I’d love to have played now because the pitches are perfect
Football has become so sanitised. If you can play a little bit and you’ve got a nice touch, everything is set up for you because of the protection referees offer.
It’s a totally different game to the one I played in a lot of ways. For the first 20 minutes of some of the games when I was at Liverpool, you just knew you had to earn the right to play because they were kicking lumps out of you. You’d go and play Wimbledon where you had John Fashanu telling you, “listen, don’t come in here son, this is Fash’s space.” I’d be thinking ‘cor, if I get in Fash’s space what am I going to get?’
The next thing you get a big elbow around the face, that was actually how it was! You had the likes of Roy Keane (who was as tough they come) and Dennis Wise, they were allowed to get three or four goes at you and then maybe the yellow card might come out. Whereas now, the game has changed so much that if there is a bad tackle, it could be a straight red after one minute.
The treatment table
I was a bit unlucky with injuries, there was a bit of mismanagement of them I would say. But, I’m not a bitter person, but I’ll tell you a story. I tore my meniscus when I was 18 years of age, it was Graeme Souness’ last game for Liverpool, and we were playing Bristol City.
Before that we played against Leeds and I wriggled past David Rocastle – who was a great player – and he did a scissor tackle on me. I felt a little bit something in my knee. I thought ‘oh, that didn’t feel quite right’. All weekend, I’m resting, trying to get it right and we played on the Tuesday night, but I didn’t feel perfect with it.
We’re losing 1-0 in an FA Cup replay against Bristol City and someone threw the ball to me with a minute to go before half-time. As I passed it back and I felt something in the inside of my leg, and I’ve never felt anything quite like it. It was like a little tear.
We get back into the dressing room and when I go to stand up, my knee locks and I thought ‘my God’. Graeme Souness was in the middle of the dressing room fuming at us because we’re 1-0 down and I’m thinking now, ‘what can I do?’
I’m in a terrible position, so I call the club doc over and I said: “Look Doc, I’m struggling and I can’t straighten my leg”. He gets me on the table and says, “I think you’ve torn your meniscus”. He calls Graeme over, he’s wasn’t too happy. But, what could I do?
I had a surgery a couple of days later and I genuinely can’t think of the surgeon’s name. He took my meniscus out, all of it. I’m 18 years of age and I don’t know anything different. I thought ‘great, get it out and play again as quickly as possible’. I trained 10 days later and I played again in two weeks with my meniscus out.
If any footballer did that now, you’d be out for three months and you probably wouldn’t play within six months because they’d try to preserve the meniscus as that’s where your protection is. From that day on I played with bone rubbing on bone, so at just 27 I get a chondral defect.
To play within two weeks was just complete negligence.
I didn’t know any different. I thought my meniscus will grow back. I wasn’t a doctor! Unfortunately, now I know more about knees now. But, it was an incredibly tough time because I was just told ‘you’re going to be all right and you can play’.
Then I broke my ankle twice, I tore my hamstrings playing for England and then I had people call you injury prone. They weren’t little injuries. All of them cost me years out of my career. I was just very unlucky.
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