Exclusive Interview: Andy Hunt
James Rowe for The Secret Footballer
JR “Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF today. How are you enjoying life since retiring in 2001?”
AH "Life is good. I did indeed retire in 2001 due to getting sick. I contracted post viral fatigue syndrome which is a mysterious illness which no-one is quite sure exactly the real cause of. It seems to affect quite a lot of elite athletes. I was forced to retire so my wife and I sold our property in England and moved out to Belize and I have now been here for 20 years. It's great, although the tourism industry is not very good anymore because of covid.
I have really got back into football big time. I have been running a programme for the last six years where we have been identifying a lot of young players that we believe have great potential, those players are doing really well. I have spent the last two years heavily focused on football and things are going well, I have started to take some of my certifications in scouting and performance analysis, as well as opposition analysis along with the professional football scouts association which we can all do online.
I am loving doing that, and coaching the players, and I am loving reaching out to find opportunities for these young players, all in all, I can't complain.”
JR “Let’s get into your playing career. You had five seasons at West Bromwich Albion, there aren’t many players that don’t enjoy their time with the Baggies.”
AH “I had a great time at West Brom, it was where I spent the bulk of my career. I learned a lot and I went there at an unbelievable time for the club. West Brom were in the third tier at the time which was a low division for West Brom to be as they are a pretty big club. At the time I went there they were on the fringes of the play-offs. Ossie Ardiles asked me to join the club but they did not have any money so I was not quite sure what the deal was. Kevin Keegan wanted me to leave Newcastle United as he was not going to play me, so I was happy to go somewhere to play football.
I went to watch West Brom play in secret, having gone down to talk to Ossie and to discuss signing for them, but then he invited me to watch the game and it was pretty good sitting in the stands as an anonymous player about to sign for the club.
Initially it was on loan until the end of the season, There were 13 games of that season left and they were just unreal as West Brom were just outside the play-offs so it was a very twitchy and nervy time. But we went on a crazy run where I scored 13 goals in 11 games. I made my home debut at The Hawthorns against Brighton & Hove Albion and I had a horrible game as I was not match fit because I had not played for Newcastle United for a long time.
So the difference between being match fit and just “training fit” is huge and I was not aware of it really, so I struggled in the game and I was getting booed by the fans because I was their new signing and I played so badly. But then I scored three goals in seven minutes and we won the game 3-1, after that of course, I was an instant hero.
We went on to make it to the play-offs where we played Swansea City at home in the second leg and the atmosphere at that game was just rocking. The Hawthorns was just jumping and the fans used to sing this “Boing Boing Baggies Baggies” chant, and everybody would just jump up and down and the whole stadium was just jumping up and down. We won that game to make the play-off final. After the Swansea after the game there was a massive pitch invasion and I got into the changing room with just a pair of pants on, that was all I had left. My shirt had gone, my shorts had gone and I think most of the players were the same. We were just mobbed by the West Brom fans.
We beat Port Vale FC in the play-off final. Walking out at Wembley was incredible. I scored the first goal and we won 3-0. We played really well even though the game was not as difficult for us in comparison to the Swansea City play-off semi final game.”
JR “Goosebumps! There were also two and half seasons at Charlton Athletic where you experienced the Premier League again.”
AH “Charlton Athletic were a really well run club. I was so happy to sign for them and I was one of the first players to leave on the Bosman ruling which allowed players to let their contracts expire and then leave for free, rather than have their registration retained by the club. West Brom were really desperate for me to re-sign and they offered me a really nice contract under then manager Dennis Smith, but I had been there five years and we were on our seventh manager and not really going anywhere, we were just a stagnant club at that point.
I think that I had had a good career up until that point and that I had done well for West Brom in difficult circumstances because every time a new coach comes in he brings in his own style and his own players and that all takes adjusting to. To be honest, I had just had enough because we had been struggling in what is now the Championship and year after year became a grind with some of the football we were playing not particularly exciting.
I remember having meetings with Denis Smith and he was pushing me to re-sign because I still had value being a decent striker who scored goals so to let me leave for free was financially bad for West Brom. Even so, the last few games of the season and the summer were quite nerve wracking because had I got injured in the final few games I would have been out of contract and sitting there with an injury which would have made the situation even worse. I finished the season and played well and I started to get interest from other clubs, and then I got a phone call from Alan Curbishley.
I had watched the play-off final where Charlton beat Sunderland AFC and it just looked like a great club and a brilliant opportunity, I was able to go on a free transfer and to play in the Premier League. My first season was difficult because we came straight back down so we were a yo-yo team. In terms of highlights, playing in the Premier League and playing at Old Trafford, Highbury… playing all these big clubs was a real eye opener and a big adjustment.
The following season we were back in the Championship and we stormed it. That season in particular was a massive highlight. I scored back to back hat tricks against Stockport County home and away and I ended up being the top scorer with 26 goals, we were the Champions and we got promoted back into the Premier League. We had a great squad of settled players and an amazing coaching staff in Keith Peacock, Mervyn Day and obviously Alan Curbishley. Everybody at Charlton Athletic was just a pleasure to work with.”
JR “Who are the players that stand out from your time with West Brom and Charlton?”
AH “That's a hard question! I would say Bob Taylor at West Brom was an excellent player and I learned so much from him because he was such a humble fellow. Even though I scored 13 goals in 11 games when I arrived, Bob had already got about 45 goals that season! But he just accepted me immediately, Bob was so cool the moment I arrived and he taught me a lot about how you can work extremely hard for your team and still get your goals. I found Bob Taylor to be an all round striker, he had all the things that a coach is looking for, and he would do the work and get stuck in, but what a finisher too!
He would often set me up too. I have played with strikers, who, the moment they see the goal that's it, they are 100 percent focused on shooting. But Bob would set me up and give me opportunities too, a lot of players don't have the same mentality that Bob did.
Richard Sneekes was a Dutch player who arrived from Bolton Wanderers and he was an attacking midfielder with whom I just clicked. I would drop in and receive the ball and set him up even though it should have been the other way round, but that was OK. He just had this knack of arriving at the right time and he was also a great finisher, we had a nice partnership together.
At Charlton Athletic I played with Clive Mendonca but he had a lot of injuries, but was also an outstanding finisher. Martin Pringle was super fast and he would create so many problems for the other team. Paul Peschisolido, when I was at West Brom, was a totally different player to Martin Pringle, he was fast and he was a pain in the backside to play against for defenders. He would be nicking balls off their feet and in time we struck up a really good partnership as well. I played with strikers of all styles which I enjoyed and I think I was quite adaptable.
JR “But for all the great strikers out there at that time, there were some equally useful defenders out to stop them!”
AH “Yes! In my early days when I was at Newcastle United I played against Blackburn Rovers’ Colin Hendry, that was an awakening, believe me, I did not have much fun that day, I really did not like playing against him. When I look back… we played Arsenal FC away at Highbury and even though I scored twice that day against what was pretty much the England back four, Martin Keown was a pain! He was climbing all over me, kicking me and so on. When we got in the players lounge afterwards my family were really angry because they had seen him battling with me all day long.
Another tough opponent was Jaap Stam at Manchester United, he was a beast of a player and a nightmare to play against. I do have to say though that the player that most impressed me that I played against was Patrick Vieira. I only played against him once but for a tall, wiry guy he had all the ability in the world, you just could not get the ball off him, I bounced off him a few times. And he was a box to box midfielder too, but he could also play deep so he was in my area of the pitch quite often. Just watching him play was amazing. I don't know how he did it! They talk a lot these days about scanning and being aware of your position on the pitch and opponents around you, well he just had an unbelievable knack for that. He knew where everything was and he knew the right way to go with the ball. His touch was absolutely perfect every time and even though I was not directly up against Patrick Vieira I would probably say that he was the best player I played against in my professional career.”
JR “Andy, which coaches had the biggest influence on your career?”
AH “I would say Ossie Ardiles. He came to Newcastle United and he loved to attack and that was probably why he got the sack because he just wanted to attack all the time. He had a saying in his Argentinian accent, “Atack, Attack, Attack, Attack!” the boys used to kind of laugh about it but he just wanted the team to attack and he did not care about the defensive side. He had to bring Keith Burkinshaw in to figure that one out for him, but of course I was a striker.
His training sessions were amazing and just a lot of fun, lots of shooting and rondo's and stuff like that, he had a big impact and he also took me to West Brom. The thing is when you are doing well at a club the atmosphere is totally different and when you are struggling everybody is questioning everybody else and the atmosphere around the place is not so good. You don't enjoy coming in so much because it feels tough and difficult and the press are on you and the fans are on you. It was a pity Ossie Ardiles left and went to Tottenham Hotspur but you are never going to turn the Spurs job down are you?
And then Alan Curbishley. Curbs… I just liked his way and the way that he approached things and I never really saw him lose it. It felt like the pressure in our second season going back to the Championship was bigger than being in the Premier League because we were one of the favourites to go back up. At the start we were a bit shaky and I think Curbs was feeling the pressure too, he knew it and I believe Charlton Athletic had the parachute money back then too so going down from the Premier League meant that you had certain funds but only for a short period of a year or two.
I think he was an extremely professional manager and extremely approachable and even when I was having a rough time at the end of my career he was just great about it, he was really understanding. He could well have gone on to take other jobs too, I don’t really know why he didn’t, who knows? Moving into different clubs with higher expectations is a challenge in itself. Keith Peacock was also brilliant and a really great guy. Ossie Ardiles and Alan Curblishley were the ones that made the most mark on my career.”
JR “Andy thanks again for talking to me today, I know you’re very busy, in fact, tell us about your exciting new venture.”
“We have reached a very exciting stage of our Belmopan Program. We are talking to several International Academies about partnering up. We have confirmed trips in the spring to a couple of UK professional clubs who run International Academies. Our young players will get to experience what high level Football looks like and to get a taste for the Educational Programs that are offered.
Our First Player is heading out to a NCAA Division 1 University in Florida at the end of December so we keep our fingers crossed for him. We have more players who will likely be making similar moves. All in all we are very positive about the future for our players ”
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.