PLAY­ERS AT QPR RAN OFF TO HAVE A PUNCH UP!

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN a des­per­ate Danny Gab­bidon pitched up for a trial at West Brom in 1996, he was told the squad was al­ready full.

Un­de­terred, the 17-year-old vowed to make the coaches find a gap. Two decades on, the re­cently re­tired cen­tre-back has won pro­mo­tion from ev­ery tier of the Foot­ball League, played in the Pre­mier League, lost an FA Cup fi­nal and won 49 caps for Wales.

Here he tells us why that first big break re­mains the high­light of his ca­reer, which Uruguayan su­per­star turned him in­side out and why James Collins was the ‘best’ in more ways than one.

FIRST CLUB

West Brom. I was play­ing for my lo­cal team in South Wales when a scout came to watch me. I had been on a few other tri­als and noth­ing had re­ally come of it. I was just about to turn 17, do­ing my A-Lev­els and was start­ing to think it wouldn’t hap­pen.

I was think­ing about about univer­sity but, in the back of my mind was a lit­tle voice say­ing, ‘There’s al­ways a chance it could still hap­pen’. Luck­ily it did.

BEST MAN­AGER

This is a tough one but I’d prob­a­bly have to say Alan Pardew at West Ham. He was the guy who took me from Cardiff and made me a Pre­mier League player.

When I met him, he al­ready seemed to know ex­actly what kind of player I was and what was re­quired to make me bet­ter. Then he went and did it.

He’s the kind of man­ager who goes onto the train­ing ground and works with peo­ple in per­son, which isn’t that com­mon th­ese days.

He def­i­nitely made me a bet­ter player and, look­ing back, that first year un­der Alan was prob­a­bly when I played the best foot­ball of my ca­reer. I owe him a lot.

BEST TEAM-MATE

James Collins.We started to­gether at Cardiff and we both signed for West Ham in a dou­ble deal.

We com­ple­mented each other on the pitch, got on well off it and mak­ing the move to Lon­don to­gether re­ally made things eas­ier.

We’ve been re­ally good friends ever since. He was my best man when I got mar­ried and I was his. He’s a qual­ity de­fender and just an all-round funny guy as well. He’s al­ways got a story about some­thing that’s hap­pened to him or an anec­dote he’s picked up sec­ond hand. He used to make ev­ery­body laugh in the dress­ing room.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

With Cardiff from Divi­sion Three in my first sea­son – I think it was 2001. We clinched sec­ond place on the fi­nal day against York, though I was in­jured and had to sit it out.

It was bril­liant. I’d come from West Brom where I wasn’t re­ally play­ing. Me and the man­ager at the time, Gary Meg­son, didn’t get on too well. I just don’t think he fan­cied me as a player. To be hon­est, I’d have gone any­where to get out, but I landed on my feet with Cardiff.

Sam Ham­mam had just taken over, a load of good play­ers were com­ing in. It had the feel of a club that was try­ing to do some­thing.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Well James Collins was good but I’ll go with An­ton Fer­di­nand. He’s a guy who just doesn’t know how to speak qui­etly – I don’t think he’s ever whis­pered in his life.

He’s al­ways shout­ing, al­ways jok­ing. When I first went to West Ham we de­vel­oped a re­ally good part­ner­ship and still keep in con­tact now and again.

He’s bub­bly, he’s en­thu­si­as­tic. He al­ways had a funny story and he was bril­liant at act­ing them out. He’s just got that ex­tro­verted per­son­al­ity that all Lon­don­ers seem to have.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

This was less funny, more strange. Dur­ing my sea­son at QPR in 2011, I was in the mid­dle of train­ing and heard a bit of a com­mo­tion on the op­po­site pitch.

Next thing I knew, a cou­ple of play­ers were run­ning back to the chang­ing room. At the time, I thought they were in­jured or some­thing.

It was only later that we found out that they were go­ing to have a fight. They’d been play­ing five-a-side – on the same team – and had got into an ar­gu­ment about some­one not play­ing a pass or some non­sense like that.

They started brawl­ing on the pitch and the coach just said to them ‘Look, if you want to have it out, go in­side’. In­stead of back­ing down, they ac­tu­ally ran in to have a boxing match!

I’d never seen any­thing like it in my life, but you could say that about a lot of stuff that hap­pened at QPR that sea­son – it was ab­so­lutely crazy.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

I could say the pro­mo­tions, get­ting to the Pre­mier League or play­ing for my coun­try. But, for me, the great­est feel­ing I ever had was be­com­ing a pro at 17. When I ar­rived on trial at West Brom, the first thing they told me was that they’d al­ready filled the squad and I’d have to be an ex­cep­tional player to even be con­sid­ered. I was think­ing ‘What’s the point in this?’

But I knuck­led down, and at the end of the week they in­vited my mum and dad up to watch a first team game. When it fin­ished, the coach sat us all down and said ‘I said you’d have to be an ex­cep­tional player – and we think you are. We’d like to sign you’.

To hear those words is still the best mo­ment of my whole ca­reer.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

Be­ing in­jured for the best part of a sea­son and a half. I’d had such a good first sea­son at West Ham, but I’d been play­ing through a groin prob­lem the whole time.

I got half way through the next sea­son and broke down. Then other things started go­ing wrong and I ended up with two or three com­pli­cated in­juries all at the same time. No­body could fig­ure out what was go­ing on.

I ended up miss­ing the rest of that sea­son and the whole of the next one. I was watch­ing my team-mates play and I wasn’t even sure when I’d be back. Peo­ple were con­stantly ask­ing ‘When will you be back?’ and I couldn’t give them an an­swer. That was re­ally tough, on and off the field, and I got a bit de­pressed.

Up un­til then, noth­ing in my ca­reer had re­ally gone wrong. It was hard, but I think it made me a stronger per­son in the long run.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Old Traf­ford. When I played there with West Ham, Ron­aldo was hit­ting his peak, they had Rooney, Sc­holes, Giggs.

You knew you’d be de­fend­ing al­most con­stantly, you knew you wouldn’t get many chances. You al­most went there just try­ing to keep the score down. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, it was a very in­tim­i­dat­ing place to play.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

I’ve been lucky enough to play against some great play­ers. Fer­nando Tor­res, Di­dier Drogba, Wayne Rooney – they were all tough.

But I’ve never seen a player like Luis Suarez, be­fore or since. His move­ment, his en­ergy – he doesn’t rest for a sec­ond and re­ally makes you think.

The ma­jor­ity of strik­ers play a cer­tain way and that makes them easy to mark. With him, he was al­ways on the

Best man­ager: Alan Pardew First club: West Bromwich Al­bion Best team-mate: James Collins Fun­ni­est team-mate: An­ton Fer­di­nand

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