Steven Reid: 'I won't look back with any regret'

Steven Reid: 'I won't look back with any regret'

IT WAS a day Steven Reid had planned for nearly 18 months.

He had delayed it by a year at the end of last season, figuring there was one last run in his tired, old legs before reality bit.

The things he could once effortlessly do were now beyond him. So was a place on the Burnley team, a side that fought valiantly to preserve its Premier League status, but which ultimately was not good enough.

Nor, anymore, is Reid. He knows how harsh that feels, but he can accept it - largely because of the age he is at. Back in 2008, a ruptured knee threatened to end his career. He was 27, well set financially, but not emotionally. "I didn't want it to finish then," he said. "I had to get back."

He did so. A rigorous fitness programme hastened his rehabilitation and a visit to Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist who worked with the British Olympic team before being brought into Liverpool FC by Brendan Rodgers, eased his mind. "I stopped worrying about things beyond my control," he said.

Still, that winter of 2008 and 2009 was a dark one. "I was getting a good wage out of Blackburn, but I didn't feel I was earning it," he said. "I didn't want to face the fans because they were the ones who were paying money to support their club, and here I was, unable to play for them. That felt awful."

Some light relief came from an unexpected source. Snoop, his beloved British bulldog, loved his long walks and one day they set off down a tree-lined laneway not far from his home in Hale. Along the narrow path, Reid and Snoop bumped into Roy Keane, who lives in the same Cheshire town. "Yeah, but he's in the posh part," laughs Reid.

He laughs louder when he remembers what Snoop did next. "Roy was wearing his neatly ironed Diadora tracksuit," says Reid. "But Snoop didn't care. He was up and at it, slobbering all over Roy's clothes, covering him with drool and dirty pawmarks. It was mortifying because Roy had two dogs, and just like that, when he clicked his fingers, they sat there motionless.

"He had complete control over his dogs, but I couldn't handle Snoop. You talk about embarrassment! To be fair, though, Roy was good as gold about the whole thing."

Keane was also concerned about Reid's welfare. Having endured the same injury a decade earlier, he had a fair idea what his former team-mate was going through.

So as Snoop was marking his clothes, Keane was marking Reid's card. "Have you tried this surgeon? And what about these exercises? Give Yoga a try. The bottom line is you'll come back from this."

He did, but not before Giovanni Trapattoni declared his career over. "That was annoying," he says with a mixture of hurt, anger and bemusement. Knowing his contract with Blackburn was approaching the end, and that other clubs were wary of signing him, he wonders if Trapattoni's comments stopped him getting a better move.

Celtic called. He went north, met the club, fell in love with the place, but not with their offer. Were they hedging their bets based on what Trapattoni had incorrectly predicted? He'll never know. In the end, though, he was happy enough to end up at West Brom, who he had helped win promotion during a loan spell.

He worked under some good managers - and then Pepe Mel, a personable man, but one whose personality did not suit the Premier League. Those last six months at West Brom saw Reid emerge as officer class.

If a player needed a bollocking, he'd give it. If there was a silence during a half-time break - and often there was because of Mel's limited grasp of English - he'd fill the room with advice.

steven-reid-n Steven Reid playing for West Bromwich Albion against Cork City at Turners Cross. Photo: INPHO.

Steve Clarke heard all about it. He had managed Reid at West Brom and liked the cut of his jib. Plus he was aware of how the game had changed, how managers and coaches could no longer speak to younger players the way they used to.

Reid, he reckons, is the perfect mix, someone with old-school values, but who can still relate to the new kids on the block. A move onto Reading's coaching staff, where Clarke now works, is almost inevitable.

Yet even though the future is mapped out, and even though he knows his time as a player is up, he found last Monday hard. The previous Tuesday, he'd been out for the day with some close friends for his retirement party.

As the drink flowed, the memories were brought out of cold storage, how Sean Dyche, his manager at Burnley, used to keep him on the straight and narrow when they were team-mates in the same Millwall team.

"I knew my place then," he says. "I'd have been fairly quiet. Compared to now, when the kids come into clubs in their sports cars and flash their expensive watches, I was like Oliver Twist. I didn't have a car, for a start. I took two trains to get to training. I lived with mum and certainly wasn't on a lot of money.

"And I lacked confidence. I remember one game, away to Manchester City, when I got an earful from fans in the Kippax. This was the old Maine Road. I wondered then if I was good enough, if I was able to handle it."

But he got by and then got good. One game, against Bristol City, saw him collect the man of the match award. "I was buzzing coming into training that Monday," he recalls. "And the first thing Dychie said to me was 'you pay that reporter to write nice things about you'.

"Right away, you were brought back down to earth. He'd do that. He and a couple of the other boys, they'd nail you with a tackle in training if they thought you were getting above your station.

"It was for our own good, though. It was their way of saying, 'okay you've done well. But you have to do it week after week. Sean proved to be such a good friend throughout my career."

He'd get close to others, too.

Kevin Kilbane is one of his best friends, Damien Duff, Shay Given, Lee Carsley, and Robbie Keane remain on friendly terms, a bond borne out of Japan and Korea in 2002. "That was the highlight of my career. We'd such a good team," he says now. "The older heads, Niall Quinn, Stan, Gary Kelly, they created a brilliant team spirit.

"The fans, too were unbelievable. After we drew with Germany, I remember going back to the team hotel and we mixed with them right through the night. There was no disconnect. It wasn't them-and-us.

"We had a drink with them and enjoyed each other's company. We swapped shirts that night, all the players and the fans. I've still got the Celtic jersey from the night at home, framed and all. You never forget those nights."

There are years he can forget, though. Between 2006 and 2010, he played just 47 league games, his knee giving way on two occasions. Talk of a move to Tottenham got steadily quieter. So did his Ireland career. "I should have played more. I ended up with 23 caps. It should have been twice that, at least.

"Still, I'm proud of what I achieved. Playing in that World Cup was my proudest moment. That journey back from Iran, after we'd won the play-off, that was a hell of a time. We realised then we'd done something big."

So did Reid. Seventeen years in the game, more than a decade at Premier League level, is proof that he could hack it with the best. He leaves the game on his own terms. "I'm kind of glad my final year was as a Premier League player," he says. "I won't look back with any regret."