Ledley King: One-on-One

As far as bad ideas go, arranging to meet a former Premier League superstar for a chat inside one of London’s busiest tourist attractions on a scorching summer’s afternoon seemed like it would be right up there...

Yet, surrounded by a group of Dutch pensioners (orange baseball caps), Scottish school children (purple baseball caps) and a disconcerting number of Australian cricket fans (yellow baseball caps), Ledley King slipped on to the London Eye almost unnoticed.

“I have been on it before”, King tells FFT, arching his neck back to examine the imposing structure above him, “but I forgot exactly how high it was.”

King scaled the summits on the football pitch too, of course, just not as often as he would’ve liked. His name has sadly become synonymous with the knee injuries that blighted a career which would otherwise quite possibly have seen him follow in the footsteps of former team-mates Sol Campbell, Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric in making a move to a European super-power.

Still, captaining a cup-winning team at Wembley, playing in the Champions League, travelling to two major tournaments with England and scoring the fastest ever Premier League goal isn’t bad for 16 years work, right?

You played in the same fabled Senrab side as John Terry, Paul Konchesky, Jlloyd Samuel and Bobby Zamora, but who was the best of the group?
Chris O’Neil, London
John Terry was probably the stand out player at that stage. Even then he had that passion and drive that very few players have. Some of the others were perhaps a bit more talented, but he certainly had the winning mentality. We fancied ourselves as the best around; we didn't lose very often, so when we did it really hurt. The one defeat that stands out was actually against Scott Parker's team [Valley Valiants]. Our manager made a couple of odd tactical decisions and we ended up losing 2-0 - I'm still blaming him for that now [laughs].

LEDLEY KING

  • Date of birth - 12/10/80
  • Place of birth - Bow, London
  • Height - 1.88
  • Position - Centre back
  • Spurs apps - 321
  • Spurs goals - 15
  • England apps - 21
  • England goals - 2

You were in the Spurs youth team with Peter Crouch, did he ever break out the robot as a gangly teen?
Jamie Cutman - via email
Crouchie has always been a fun guy to be around and we were very close. He's always looking to make people laugh. I don't think he had mastered the robot back then, but he had other dances and other moves to keep the boys entertained. I was sad to see him leave Tottenham [for QPR in 2000] and I always used to find it difficult to play against him because we had been such good mates. Fortunately we got to play together later in our careers.

I saw you play at left-back in Justin Edinburgh's testimonial at Fratton Park in 2000, was that your original position?
Gary Davis, Croydon
No. I got put there a few times when I was first breaking in to the team, but it was never my position. As a youngster you're just happy to play anywhere, and it's a bit of a compliment to be asked to play at left-back when you're not even left footed.

In my younger days I played in a few different positions, including in midfield quite a lot. I had to bide my time and wait for the opportunity to play in my favoured position, particularly with Sol Campbell around. Centre-back was always where I always wanted to play.

You were given your Spurs debut by George Graham, who knows a thing or two about solid defending. How influential was he on your career? Did you see the Arsenal crest in his patio?
Toby - via email
He came with the reputation of being an Arsenal player and manager, and even though he'd been very successful there that was never going to make it any easier to win over the fans. But he really helped me because he was a defensive-minded coach and as a young player you need somebody to help you learn the basics. He wasn't worried what the fans thought of him. He was a tough man and all he wanted to do was win - he wanted trophies. He had great passion and tried to get that into the players but unfortunately it wasn't to be. I don't know about the patio - he never invited me round his house [laughs].

Campbell and Graham may not be popular with Spurs fans, but they helped shape King's career.

Campbell and Graham may not be popular with Spurs fans, but they helped shape King's career.

Do you think Sol Campbell leaving Spurs helped your development by allowing you more chance to play? What do you make of the abuse he gets from the fans?
Graham P - via Twitter
In hindsight, Sol leaving Spurs helped me because it meant I got to play in my favoured position, but it would've been interesting to see what would've happened if he'd stayed and we had the chance to build a partnership. I always had the belief that I would make my way into the team, so it would have been interesting to see what we could've done had we played together at the back for Spurs.

At the age I was going in there I couldn't really replace Sol. He had been playing at the top level for many years and had great experience and leadership. I didn't really feel the pressure [of replacing him], I always had confidence in my ability so it was just a case of getting out there and proving I could do it.

Obviously, some of the stuff aimed at him by some of the fans was uncalled for, but the stuff that was within the 'banter guidelines' was fine. The fans tried to get on his back and there were times when he struggled with that a little bit, but that’s what the fans are there for.

Edgar Davids is a famously forthright chap - what was it like when he rocked up to the Tottenham training ground? Did he put himself about a bit? Is it true he had a ruck with Robbie Keane?
Matt Welsh, Leicestershire
It was great to have a superstar like him arrive at Spurs. I remember walking into the canteen and seeing him in person for the first time. I'd admired him for years, so it was a bit surreal to suddenly see him at our training ground.

One of the first conversations we had was about what the team needed, what we could do in the coming season, could we win anything? That was the mentality he brought to the club, which was maybe something we didn't have before.

He used to love a battle – the harder you gave back to him, the more he loved it. Even in training, me and him used to have little battles [laughs]. He used to go one-on-one at me, and we used to enjoy it. They were good battles because he was a very very skilful player. Although he was good in the tackle, he had tricks. He really brought that mentality that you needed hard work to get to the top.

I honestly wasn't surprised to see him take over as manager of Barnet. Obviously he continued to play in the lower leagues, but with Edgar nothing surprises me! Although he’s a superstar, he’s really down to Earth. A lot of people have told me that they’ve seen him in areas of London you wouldn’t expect to see a superstar like Edgar. He’s very humble, he likes to give back, so no I wasn’t really surprised.

As for the Robbie Keane thing, at every training ground up and down the country you have those situations, because of the competitiveness. It was nothing personal, they were both passionate and always got on well, but these things happen.

How nerve-wracking was it to face the great Zinedine Zidane at Euro 2004? You must’ve been chuffed to have kept him in your back pocket…
Carl Bridges - via Twitter
For me it was a huge deal to play in that game. It was my first competitive game for England and I was up against Zidane, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet – a great France team. We all performed really well that day despite eventually losing, although I was maybe highlighted because I had hardly played for England before. I'm not sure I had Zidane in my pocket, he was playing a bit deeper - Henry and Trezeguet were more in my territory.

Thierry Henry named King as the toughest defender he ever faced.

Thierry Henry named King as the toughest defender he ever faced.

Can you clear something up – did anyone really have lasagna that night before the West Ham game in 2006? What happened exactly? I haven’t had lasagna ever since!
Via email
I was injured for the game, and remember driving down to Upton Park with Paul Stalteri and Jermaine Jenas. We turned on the radio and heard the reports a lot of the lads were sick. When we got to the stadium we realised exactly how sick they were. The boys were in a bad way and not really up for a football match.

After the game I was more proud than disappointed. I saw how sick a lot of the lads were and yet they were still willing to go out there and give everything to get the result.
It wasn't anything they ate, it was a bug, but lasagna was still off the menu for a while afterwards.

Many Spurs fans remember your heroic last-ditch tackle on Arjen Robben in a win over Chelsea in 2006; was that your best tackle? Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you'd catch him?
Arty Black, Dromore, Northern Ireland
It was almost one for the cameras, like they sometimes say about keepers. The tackle actually wasn’t that significant, because they scored from the corner straight after. I’d run all that way [from near the centre circle to the six yard box] and won the ball, then they scored from the corner [laughs]!

As a defender I always believed that you should get back and give yourself a chance, and hope that the forward takes a split second too long. While the ball was in the air, I knew that I could make up some ground; Robben hesitated a little bit, so I was able to prod it away. 

To be honest, something will have gone wrong in the defence if the forward is clean through on goal like that, so you don’t want to be having to make those tackles. My advice to any young defender would be to not give up in those situations and always believe that you might be able to affect it.

What did John Terry say to you that got him sent off in the match at White Hart Lane in 2006?
Jack McInroy - via Twitter
I honestly don’t know what happened. Me and JT were jostling in the box; I was defending a corner, he was trying to score. He ended up dragging me to the ground and he got up. I honestly can’t remember what he said. I remember coming off the pitch and people saying it was something racist, but I didn’t hear anything at the time so could never point the finger.

I’m still not actually sure what he was sent off for. I think he barged into Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the way back to his own end, and a couple of the other black French-speaking players – Pascal Chimbonda and Didier Zokora – went to defend their friend. Maybe some people jumped to conclusions because of that, but those players didn’t hear anything either.

It was only after the game that we were reading messages [suggesting it may have been racist], and we were surprised by that.

It didn’t affect my relationship with John. We played when we were young, but we were never best buddies – we never spoke to each other off the pitch when we were younger, we just played in the same team. Obviously we’ve got a lot of respect for each other, and we’ve played for England together, but just because you play with somebody, that doesn’t mean you speak off the pitch.

This row led to John Terry's dismissal in controversial circumstances.

This row led to John Terry's dismissal in controversial circumstances.

Robbie Keane is supposed to be a legendary practical joker, but no-one’s ever revealed any of his japes. I think it’s time to share!
Shane Horwell, via Facebook
I can’t think of any you could put in your magazine! [Laughs] There was one just before we signed Andy Reid. Robbie obviously knew Andy from Ireland, so he got his number and started texting him pretending to be Martin Jol. Later, after Reidy had signed, Robbie got hold of his phone and sent some texts to Martin [laughing] I’m not sure I can repeat what was said. [FFT presses for details] It was something like “I like your peachy bum”, there was probably a bit more to it, though [laughs]. Martin took it well. He was good like that; he’d appreciate a bit of banter.

Martin Jol seemed to completely change the atmosphere at White Hart Lane and was very popular with the fans. How popular was he with the players?
Dave French, Middlesex
Very, he was a great character. He said some funny little things, he used to have a few odd phrases; when a player had the ball and didn’t know what to do with it, he’d say “the birds are flapping in your head”. He used to talk about striking the ball ‘using two toes’. They were just little things but we used to find them funny.

Obviously, being Dutch, he’s got a style and a way of playing, and that was what he was trying to get across to us - stuff like playing it out from the back, starting with the goalkeeper. He started that and Tottenham are still doing that now.

We definitely wanted to play for him, and we were behind him as a manager. We felt his passion and his will to win. We wanted to do well, so it was a shame it didn’t work out for him.

Were the players aware something was afoot when reports broke Martin Jol was about to be sacked during the game against Getafe in 2007?
Richard Raynes, Essex
I was sat behind him and the bench and I got a text saying something about the manager leaving, and I was as shocked as anyone. It was a bizarre situation. I went into the changing room at half time and although there was a lot of whispering, nobody was really sure what was going on. I think everybody knew deep down, but we just had to wait to hear like everybody else.

It was a strange one. It’s always sad to see a manager go, but especially Martin because he was such a good man.

Dimitar Berbatov has a reputation for being a cool customer, was that always the case? What was the coolest thing you saw him do?
Alan Chant - via Twitter
Everything he did was cool! Some of the goals he scored had a touch of genius, but he was quite a lazy player in that he didn’t waste his energy, he’d use it at the right moments.

In training he hardly moved. He was just a cool dude. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything other than a shirt, jeans, Gucci loafers and a blazer [laughs]. That was him – he’d come well-dressed every day, even to the training ground.

He was always letting you know he was in the right. If he gave the ball away, it was because someone else wasn’t on his wavelength! That was him – he was a funny guy, but he could get quite angry in training [laughs]. We all still loved him, though.

The 2008 League Cup was King's only major honour during his senior career.

The 2008 League Cup was King's only major honour during his senior career.

Do you remember anything of the celebrations that followed the 2008 League Cup victory?
Liam Watford, Southampton
Um…I remember leaving the changing room! Yeah, I remember celebrating; it was a particularly great moment for me. My knee was just starting to play up, and there was even talk of me retiring in the papers the day before the game. It was the first time I’d seen my name and ‘retirement’ in the same sentence, which really shook me up. So it was especially good to finally get that monkey off my back and win something. Being captain, the emotion came out and yeah, I had a good night that night. When the time’s right, as long as you’re not playing a few days later, you can celebrate that you’ve done something great, and then you can move on.

We got the bus across to [popular Essex haunt] Faces and there were already cameras there waiting for us. We had a good night, but it was just the team spirit - nothing untoward, we were just enjoying each other’s company at the end of a good day.

There was a spell when you were pictured coming out of nightclubs 'worse for wear' on more than one occasion, and you were even arrested for allegedly scrapping with a bouncer in 2009 - how do you look back on that period
Clive Rayer - via Twitter
Yeah, that particular period of time was obviously tough for me. But you always try to learn from your mistakes. I went out a few times on Christmas with the lads and, what can I say, I’m a lightweight!

Did you find it odd when Juande Ramos was picking you for European matches but resting you in the league?
John Lovell, Enfield
Yeah, I did. The league is your bread and butter - it's what you're competing in week in, week out. To only be playing in the UEFA Cup was difficult - it was hard to find a rhythm. Juande Ramos was a good manager, but he was mainly concerned about the cups.

I didn't ever say anything to him - when you can't play every game you can’t really pick and choose - so I just tried to do what was best for the team and what was asked. I would've preferred to have been playing in the league, but at the same time I wanted to win things, and the cups were our chance to do that.

Spurs infamously only picked up two points in their first eight matches of 2008/09 - what went wrong so soon after that League Cup victory?
Tom Stewart, Reading
I'm not sure he [Juande Ramos] realised how tough the league was. Maybe in Spain there were some teams you could almost just turn up and beat, but in the Premier League you've got to be on your game every week. We didn't prepare in the same way for the lesser teams as we did the big teams, and that's why we struggled in those games.

He didn't speak great English so the translation was an issue. He had Gus Poyet there to help, but I don’t think the two of them were completely on the same page in terms of the way they believed the team should play. Obviously things were bad in those last few months, but it wasn’t through lack of effort. If anything, the harder we tried, the worse things seemed to get.

What was it that Harry Redknapp did that helped turn things round so quickly after he joined the club? How was your relationship with him compared to your previous managers?
Simon Vincent, Dorset
It's difficult to say exactly what changed, but we went from not being able to win a game for months, to then suddenly winning comfortably on the same day Harry took the job.

There was certainly an easing of the pressure on the shoulders of the players. Under Ramos everything was very strict - the training, the diet - but Harry just took things back to basics and told us to enjoy ourselves.

My relationship with him was very good. It was always difficult when a new man came in and I had to explain my situation with not always being able to train, but Harry was relaxed and just allowed me to do whatever I had to do to be ready for the match on the Saturday.

Harry Redknapp's arrival at White Hart Lane signalled an upturn in Spurs' fortunes.

Harry Redknapp's arrival at White Hart Lane signalled an upturn in Spurs' fortunes.

How big a distraction were the rumours about Harry Redknapp's future during the second half of 2011/12? Spurs form seemed to dip as the speculation linking him with England grew, then picked up again when Roy Hodgson got the job
Steven Daniels, Dartford
I suppose it may have been a distraction, but when you're a footballer you still just go out to try and win every game. I wouldn't say there was anything we noticed that was different [about Redknapp], obviously the players were aware of what was being said in the papers, but we never really spoke much to him about it. Our focus was trying to get into the Champions League, we just had a bad run at a bad time.

Thierry Henry described you as the best defender he faced; was he the best forward you came up against?
Arron Rabbitte, via Facebook
Yeah, he was – we had a few good battles. You can play well against players of his level, but they only need one moment to punish you. He was difficult to play against because he'd drop a bit deeper or drift out to the left - as a centre-back, once a player moves out of your zone you're almost helpless when it comes to dealing with him.

I'm not sure I'd say I made it difficult for him [laughs], but I was quick across the ground and pretty strong. I trusted that if I stood up, didn’t dive in, and made him try and beat me that I could either block the shot or nick the ball.

You spent your whole career at White Hart Lane, but did you ever have any serious offers to leave Tottenham at any point? If so, how heavily did you consider them?
Raj Bains - via Facebook
Early in my career there were a few opportunities - there was interest from other clubs in England, but I was happy at Tottenham. I was never even close to leaving.

Is it true that you first picked up the injury that would eventually end your career in your very first game for Tottenham way back in 1999?
Ben Lambert, Milton Keynes
It was my first start, against Derby at Pride Park. About 20 seconds in, Rory Delap took me out. I could feel pain, but got through the game. A couple of days later I was told I needed an operation on the knee. I didn't know it at the time, but that was the start of all the problems.

I'm not bitter about it. It was a foul, but you'll get challenges like that in a football match - it could've happened at any time to any player.

When you were suffering from your long term injuries was there ever a time when depression crept up on you and if there was how did you get through it?
Anthony Lombardi - London
I don’t think players ever know when they’re depressed, but looking back I probably did suffer from some form of depression. You want to play, you want to train and be there with your team-mates. There were difficult times, but you keep going because you love playing football. The games are what it’s about. That was the end goal, the end of the week and the game.

Ledley King feels the pain of the toe injury that saw him miss the 2006 World Cup.

Ledley King feels the pain of the toe injury that saw him miss the 2006 World Cup.

Did it ever frustrate you that Spurs fans only sang your name while referencing their hatred for Campbell or your injuries?
Ian Moore - via email
No, not really. First and foremost you're just buzzing to have so many people singing your name. I was lucky to get a song as early in my career as I did, so I was always just appreciative of that. The next song was about my knee and John Terry, but I just took it as a compliment. I don't really like to talk about the knee too much, and that song always highlights it, but I’ll always appreciate the fans' love.

Gareth Bale had to wait two years and 25 matches before winning a league game with Spurs - were the other players aware of the 'curse'? Was there much mickey-taking? Could you always tell he'd be one of the best?
Dave Hughes, Cardiff
Of course we were aware of it, but it wasn't like it was 25 games in a row. He was unlucky; he'd been playing well but we hadn't been winning. He found it a little difficult, because he's a superstitious guy, but it was always going to come good.

Gareth's still the same boy he was when he signed. It's no surprise to see what he’s achieving because he's always had the attributes. The only thing that did surprise me was how easily he's taken to playing centrally. If you’d asked me five years ago whether he could play through the middle, I probably wouldn't have seen it. The way he has progressed with Spurs has been breath-taking - hopefully it can continue for a long time.

Pal’s poser

You scored the quickest ever Premier League goal at Bradford in 2000 - what were you doing that far up the pitch that early in the game? Do you count out the first ten seconds when you watch a match to check nobody beats your record?
Rohan Ricketts, former Tottenham team-mate
Well, I was playing in midfield, so that's why I was further forward. Teams kicking off usually go backwards, but we went direct with the long ball into their half. I was never much of a shooter, so I'm not sure what possessed me to hit it, but I did, and thanks to a massive deflection, I got that record. I don’t count the seconds, but it's gonna be tough to beat - at the time I didn't appreciate exactly how difficult it is to score that quickly.

This interview originally featured in the September 2013 issue of FourFourTwo.

'King: My Autobiography' by Ledley King is published by Quercus Books.


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