I did track athletics, cross-country, swimming and football. I didn’t have a single night off for the entire week! I was decent at all of them. I probably won the most at swimming: I was Surrey Champion four years in a row at breaststroke. I ran cross-country, 1,500 metres and 800m at Surrey County level.
There must have been days when you were competing at multiple events?
I remember one day when I had a semi-final for a [football] county cup in the morning, then an 800m final in the afternoon and a swimming gala in the evening. I broke my nose in the match and couldn’t do the other activities, but that Sunday I came second in the 1,500m county championship, even though I could only breathe out of one nostril!
More after the break
What was your best event?
The 1,500m. I used to enjoy sitting at the back of the pack then using my sprint finish to win races. Looking back, though, I can’t believe I never ran the 100m or 200m, because I was quick.
How did this all fit in with football?
Pretty well. You don’t get tired when you’re so young, and the extra fitness always helped my football. I didn’t have much free time, but I would have filled my free time with sport anyway – I loved it. I don’t feel I missed out on anything.
At what age did you choose football?
From the start. I always chose football if there was a clash, and eventually I got day release from school to train once a week. I reported to my cross-country coach, he looked at my thighs and said, “You’re a footballer now, not a runner” because I suddenly had these muscles.
How have other sports helped you?
The endurance base is the main thing. I was always extremely fit from all the athletics and swimming. The attitude towards training I got from those other sports made me a good trainer in football, too. I had real discipline and both my parents were sporty.
Who is the fittest player you’ve come up against at West Ham?
The overall level is incredible and there’s nobody obviously ahead of everyone. If you look at the high-intensity running statistics, it’s very impressive – 95 per cent of players are very fit indeed. But if I have to single out one person I’d probably say Matt Taylor. He runs for fun and posts some incredible figures.
Fast on your feet
The sprint king and former track runner on hitting top gear while out on the pitch
1 Develop a good running technique
“Get to an athletics club and learn how to run properly, because you can always improve on your speed with extra training and expert help. Develop the correct posture and stride, keep your knees high and drive your arms. I learned all of these things from athletics. It made me a faster footballer.”
2 Work on the runs that suit your position
“Football is different from athletics, as you’re not just running in a straight line. I’m a winger so I do a lot of short, quick shuttles. The likes of Matt Taylor move more relentlessly during games and use their endurance to win the ball. Work on having quick feet in training. A lot of it is in your head – it’s all about mastering different runs.”
3 Awareness is key
“Concentrate on where the ball is, and try to take the quickest route to it. This is an instinctive thing you learn with time and it doesn’t always involve actually looking at the ball – it’s more about knowing your technique, how far your touch goes and how long it will take to catch the ball up. Practice is the only way to do it, so do extra dribbling sessions.