DE­BUT DAY AND I WAS UP AGAINST BERGKAMP

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

IN Jan­uary 1995, Graeme Lee was a trainee striker at Hartle­pool dream­ing of scor­ing win­ners at Wem­b­ley.

Eight months later, he was a first-team cen­tre-half mak­ing his pro­fes­sional de­but against Ar­se­nal and Den­nis Bergkamp!

Thank­fully, the teenager sur­vived his bap­tism of fire to forge a fine ca­reer at the back, win­ning pro­mo­tions at Pools, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and Notts County be­fore mov­ing into coach­ing with home­town club Mid­dles­brough.

Along the way, he was wowed by Gor­don Wat­son, bat­tered by Kevin Davies and fi­nally did score a big-game win­ner, al­beit at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium.

FIRST CLUB

Hartle­pool. I was a YTS there. I’d al­ways been a cen­tre for­ward. As a kid, that’s the only po­si­tion you want to play.

But I had a youth team coach called Billy Horner who put me in de­fence. I played a cou­ple of games for him and he said ‘Bloody hell, I think we’ve got our­selves a cen­tre-half ’.

That was the end of my first year YTS, and the sec­ond year they played me at cen­tre-back from the start of the sea­son. By Au­gust, I’d bro­ken into the first­team squad.

Keith Houchen gave me my de­but. My first time on the pitch was against Ar­se­nal at High­bury in a League Cup tie in 1995. They had Den­nis Bergkamp and John Hart­son up front, Tony Adams and Martin Ke­own at the back. I re­mem­ber it well!

BEST MAN­AGER

I’ve got to say Chris Turner, just for what he did at Hartle­pool. When I was com­ing through, we were al­ways scrap­ping at the bot­tom of the Foot­ball League.

Chris ar­rived in 1999, saved us from rel­e­ga­tion, then built a team from prac­ti­cally noth­ing. We got into the play-offs two years run­ning, then went on and won pro­mo­tion. He took me with him to Sh­effield Wed­nes­day as well, so he’s clearly a good judge of a player!

Jok­ing aside, though, that was his great strength. He re­cruited very well. At Hartle­pool, the side he left won pro­mo­tion un­der Mike Newell, then got to the League One play-offs the fol­low­ing sea­son.

And, even though re­sults didn’t go well for him at Sh­eff Wed­nes­day, the play­ers that won pro­mo­tion to the Cham­pi­onship un­der Paul Stur­rock in 2004 were nearly all signed by Chris.

BEST TEAM-MATE

It’s dif­fi­cult to choose one. I played with Chris Brunt and Glenn Whe­lan at Wed­nes­day. They were young lads, only just com­ing through, but you could tell they had a spe­cial tal­ent. They’ve both gone on to en­joy great ca­reers at the high­est level.

From a dif­fer­ent era, it would be Gor­don Wat­son at Hartle­pool. He was in his 30s and al­most fin­ished by then, with a lot of se­ri­ous in­juries be­hind him.

But he’d played in the Pre­mier League for Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and Southamp­ton and, in terms of fin­ish­ing, I’d never seen any­one like him. Any dis­tance, any an­gle, some of the things he did in train­ing were out of this world. In big games, at big mo­ments, he al­ways stepped up.

The last one is a lad from Nor­way called Jan Ove Ped­er­sen. He came on loan to Hartle­pool for a few games in 1997 and was ter­rif­i­cally tal­ented. I’ve no idea what he was do­ing there. His touch and pass­ing were top-flight stan­dard and he’d won caps for Nor­way. What a player.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

With Hartle­pool to Di­vi­sion Two in 2002-03. It had been com­ing for a few years. We’d lost to Dar­ling­ton in the 1999-2000 play-off semi-fi­nals, then Blackpool the sea­son af­ter. The year af­ter thatm we scraped in on goal dif­fer­ence, only to get beaten by Chel­tenham on penal­ties.

We fi­nally did it by fin­ish­ing run­ners-up. We were top all sea­son but faded a lit­tle bit af­ter Chris left to join Wed­nes­day. That said, Newelly did a great job to get us over the line. He re­alised he was on to a win­ner and didn’t change much at all.

My last game for the club was ac­tu­ally a last-day show­down with Rush­den & Di­a­monds, where the win­ner of the game won the ti­tle. We ended up draw­ing, which meant they won it, but it didn’t re­ally spoil any­thing. It was a great day and the per­fect way to say good­bye.

Oddly enough, we drew them in the LDV Tro­phy, so my sec­ond game for Wed­nes­day was against Hartle­pool. I scored too.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Guy Branston is up there. He was al­ways up to some­thing, al­ways re­ally loud and out­go­ing. He was one of those lads who’d need to ring every­one af­ter a night out to make sure they were still friends with him! Dar­rell Clarke, the Bris­tol Rovers man­ager, is an­other one. Trig­ger, his name was. No mat­ter what time you walked into the chang­ing room, no mat­ter whether you’d won or lost, he was con­stantly car­ry­ing on. Laugh­ing, jok­ing and pranks. He never stopped.

You see how well Rovers are do­ing and I’m sure a big part of their suc­cess is down to Dar­rell’s per­son­al­ity. That video of him singing on the ta­ble af­ter pro­mo­tion – that’s him. Full on, in­fec­tious and larger than life.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

When Craig Short was man­ager at Notts County in 2010, we used to have piz­zas on the bus af­ter away games.

Lee Hughes had or­dered a sauce off the in­ter­net. Ba­si­cally, some­thing so hot that a tiny dot on your tongue would leave you in agony for a good cou­ple of hours.

So, when a pizza box landed on my ta­ble with the bar­be­cue sauce al­ready opened, I guessed what had hap­pened and passed it on. Clearly, the other lads re­alised, too, and this box just got passed on and on.

Next thing we knew the as­sis­tant man­ager was stand­ing up shout­ing ‘Right, who’s put this

sauce in the gaffer’s box?’ We looked down and Craig had his head in his hands, sweat drip­ping off him. He didn’t move for about three hours.

Did he take it well? Not re­ally. He came in next day with a row­ing ma­chine to pun­ish the cul­prit, but no­body owned up.

BIGGEST ACHIEVE­MENT

I was for­tu­nate to be in­volved in three pro­mo­tions, but scor­ing the win­ner for Don­caster Rovers in the 2007 JPT fi­nal prob­a­bly tops the lot. It was in ex­tra-time and make it 3-2. Be­ing cap­tain as well made it all the more spe­cial.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

Prob­a­bly the fol­low­ing sea­son. I had a her­ni­ated disc in my neck. I came back for a week, did some ex­tra jump­ing work and ended up frac­tur­ing part of my knee.

I even­tu­ally missed three quar­ters of the sea­son through in­jury, came back half-fit and ended up out on loan. I wasn’t in a good place at all.

I then joined Brad­ford but never felt com­fort­able. I was 2829 at the time and should have been en­joy­ing the best years of my ca­reer.

But wor­ry­ing about the in­juries took all the joy out of foot­ball and I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘If some­body of­fered me a coach­ing job, I’d take it to­day’.

It wasn’t un­til I joined Notts County in 2009 that the con­fi­dence came back and I man­aged to eke out an­other four years.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Bournemouth was al­ways a bo­gey ground – not to men­tion it’s also a long way from Hartle­pool! Look­ing back at games there, I al­ways think of them com­ing at you early doors and putting loads of pres­sure on. I maybe scraped a cou­ple of draws there –if that.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

I was at Donny when we played Bolton in the FA Cup. Sam Al­lardyce was man­ager. They were a team of ab­so­lute units and you knew they weren’t a nor­mal Pre­mier League team who would come to out­play you. They would come and try to steam­roll us off the park – which is ex­actly what hap­pened.

Kevin Davies was the cen­tre for­ward, but I al­ways fan­cied my­self in the air, in a bat­tle. But he just had too much.

His touch, his pace, his strength. He was the full pack­age and I didn’t get any­thing off him. We lost 4-0 and I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘I’m glad I don’t mark him ev­ery week’.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

As a home ground, it was Hills­bor­ough. I loved ev­ery minute of ev­ery game I played there. It was an in­cred­i­ble at­mos­phere and it still is to this day. Their fans are fan­tas­tic.

As an away ground, QPR. I just love the way the crowd are right there on the touch­line, on top of you for the full 90 min­utes.

I liked noth­ing more as a player than hav­ing op­po­si­tion fans on your back, giv­ing you pel­ters and whinge­ing at the ref. It meant you were do­ing some­thing right. Look­ing back over my ca­reer, nowhere did that hos­tile at­mos­phere bet­ter than Lof­tus Road. I loved up­set­ting them!

AM­BI­TION

I’m Un­der-23 coach at Mid­dles­brough now, but the aim is to be a first-team man­ager some­where down the line. Who knows? Maybe the top flight. You have to dream big.

Re­al­is­ti­cally, that’s a long way off. Op­por­tu­ni­ties are scarce and I’ll need to drop down a few lev­els to make my name. But I’ll bide my time and, hope­fully, an op­por­tu­nity will arise.

Tough­est op­po­nent: Sam Al­lardyce Fun­ni­est in­ci­dent: Craig Short Fun­ni­est player: Guy Branston Favourite place: Hills­bor­ough

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

WE’VE DON IT: Graeme Lee scored the win­ner for Don­caster in the 2007 JPT Fi­nal vic­tory over Bris­tol Rovers

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