KEVIN SENT BOX­ERS UP

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

AS A teenager, Steve Howard helped to build houses for a liv­ing. Now 39 and a suc­cess­ful prop­erty de­vel­oper, he owns more than 400 of them. And in be­tween?

Well, there were five pro­mo­tions, 209 goals, 781 games, leg­endary sta­tus at the likes of Le­ices­ter, Lu­ton and Hartle­pool and even a goal at Old Traf­ford.

Here, the big striker re­calls how Hartle­pool helped him ditch his shovel and pick, a bap­tism of fire at High­bury, a leg­endary prankster at Ke­nil­worth Road – and the day Mike Newell’s clob­ber went up in smoke.

FIRST CLUB

Hartle­pool. I’d been at Sun­der­land on a YTS, got re­leased, then went to play for Tow Law in the North­ern League. Hartle­pool saw me in a game and asked me to come for a trial. A few weeks later they asked me to join and that’s how I be­came a foot­baller.

It was a bit of a come­down ac­tu­ally. I was work­ing as a roofer and a labourer, mak­ing a good few quid. Then, I signed for Hartle­pool and was get­ting next to nowt! I thought ‘What the hell have I done here?’

It was prob­a­bly for the best, though. I re­mem­ber go­ing into work and one of the blokes there said ‘It’s a good job you’re go­ing to be a foot­baller be­cause you’re no good with that shovel’.

I made my de­but al­most straight away, and in my fourth game we had Arse­nal in the League Cup. In the space of a few weeks, I went from play­ing in front of 400 peo­ple at Tow Law to 40,000 at High­bury and mark­ing Ray Par­lour.Then, he went off and Paul Mer­son came on.

It was Den­nis Bergkamp’s first sea­son, and in the sec­ond leg at our place ev­ery­body was singing ‘What a waste of money’. He turned out to be de­cent value in fair­ness.

BEST MAN­AGER

I’ve had a few. Mick Har­ford at Lu­ton taught me how to play football prop­erly. His phrase was ‘Get them wings out’.

But the best was Billy Davies at Derby. He got me into the Premier League and was prob­a­bly the best Never gave the ball away, loved a tackle.The kind of nasty, ag­gres­sive player you love to have on your side.

It’s such a shame he had to re­tire at 28.We were play­ing in the play-off fi­nal at Wem­b­ley and he went in for a tackle ten min­utes from the end. Seth had bad knees any­way and one just gave way.

The doc­tor ba­si­cally turned round and said ‘Look, if you don’t re­tire, you won’t be able to walk in ten years’. That was it and it’s heart­break­ing to talk about football with him be­cause he still loves it.

Ev­ery­body talks about that trans­fer to Leeds and the story in Alex Fer­gu­son’s book about him de­mand­ing all sorts and Rids­dale of­fer­ing £40,000. But it’s to­tal b******s. He wasn’t like that all.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

With Northamp­ton when I was about 21. League Two to League One, un­der Ian Atkins. We fin­ished third but we walked it re­ally. My mate Lee Howey, brother of New­cas­tle’s Steve, was at the back and we had a good team that gelled.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Kevin Ni­cholls by a long shot. He was my skip­per at Lu­ton. He played prank af­ter prank and I ac­tu­ally used to get in early just to see if he was up to some­thing.

Ev­ery­thing he did was hi­lar­i­ous and all the young lads used to look at him and think ‘Bloody hell, is this re­ally what a cap­tain is sup­posed to be like?’

But I think that’s why we had so much suc­cess. All of our man­agers – Mike Newell, Joe Kin­n­ear, Mick Har­ford – ba­si­cally said to him ‘Kev, sort the lads out for me’. They knew he brought ev­ery­one to­gether.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

It has to be Kevin. I can’t re­mem­ber the year, but Mike Newell was our man­ager and it was fire­works night.

We were train­ing but I was in­jured at the time. I’d gone to Newelly’s of­fice to have a chat about some stuff and we got a knock on the door. One of the lads said ‘Gaffer, Kev’s got a big box of fire­works, do you want to watch?’ We went out to the stand and Kev’s down on the pitch at Ke­nil­worth Road set­ting off all these fire­works. Then, all of a sud­den, we saw him wrap­ping all these clothes round this huge rocket. Newelly said ‘Ha, I won­der which poor sod they be­long to’ but, even as he said it, he re­alised. He said ‘You ab­so­lute b******s, that’s my gear isn’t it?’

Next thing, there’s a mas­sive bang, with box­ers, jeans, all sorts rain­ing from the sky in flames. Bril­liant.

Best man­ager: Billy Davies

Fun­ni­est player: Kevin Ni­cholls

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Pro­mo­tion to the Premier League with Derby in 2007. I was think­ing ‘I was at Tow Law ten years ago and now I’m in the promised land’.

I’d spent a lot of years in the Cham­pi­onship and watched so many peo­ple I knew go up. Fi­nally, it was me. It was bloody hard, though. We prob­a­bly got promoted too soon and, af­ter a de­cent start, we started get­ting heav­ily beaten. Once the con­fi­dence went, we were knack­ered.

I never got there again, but I got close with Le­ices­ter in 2010. We made the play-offs and lost to

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