Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, formerly of Reading, Chelsea and Aston Villa, speaks to FourFourTwo back in May 2003, a few months after the 20-year-old's move from Arsenal.
Wandsworth, London, 14/12/1982
As a kid I supported Crystal Palace because I lived near Croydon and I loved Ian Wright. When he transferred to Arsenal, it wasn't long before I started there as a schoolboy and I transferred my allegiance. I'm an Arsenal fan, but I've still got a soft spot for Palace.
Clubs played for
From the age of nine I played for a Sunday league team called Colliers Wood. The first two years we won the treble, and the third we did the double but lost in the last cup final. I started training with Arsenal at nine, and was lucky enough to play in some of the best Arsenal youth teams ever, winning two Youth Cups in a row [2000 and 2001], the Under-17s league and the Under-19s league.
I made my reserve debut when I was 16 as a YTS boy and went out on loan to Brentford for the whole of 2001-02 season. I went out on loan again to Brighton last October, playing 12 games and scoring five goals – it couldn't have gone any better and a lot of clubs got interested in me.
On leaving Arsenal
It was a wrench but I left on good terms. Arsene Wenger said I had a future at Arsenal and that he'd give me a new contract in the summer [of 2003], but he couldn't say how soon I'd get first-team football. I'd had a taste of success at Brighton, playing in front of good crowds and getting newspaper headlines, and I wanted that to continue. Alan Pardew has brought me to play regularly and help Reading's promotion bid and that was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I've made three appearances for the Under-20s. I broke into the side when I was on loan at Brentford last season. I was getting some media exposure and it pushed a few buttons in the England set-up.
Last season was my worst – I got nine yellows. Ninety per cent of my cards are for mistimed tackles. I've not been red-carded, though, touch wood.
Working hard for the team to win the ball back off the opposition and give it to more gifted players. Keeping it simple.
I'm not the fastest, but I can improve my speed over short distances so I can win those midfield battles.
The whole experience at Brighton was fantastic. Before that, making my debut for England Under-20s was exciting, as was winning the Youth Cups with Arsenal. Playing in front of the Sky Sports cameras for the first time was a bit daunting but I scored in both legs of the 2000 Youth Cup Final and I scored in the away leg in 2001. Put me under pressure and I perform!
The Brentford-Stoke play-off final defeat this year was a real choker. Players were crying in the dressing room and even though I was only on loan there was a lump in my throat because we'd had such a great season together.
Who do you play like?
Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira. I'd love to emulate them.
Growing up, my hero was Ian Wright. I also admired Bryan Robson, as I do Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira nowadays. Flair players get the headlines, but those players are the core – the type of player you need in every team.
Best player you've played with
Dennis Bergkamp for his touch and vision. He knows where you are without looking.
There's Joe Cole and Jody Morris, but one that sticks in my mind is Graham Kavanagh of Cardiff, who I played during my time at Brentford. He was everywhere – ran the game. Luckily I had a second chance to play against him that year and I did much better.
My family. My parents, brother and sister come and watch most of my games and they back me 100 per cent. Arsenal coaches like Neil Banfield, Don Howe and Eddie Niedzwiecki have helped me a lot, too.
Best advice received
From my Dad: "Have a dream, push yourself to the limit and always believe in your ability." He owns a scaffolding company and I once worked for a week with him. Seeing how hard he works – getting up at six in the morning, lugging gear around – football seems a more attractive option!
R&B, hip-hop...I like a bit of Usher and P-Diddy.
Just a black Volkswagen Polo. It gets me from A to B.
Eminem or The Streets?
Eminem – his lyrics are brilliant. He just tells it how it is.
What do you spend your money on?
Clothes, my girlfriend...I save a fair amount too – with injuries in football every pound you earn could be the last one.
In five years' I'll be...
Playing in the Premier League, hopefully. And in a perfect world, Arsenal might buy me back and I'll be wearing that famous shirt again!
And another thing...
My brother Lee plays for AFC Wimbledon. He's the team's top appearance-maker this season, scored a lot of goals and they are heading for promotion. It's a really good set-up there and he's loving playing in front of good crowds – they've had 2,500 fans following them to away games!
Interview: Justyn Barnes. From the May 2003 issue of FourFourTwo.