PLAYERS AT QPR RAN OFF TO HAVE A PUNCH UP!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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