the end of his career and maybe didn’t enjoy football as much as he had. He was just there for a good time and that made him a lot of fun to be around.
When we were at Walsall, we used to have these ‘court cases’ whenever anyone disputed a club fine.
It could be for anything – being late for training, going on a night out, missing a social. The accused came into the dressing room and one player would be the judge whilst the rest of us were the jury.
One time, a couple of lads had done something wrong and Tommy Mooney was the judge. But Tommy – another really funny guy – came into the room wearing the mascot’s costume, which at the time was this big bird called Swifty.
He didn’t say a thing, just sat down and went through the whole process. Watching these lads plead their case to a giant furry bird with a big grin was hilarious!
Staying up with Derby in 2001. We had Man United away then Ipswich – who finished fifth that year – at home and knew we’d probably have to win at least one.
All the pundits were saying we wouldn’t get another point but we went to Old Trafford and won 1-0 to stay up with a game to spare.
They had Beckham, Scholes, Keane at their peak. They absolutely
battered us but somehow managed not to score.To win at Man U any time is rare but under those circumstances made it even more special.
Going down the following year. We were struggling all season and it eventually happened at Anfield.We lost 2-0, Michael Owen scored twice. I am a big Liverpool supporter so it was an especially tough day for me. Playing against them was the highlight of my season but not that year.
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
I always found Leeds fairly difficult. I got battered 3-0 with Derby once. I got battered 3-0 with Walsall. Elland Road is famous for its intimidating atmosphere and whether that had an effect, I don’t know. But I always got bad results there. And unfortunately, I played them more than most because I went down the leagues with them!
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO
I would have said Liverpool but that day in 2002 probably soured it for me. So I’ve got to say Old Trafford. Winning in front of 67,000 was probably my best moment in the game.
Joe Cole. It was during his West Ham days and he was playing in central midfield with Michael Carrick. They also had Trevor Sinclair, Paolo Di Canio – what a team that was.
We got Benito Carbone sent off early, which opened up a bit of space. He used every inch of it and absolutely tore us to bits that day.
At his peak he was really quick and full of tricks. He was pulling them all off that afternoon and our entire midfield was chasing shadows.
He was an unbelievable talent and at the time I thought he was going to be the next Paul Gascoigne. But injuries knocked him back and I don’t think he ever became the player he could have.
It’s funny but I’ve kind of already achieved it. All I ever wanted was to be a professional footballer and I spent nearly 15 years living the dream.
Now, I just want to spend time with my kids, watch them grow up and help them be the best they can in life.
Beyond that, I suppose I’d like to do some kind of coaching, but not at the professional level. I’d love to help kids who play for fun but I don’t ever want to be the person who stands in front of a 16-year-old and shatters his dreams.
Biggest achievement: Premier League survival at Old Trafford
Funniest incident: Big bird Swifty
Best manager: john Gregory
Lowest Moment: Relegation at Anfield
IN FULL FLOW: Paul Boertien in action for Derby County against Aston Villa
Best player: Stefano Eranio
Toughest opponent: Joe Cole