Twenty years ago, Gus Cassius Caesar enjoyed an Arsenal defender's dream debut, helping the Gunners to a 1-0 smash-and-grab win at Old Trafford. A few nervous displays later and he found himself being targeted by the North Bank boo-boys. Nick Hornby even mentions it in Fever Pitch...
“I've not met Nick Hornby, and to this day I've never actually read Fever Pitch, believe it or not. I’ve read some of his other books though, and he's a great writer. Once, when I was playing for Airdrie, a local radio station had Hornby on as a guest and they tried to get me to phone up the chat show to wind him up. But I didn't really want to get involved. He helped to immortalise me in Fever Pitch, so I can only thank him really. A lot of people only know my name because of that book.
I'll never forget my Arsenal debut at Man United in 1985. It was an incredible experience. I did pretty well, but it created a great deal of expectation. I don't think a lot of the fans realised how much my career was hampered by injuries – I once had a hernia problem that lasted a whole year, and I broke my ankle twice. I never made a big deal of it, because I didn't want to make excuses. Injuries come with the territory.
My other problem was that, as David O'Leary's understudy, I was always on the bench, caught between the reserves and the first team, so I was very rarely playing. As any professional will tell you, a lack of match time takes a big toll on your confidence. There was one season where I played a total of 45 minutes. The other players used to joke that based on my playing time, I was the highest paid player on Arsenal's books.
When I left Arsenal I had short spells at Cambridge United and Bristol City before crossing the border to Airdrie. The football wasn't quite up to the English top flight of course, but we reached the Scottish Cup Final, and that got me a brief taste of European football.
I finished my league career at Colchester United, then had a stint playing for my local non-league team Dagenham and Redbridge, but something in me snapped as regards football. I think it was the murder of that Colombian defender, Andreas Escobar, after the 1994 World Cup that finally did it. The idea that someone could be killed for just playing football seemed so grotesque. I stopped playing competitively as a result of that and, in 1996, I moved over to Hong Kong.
Nick Hornby helped to immortalise me in Fever Pitch, so I can only thank him really! A lot of people only know my name because of that book.
I had an offer to play there, and I was able to combine my football working as an insurance/finance broker. I live on a private island where there are virtually no cars. So it is very quiet and very clean. The family were all out here until recently. My kids are now back at school in England, so my wife has moved back and I spend a lot of time on intercontinental flights. It's pretty hectic but I don't mind that. I'm used to working hard. I've always had insomnia. Like Margaret Thatcher, I’ve always been able to get by on four hours sleep.
I get a big kick out of working in the financial services industry - I was always motivated by the fact that there was so much bad advice around when I was a professional footballer. I just felt I could do a better job myself. I look after clients across the Asian region, mainly high net worth individuals.
I never thought I'd work in football again once I’d retired, but I keep getting drawn back in – something inside me still has a deep love for the game. I've worked with most of Hong Kong's top clubs and I spent three years with a team called Buler Rangers, working as their Director of Football. As a coach here I've tried to use the experience I gained in Britain and without wanting to seem bigheaded I think I've had a fairly big influence on football here with my approach to coaching.
In the early days, there was a big influx of British players to Hong Kong clubs, but that has dried up since it was passed over to the Chinese. There’s a huge love of football over here, but the lack of investment means it is hard to attract players. The money’s there though. The Hong Kong FA are happy to spend a fortune hosting Real Madrid and Liverpool in promotional tournaments. The problem’s been a lack of grassroots funding.
Recently I became involved with the Hong Kong Arsenal Supporters Club over here and they invited me to be their Honorary President. I agreed but made it very clear it should reach out to the Chinese community, not just keep the ex-pats happy.
I also recently got involved in running the new Official Arsenal Soccer School in Hong Kong, which was launched earlier this year. The club also have connections in Malaysia and Singapore, so there’s a lot of interest across the region, but in China in particular the game’s going to be absolutely huge. I know there are a lot of people who would love to bring Arsenal to Hong Kong and other parts of Asia and nothing would please me more by being part of making that happen.”
Interview: Dan Brennan. From the June 2005 issue of FourFourTwo.