The big interview: Emile Heskey – “I wouldn’t say England was toxic, but it could be very intimidating”

Emile Heskey
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You won three trophies in your first full season at Liverpool, but which was your favourite?

Sue Bradley, Bath

Probably the FA Cup. Growing up, that competition was just so iconic and the only one you could really watch on TV. We didn’t deserve to beat Arsenal but we didn’t care – when you’ve got Michael, who’s so sharp in the box, you always have a chance. He was outstanding, and whenever he had half an opening, he’d either hit the target or score.

It’s funny, I can barely remember anything about the 2001 UEFA Cup Final [against Alaves] even though that was a massive game and eventually finished 5-4. I think that’s because we’d played a daft amount of matches that season and were on autopilot by then. All of the goals are a bit clearer, but nothing else.

Germany 1-5 England. Discuss…

Adam Day, London

[Smiles] It’s a historic moment, isn’t it? Sven-Goran Eriksson had been in charge for a few months, we’d lost the reverse game at Wembley 1-0, and were trailing again after six minutes in Munich. They had some chances to go 2-0 up, and at that point we were very worried. But we soon regrouped and Michael scored the equaliser, Stevie [Gerrard] got a second and we just kept going. My goal towards the end topped it off!

England had some incredible players in the Golden Generation – why didn’t we win anything?

Nick Duncan, via Facebook

There was probably too much pressure on us, although we also didn’t have the best blend as a team. We had too many players in the same position and didn’t get the best out of Paul Scholes. There were always questions about where we should play him and where we should play Stevie. As individual players I think we were really good, but as a team I’d say perhaps not.

You seemed to be out of favour in the last couple of years of Eriksson’s reign. What happened? Were you angry?

Ben King, Essex

I don’t hold a grudge against him now. Not really. It was probably a good thing for me, though, as it allowed me to step away from that environment a little bit. I wouldn’t say it was toxic, but it could be very, very intimidating at times – the spotlight was always on you. A lot of it is media-led, to be honest. I think it was a good time to pull away for a while, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.

Sometimes I felt I should have been involved, especially during my first year at Birmingham when things were tough. I had gone from playing alongside the likes of Gary McAllister, Steven Gerrard and Danny Murphy – players who, when you made a run, would always see you – to Birmingham, where you could make seven runs and no one would spot you and make the pass. So I had to change my thought processes.

What’s the story behind your famous DJ goal celebration?

Moses Barrett, via Facebook

I have a friend called Johnathan Joseph – aka DJ Spoony – who insisted that we invent a celebration together. The first season was the trumpet and the second was the DJ. He came up with that golf putt against Germany too, so you’ve got him to blame for them – he was like my personal choreographer.

Leicester fans will always be grateful to you for handing over £100,000 to help save the club in 2002 – why did you get involved?  

Louise Tucker, Leicester

Without Leicester, there would’ve been no Emile Heskey. That’s how I looked at it and I really wanted to help the club. When Gary Lineker got the consortium together I thought, ‘Why not?’ and put some money in. Ultimately we wanted to stave off administration, and it helped. It’s safe to say they have had some good days since!

Why did you leave Liverpool for Birmingham in 2004? Weren’t you gutted?

Philip Cain, via Facebook

I had a year left on my contract at Liverpool, but Rick Parry [then Liverpool CEO] told me that Djibril Cisse was coming in from Auxerre and I wouldn’t be playing. I told him that was OK and I’d stay and fight for my place. But he said, ‘No, Cisse has got to play.’

So I had to move on, really. They accepted a bid from Birmingham and that was that. But I loved my time with Liverpool – they were great times, fun times and emotional times.

When you’re a kid, you get into sports to win trophies and medals. I was lucky enough to do it with Leicester, and then take it to the next level at Liverpool. The highest we ever finished in the Premier League was 2nd but we won all of those cups, which was great – I couldn’t have asked for any more.

You played alongside Robbie Savage at both Leicester and Birmingham – be honest, is he really as irritating as he seems?

Neil Baker, via Facebook

Sav is Sav, right? But you know what, he was a decent player and exactly the kind of guy a team like Birmingham needed. He would wind other teams up to knock them off their stride. He was fit, ran around making a nuisance of himself, and every now and then would pop up with a free-kick or something. He didn’t wind me up off the pitch, though. He was just funny and good to have around. We definitely missed him when he left Birmingham.

Did you join Aston Villa because of Martin O’Neill? Were you not worried about upsetting Blues fans?

Jamie Berger, Luton

Martin tried to sign me for Celtic when I was at Liverpool, and also wanted me at Villa while I was at Birmingham, but I couldn’t have done it that way around. I didn’t fancy the aggro, but when I did eventually join Villa, Birmingham’s fans treated me absolutely fine. Sometimes you’ll hear Villa and Blues fans arguing about who I was better for!

I left Birmingham for Wigan because I was impressed with what Paul Jewell was doing, but I ended up back with the gaffer at Villa. It was great to work with him again and he hadn’t changed a bit.

I remember a game when you were at Villa where you absolutely lost it with referee Mike Jones. Why were you so incensed? It seemed out of character...

Alex Moore, via Facebook

It was against Wigan [in 2011]. Imagine me elbowing you in the side of the head every five minutes – eventually, you’re going to have had enough! It was crazy. When a referee isn’t seeing it either and just telling you to get on with it, what’s the point? There was no point him being there and no point me being there, too.

I lost it at half-time, got taken off and went home before the end of the game. But you have days like those – no one’s going to be a saint every day, are they?

NEXT: Congratulating Becks and playing under Fabio Capello