How did the injuries start?
I got the wrong information from a poor Tottenham physio. I couldn’t sprint or kick a football without agony in my groin, so I had a scan. I was told it was absolutely fine and played on, but later found out the groin was torn. They had just told me what I wanted to hear. There’s no excuse for that – it’s scandalous. That caused more injuries and heartache further down the line.
Did managers ever get annoyed by the number of games you were missing?
Not really – Gerry Francis and others had great faith in me. I think Alan Sugar was pretty annoyed because he wanted me to justify being Spurs’ top earner. He was very frustrated, which I can understand, but it put pressure on the physio to get me fit, which led to the wrong diagnosis. Now physios are stronger.
Were you annoyed with the ‘Sicknote’ tag?
Of course. Nowadays you see some players stretchered off on a Saturday and back in training the following Tuesday. There can’t be much wrong with them. I played for 30 minutes with a strained knee ligament, but still finished the game. I don’t think that’s being a sicknote. I was thinking: ‘If I don’t play today, I’m going to get slaughtered.’ It made things worse. Football’s better set up now. Chairmen realise there’s no point paying someone millions of pounds if they aren’t going to be cared for in the right way.
Where did the nickname come from?
I had a migraine and was throwing up before a Portsmouth game. The next day at training, someone laughed, ‘Oh, Sicknote’s here.’ Nothing came of it until I joined Spurs and had that first groin problem three or four years later. One of the press boys who had covered Pompey picked up on it and that was it.
Were you ever accused of not wanting to play through the pain?
Christian Gross was certainly aware of my history. In late December 1997 I tore my groin practising free-kicks the day before we played Barnsley, who were bottom of the table. He insisted I went running the next morning. I could barely get to half-pace. It was awful. Gross said: ‘No, it’s in your mind.’ So I played at 50 per cent, basically just with my left foot. Then I trained a few days later – it was Christmas Day – and it was hopeless. Gross screamed: ‘How dare you walk off my training pitch?’ I told him: ‘Go f*** yourself – I’ve just played a game with a torn groin.’
He still put me on the bench the next day at Villa and I played 20 minutes in a 4-1 defeat. I demanded a scan. There was so much blood in my groin, the doctor said I’d torn it three times in a week. I didn’t play for three months and nearly missed the World Cup. That’s where the ‘Sicknote’ bollocks would get to me because I knew what I’d gone through. In hindsight I should’ve gone to the papers so people knew what was going on.
This interview originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!
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