Part 2 on how to become a Professional Footballer - Kettering to Newcastle United

Click Here to read part 1 - From Ashill to Arsenal, How to become a Professional Footballer

I spent just a few weeks living in Norwich before making the next leap up in my Football Career. The reason I moved to Norwich was so that I could get an extra few hours sleep in the mornings as I was traveling so much from Norwich to Kettering and back 3 times a week. Saturdays were a very early start for me as we frequented teams like Barrow and Gateshead, which to me seemed like the other side of the world.

I remember traveling to Gateshead by train which was a novel experience at the time. Sitting with all the card playing old pros who would gamble their footy wages for the day on a turn of a card. I used to spend most of my time sleeping on the coach rides, probably due to the amount of driving I was doing. Some players would play cards, a few would read and the rest of us find anyway to fill the time before arrival at the ground. Nowadays players team coaches are like a technology show with the latest gadgets on show from Cell phones, laptops, portable DVD players and other technological wonders. In the latter years of my career I used to spend a lot of time messing around with laptops and phones. Of course we used to have our fair share of “lads mags” including such titles as Loaded, FHM, GQ, with the occasional porn periodical appearing on the bus.

Managers would always get mad at the players and their Mobile Phones. I have been in many team meetings where players phones would go off, driving the boss crazy. Most of the managers I played for introduced fines for being late or mobile phones not being switched off. It would get really bad when you were sat in the dressing room after a defeat and the boss is fuming because of a lackluster performance. Then you would hear the muffled sound of a mobile phone from one of the kit bags. Anxious faces would appear on the players, hoping it wasn’t their phone so that they would not be on the receiving end of the managers red faced wrath.

I enjoyed a very fleeting period with Kettering Town, playing for less than half a season. We had a terrific start and were top of the league for the whole of my time with Kettering. We traveled to Gateshead and won, Barrow and won and the highlight was a 1-0 win at Barnet to fend off the tough North London team. Yours Truly notched the winner, beating the off-side trap and rounding the keeper from a long way out. Then calmly sliding the ball into the net. These were great moments in a strikers career and the joy of scoring in front of several thousand people in a pressure situation is almost tangible.

I was starting to see my name on Grandstand and other T/V shows as the Conference results were read out after the matches. It was all a bit strange to see my team on the T/V and to see my name in the National Newspapers on a Sunday. Rumors were starting to fly around about our players being picked up by professional teams. I didn’t even consider that I might be one of the players being watched even though I was having a fantastic season as was the team. The dressing room was an exciting time during this period with all the players guessing who was being watched followed by a routine pre-match announcement by the older pros that Everton or Newcastle scouts were sitting in the stands watching todays game. This passed over my head, as I still didn’t get it that I was one of the players in the frame for a transfer.

I nearly screwed up my chance of making the professional level. I was going to be watched by Newcastle United at our away game against Slough. I had stayed in Chadwell Heath, at my Grans house the night before and had also been having interviews in London for a better job. I was still unconvinced by the thought of being a footballer. Not being worldy wise to the traffic volume in the capital, I set off from East London to Slough on the West side. 4pm would be enough time to drive through the capital and reach the game for its 8pm kick off. Kettering were very anxious for me to be there as they knew Jim Smith was going to be at the game to watch me, and the transfer was almost done. It was 7pm and I was still nowhere near the stadium. I eventually pulled up 10 minutes before kick off. One of the Kettering staff took my car and rushed me into the dressing room, where I grabbed my kit and hastily rushed onto the field. A quick warm up and we were set to go in front of several thousand people and a Newcastle Manager. I had a great game and didn’t seem to suffer from the effects of the drive.

The following week Peter Morris called me to say that Newcastle United had bid £150,000 for me and Kettering had accepted it!!! I was still getting comfortable in the Vauxhall Conference and now another huge jump. Newcastle were in Division 1 and were outside of the play-offs. But I didn’t really follow football very closely outside of the teams I played with. I had no idea of the history of a club like Newcastle United and what a big change this was going to be.

Newcastle asked me to come to the North East to meet with them. So I set off in my Austin Maestro (which was quickly traded for a Golf convertible once I signed) for the monster journey to Newcastle. Talk about an adventure!! This was the other end of the country where a Norfolk boy was a long way from his roots and to me it felt like moving countries. The locals (Geordies) even spoke a different language.

I was made very welcome and was shown the Ground, which even then was very impressive. I last played in St James Park in 2000 and it was an amazing place. 55,000 people although the atmosphere then was a bit flat as Charlton beat them 1-0.

The meeting was with the Manager Jim Smith and the Chairman. They offered me £400/week, which I was already earning with my job at Norwich Union and my wages from Kettering. Although it was a bit intimidating I never really felt overawed by the situation and didn’t really grasp the seriousness or opportunity that was in front of me. I told the Chairman that I wanted £600/week, which should go up every year. I sat there and waited for his reply. He left the room, presumably to talk to Jim Smith about it. Then after a short period of waiting, returned to tell me that they agreed. Deal done they thought.

Not for me though. I had to go home and think about it for the weekend. I told Jim Smith that I was going home and would let him know over the weekend.

His face was a picture. “Going home,” he said. “I would have walked to Newcastle if they wanted to sign me”.

“Yes, but I need to think about it and talk to some family and friends before deciding” I told him.

I don’t think he was very impressed but that was how I left it and returned to Norfolk. Kettering called me and asked why I hadn’t signed, and I told them that I was going to think about it over the weekend. So they selected me for the team to play in their next match.

Saturday I got on the team coach and the older pros were all asking me about my trip to Newcastle, so I told them what had happened. They were full of advice and started to fill my head with ideas. One asked me how much Kettering had paid for me from Kings Lynn. “Nothing” I said.

“Exactly. And now they want to sell you for £150,000. You should get some of this”.

“Really”, I said.


“And another thing. Why are you playing this weekend? If you get injured the whole deal is off”

“oh”, I replied.

Kettering didn’t play me that weekend. I got home and on Sunday received a call from the manager asking me what I was going to do.

“I don’t know,” I told him. And then proceeded to ask for some money from the transfer. He told me no, they wouldn’t give me anything. That’s it then. I’m not signing I thought.

10 minutes later and Jim Smith called me. “Have you decided yet”?

I must have sounded like a real idiot. I still did not know what to do. I was going to be moving a long way from home leaving family and friends. I wasn’t convinced that I should agree to the move. I still hadn’t got into my head that I could be a professional footballer.

“eeeeeerrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmm” was my reply I think.

Jim Smith continued chatting and eventually I just gave in and agreed. I don’t know why I wasn’t more enthusiastic about the whole deal but that’s what happened.

He gave me my instructions and I was set for the North East.

Part 3 from “Newcastle and beyond” coming soon

Part 1 - How to Become a Professional Footballer - From Ashill to Arsenal

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