A CHildhood dream up in smoke
Playing with two heroes was special, but the day I was supposed to sign for Tottenham should have been the greatest.
Sliding doors. In the end, it was strange, a rollercoaster and ended with me making the move that defined my career: Leeds United.
Of course, I always wanted to play for Spurs. At school, I was Waddle, or Paul Gascoigne.
Out of the blue, they called.
The moment Sunderland boss Peter Reid told me the club had accepted a five-million pound transfer from Spurs, I raced home. I remember seeing mum and dad: ‘Can you believe it’.
I told my agent: ‘I don’t care what the contract is, I just want to play for this team’.
It was strange dealing with George Graham as Spurs boss, for starters. To me, he was Arsenal through and through. I was thinking – you don’t have to sell me the club, I can probably sell it to you! But everything was going well; David Pleat, who I knew from the England under-21s, was the chief scout.
We were ready to sign.
Then the chairman, Alan Sugar, pulled up in his Rolls Royce. Well. That shattered my whole world.
“I haven’t got much time for you, young man,” I remember him saying.
“Never heard of you.
“I’m putting a lot of money behind these guys. See you later. Good luck. All the best.”
I actually heard Graham mutter “oh my god, what a dickhead” under his breath.
He wanted to smooth things over.
I turned to my manager and said: “Let’s get out of here”.
That was a hard decision but probably one of the best I’ve ever made. We drove off, me having seen my childhood dream just go up in smoke – I wasn’t welcome at the club and I didn’t want to be a part of it.
To rub it in, we turned on the radio and the news just announced I had signed with Spurs.
Then we rung Reid to tell him the deal was off.
“I’ve already spent the money on two players,” he chimed back.
What was going on!
“But you better hurry up, because we’ve just accepted a bid from Leeds United. Can you stop off on the way up?”
I met chairman Peter Ridsdale, manager David O’Leary, knew they had signed some good players, had a good youth policy; something felt right.
And it was. Leeds sold Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Atletico Madrid the next day; I scored 19 goals that season; Spurs had Teddy Sheringham and Steffen Iversen upfront so I wouldn’t have got a game; Graham was sacked six months later and Spurs had a bad time.
I have to admit, for four to five years, I went off the boil with Spurs – especially because every time I played against them, I wanted to prove Sugar wrong and make sure he did know my name.
My fandom probably came back about five years ago; funnily enough, it was when I went to the World Cup as a tour leader with Australians in Brazil. Being on the fans’ side of the fence again, it was amazing to witness the passion. It was addictive. I became a supporter again, able to live and breathe football – not just what happens on the park, but the life and fun that surrounds it, and following your team everywhere.
I might have lost my way for 30 seconds, too. Dancing around the studio like a teenager.
Of course, I always look out for the teams I had good times with, but going back to England to watch Spurs – wow, the buzz was just brilliant. Emotional.
It will get even more emotional over the next week or so. This is a club that for so many of us, for so long, the only thing we thought was: when am I ever going to see this team win something, or do something special?
After years of hurt, here we are.
And it is going to be one hell of a ride against Liverpool, quite possibly all the way to penalties, before Hugo Lloris lifts the coveted trophy in Madrid.
Optus Sport’s live and exclusive coverage of the UEFA Champions League final kicks off from 4am AEST on Sunday, with Bridgey alongside Thomas Sorensen, Craig Moore and Richard Bayliss. Kick-off is at 5am.