Credit: East Ham Bull
You retired from professional football in 2001. How are you enjoying retirement and how is life for you these days?
Life in general is good and I think if you speak to most ex players I think we all acknowledge that it is very difficult when you retire from football. I have been through the usual divorce like most players seem to when they retire and on a personal note it has been a bit of an upheaval.
I think the problem is that you have such a great career and I was lucky having played 20 years as a professional footballer and you get to the end of it and at the age of 36 I was physically and mentally knackered and it is hard because you lose something that has part and routine of your life for a long time.
It is mentally difficult because you obviously lose something that is dear to you that you can’t do anymore not because you don’t want to do it but you physically can’t do it anymore and you then have to create another career outside of football and I had great fun as a footballer but I did not play in the era of big money and the vast wages the players earn nowadays and it has been a challenge for me but I have been working in the media for the last 19 years now for Sky Sports and I really enjoyed that. It is not the same as playing but it is close as it can be to experiencing a match day situation.
You played two spells for West Ham United. How do you look back on your time at the club. Do you have any highlights or special memories and what does the club mean to you?
To be honest with you James West Ham United means everything to me. I am very much first and foremost at West Ham fan. I am not a player that played for the club and became a fan I am very much a fan who became a player.
I was born in West Ham. It is still on my passport as place of birth which is something I am very proud of. My Mum and Dad, Auntie’s, Uncle’s, Brothers’s and Sisters’s and everyone around me are very much West Ham fans and it is still to this day so for me to go on and play for my local club and have such a fantastic debut at the age of 17 against Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park and time score on my debut, January 1st 1983.
I remember it really vividly. I was lucky because on that particular day the TV cameras had come to Upton Park. For me to play in the game and score and I also did an interview sitting next to Trevor Brooking after the game. The whole day was a wonderful experience and I am just pleased that the cameras were there that day otherwise there would be no record of my debut. I had a lot of fun especially in my first seven years at the club and it was a great time to play football.
Off the pitch there were lots of things going on in terms of hooliganism and it was not the same game that we know nowadays but on the film I had a great time and I loved every minute of it. It was hard for me to leave the club first time around to go on to spend six years at Everton FC and to come back to West Ham in the mid nineties and play under Harry Redknapp was a great time.
I did not want to leave the club second time around but there were financial reasons behind it and Harry had to cash in on me to get some money into the club. I look back on great memories and great times and I felt proud to play for my local football club.
You lead my nicely onto my next question. You played six seasons for Everton FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories and highlights?
I think you come sum my Everton FC career up very neatly by saying that it was the right club at the wrong time. The reason for that is that Everton FC won the league in 1987 and I joined the club in 1988 and they then had some barren years where they did not win anything during my spell at the club so I left 1994 and they won the FA Cup in 1995. I do not have any regrets from my time at the club.
I think Everton FC are a fantastic football club and I loved my time there. I was too goalscorer five out of six seasons and I scored 99 goals for the club and there were a lot of positives to take from my time at the club. I also scored a hat-trick against Newcastle United on my debut at Goodison Park scoring after only 34 seconds and that match was one of the best days I had in football. I have fantastic memories of my Everton FC career and the only disappointment was that I did not win anything and one of the reasons I signed for the club was to go and win trophies and it was a big disappointment to leave after six years not having won anything.
You played abroad in Malaysia for Selangor. How do you reflect on your time playing football in another country and what are your highlights and memories?
I think it was a great experience and I signed for Selangor when I left West Ham United and at the time when Harry Redknapp sold me there was not really too many English clubs that came in for me if any at all for whatever reason and I was 31 years old at the time when so left to go to Malaysia and being honest I looked upon it as being a little pay day at the end of my football career that I probably would not have got in England.
I thought it would be a great experience to go the Far East where you can do a lot of traveling and that is what I did I went to Australia, Fiji, Singapore, Bali and I did a lot of traveling while I was based there. The football was not what I expected. It was not up to the level that I was used to playing in England and that was not anyone’s fault. It was purely the fact that Malaysia had only had a professional league for four years when I went there so they were always going to be playing catching up to last 120 years of professional football in England.
I enjoyed the experience and it helps to form you as a person in terms of your personality and views on life as well. I do not have any regrets about going to play in Malaysia but it was pretty clear to me after six months that I did not want to be there for the two years that I signed. From a football point of view I felt I made a mistake and when I came back to England I never expected to return to the Premier League. I just expected to go and play for a League One, League Two club and it was nice to come back and sign for Leicester City. I do not look back on my career with too many regrets.
In an ideal world if I could have stayed at West Ham United my whole career I would like to have done that purely because I am a West Ham boy from a West Ham family but that was not possible and if I had have stayed at West Ham I would not have had the experiences of playing for Everton FC and playing in Malaysia. There is no point looking back on too many regrets. You make the decisions at the time and I certainly do not regret going abroad it was a great experience for me and my family.
You have accrued a lot of experience at club level as well as being capped by England at international level. When you look back on your career could you say who were among the best players you played alongside?
Yes. I think when you are at a football club there are always players that stand out with their ability or talent and if I talk about the three main clubs that I played for West Ham United, Everton FC and Leicester City. I think Alan Devonshire was the best player I played with certainly in my two spells at the club. He was a fantastic left sides midfielder player who was also capped for England. He unfortunately got injured in 1984 and he returned to football 18 months later and was still a fantastic player.
Peter Beardsley at Everton FC was a played that not many people will need an introduction too. He was a great player for all his clubs and for England as well. I loved playing upfront with Pete and when I went to Leicester City I had the privilege of playing alongside Emile Heskey who was a fantastic centre forward and also a really good team player.
We had three seasons together upfront at Leicester City and I really enjoyed those times. They would be the three standout names that I would think of from my three clubs.
Finally Tony. When you look back on your career could you say which coaches and managers meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
Yes, Like in life you have good and bad managers. The good managers Harry Redknapp was certainly one of them when I went back to West Ham for my second spell. Harry was a fantastic manager.
Martin O’Neil at Leicester City was a tremendous manager who certainly got the best of out of me in the later days of my career. Howard Kendall was probably the best Everton FC manager that I played under.
I always like to give my old England manager Sir Bobby Robson a mention because he was a fantastic manager who very nearly won the World Cup for England in 1986 and 1990. They went very close reaching the quarter and semi-finals.
In terms of the greatest manager I played under I would go for John Lyall who was my manager at West Ham. The reason I go for John is because without him I would never have had the success and the life that I had. He had faith in me as a young kid to allow me to make my debut at 17 and to be a regular in the first team as an 18 year old. Without the belief and chance that John gave me I don’t think I would have achieved everything else’s in my career.
John was also a really nice man. Great manager and a fantastic coach as well and you don’t normally get all three together. John Lyall was everything and he was man managing players back in the early eighties when I first started playing football. He was very much a man manager that could also be a father figure to you but he could also be like a headmaster when he needed to tell you off. His coaching and training sessions were very innovative.
John learned a lot of his trade from the great Ron Greenwood who was West Ham and England manager before him. John passed on a lot what Ron had taught him. Tactically he brought good players and he knew when to make the substitutions. He was very much the complete manager.
Although you can’t put John alongside the great Sir Alex Ferguson because of what Sir Alex achieved in terms of winning things but I would very much say that John was out of the same mold of Sir Alex Ferguson where they did everything at the club and they knew the youth team players, they knew the Mum’s & Dad’s names of the youth team players and yet they are also managing and dealing with the top experiences professionals.
That is the biggest compliment that I can pay John Lyall. I know that he and Sir Alex Ferguson were very good friends when John was alive and you can certainly see that there was a touch of Sir Alex Ferguson in John Lyall and a bit of John Lyall in Sir Alex Ferguson as well.