JR “Hi Darren, thanks for talking to me today at TSF. Let’s jump into it with a team that is doing pretty well these days, West Ham. You came through the youth set up there…”
DC “When I look back on my time at West Ham United I have a twinge of frustration that I never quite got the opportunity to make my debut in the first team. I felt that everything had gone as well as it could have gone in coming through the youth team and earning my YTS forms and also playing in the reserves. Back in those days the reserve fixtures tended to be a combination of the first team players that needed game time and the young boys coming through.
I got to play with some first team players and I had a great experience at West Ham United, being a technical player meant the club and I were a great fit because they appreciated my type of play. I thought I would get a chance, I got very close to getting a hattrick in a reserve game against Arsenal FC and then there was talk about my getting an opportunity but it never quite came around. I had some good wingers in front of me during my time at the club and then I got the opportunity to go out on loan.
I got the taste of 3 O'Clock on a Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd and although I was offered a contract extension by then manager, Harry Redknapp, the opportunity came to leave the club permanently and I took it. In hindsight maybe should I have stayed a little bit longer, who knows? But I had a great time at West Ham United and it was a brilliant club to be at as a kid learning your trade. It obviously stood me in good stead for what was to be a 20 year playing career.”
JR “There were three seasons with Wycombe Wanderers where you made over 100 appearances for the club. How do you look back on your time with the Buckinghamshire outfit?”
DC “Yes, Wycombe Wanderers was one of my favourite clubs to play for. They are such a family orientated club and I had gone there for good money back in the day. It was the season after Wycombe Wanderers had reached the FA Cup semi-final where they had made a big name for themselves, I went in as the signing in the summer where they had got the cheque book. I suppose people would ask, ‘did that come with a little bit of pressure?’
Maybe. I can't remember because I don't feel pressure where football is concerned simply because I love it so much.
We had a really good balance of young and experienced players with quality, we had a manager in Lawrie Sanchez who had played at the top level and Terry Gibson was his assistant. There was a real togetherness about us, it was a great club to play for and I hit the ground running. I remember our first preseason game at home to Tottenham Hotspur and they brought all their big names along. The sun was shining down on Adams Park which was a fabulous place to play football.
I really enjoyed my time at Wycombe Wanderers and I loved every minute of it even though it ended on a sour note because Tony Adams came through the door as our manager and I did not quite see eye to eye with him. I ended up moving on to Brighton and Hove Albion but there is no animosity with it. You don't see eye to eye with everyone in football, that is the nature of the game. I look back on my time at Wycombe Wanderers with a smile on my face because I love the club and I still go back when I get an opportunity.”
JR “You mention moving to Brighton, but am I right in saying that it was Ipswich which brings back your happiest memories?
DC “Ipswich Town is probably the happiest and most productive time in my career. I thoroughly enjoyed playing for every club that I played for because of how I feel about football but Ipswich is a special place and it is an incredible football club. They are probably the most educated set of fans that I have played in front of and that is steeped in their history. They understand good football and they have had some fabulous players through the years so their understanding of the game is very good.
I made an instant connection with the fans getting off on the right foot with a goal on my debut at Loftus Road against QPR and obviously with the history of my uncle Tony Currie having played for the club… it was a real special moment and a great way to start. A few days later we beat Wigan Athletic at home to put us top of the league and in the space of a week my world was turned upside down, and I was riding a wave which was wonderful. Portman Road with the lights on and a nice soaking wet pitch is like football heaven to me, it was perfect.
I played under Joe Royle who I tell many people is the best manager that I played under, he was a brilliant character and brilliant in the changing room. He wants to play attacking football and get in people's faces and it was perfect for me at that time having matured, being at the back end of my twenties. In my first season we unfortunately got beat by West Ham United in the play-offs which was absolutely heartbreaking having been at the top of the league for the majority of that season. I had an amazing time at Ipswich Town and now the club find themselves in League One looking to climb again. But Ipswich Town is a tremendous football club and I don't live too far away from the club so I go back as often as I can.”
JR “You have a huge amount of experience at club level, as you say, you played for 20 years. Who would you say were among the best players you played alongside?”
DC “I played with some great players during my career. Jim Magilton was the best player I played with in my career. He was a wonderful player and a brilliant character. Growing up I liked players who played as a number ten, and flair players who were entertainers such as my uncle Tony Currie. My idol was Glen Hoddle and my favourite player of all time is Zinedine Zidane. I always had total respect for the job that each player offers within the team.
I played with David Unsworth at Ipswich Town who was a brilliant, modern day full back who could get up and down, he was excellent both attacking and defending. I played with Scott McGleish at Barnet FC, he now represents the PFA. He was unbelievable in the air as a striker, we really enjoyed playing together because he turned a lot of my crosses into goals. I played with Michael Simpson at Wycombe Wanderers and for me he could have played at a higher level, I don't think people truly appreciated him unless you played with him because his ball retention was fantastic and he punched above his weight, he was a great talker on the pitch and he knew how to handle the ball.
Fabian Wilnis at Ipswich Town was an absolutely unbelievable full back and similar to David Unsworth in many ways in that he was very good in one on one situations, but he could also contribute to attacks. And he was a super guy off the pitch as well. I have been fortunate to play with many good players during my career and I feel blessed when I look back on the players that I shared a pitch with.”
JR “Who gave you a tough time out on the wing?”
DC “The first player that spring’s to mind is a player that first arrived in England with Tranmere Rovers, Jason Koumas. Jason was just a game changer and a match winner, he had flair and ability. He was an absolute nightmare to play against, thankfully I did not have to mark him and he went on to bigger and better things during his career. I played with and against the likes of Stevie Howard who was a very traditional number nine. He was excellent with his back to goal and he had goals in his feet which he proved throughout his career.
Whenever I played against a full back who basically wanted to spend ninety minutes kicking lumps out of me, the aggressive type who is always snarling and growling, where every time you get at them they are tugging and pulling at you… they are the opponents that I always found tricky because you knew you were in for a difficult afternoon.”
JR “Darren it’s been great to talk to you. To end, can I ask you about the managers and coaches that helped you during your career? You’ve already mentioned Joe Royle…’
DC “Yes, I will always say that Joe Royle is my favourite but there are two or three others that I have total respect for that I enjoyed playing under. Joe gave me the opportunity at Ipswich and he put a lot of belief in me. I liked his character and his personality and the fact that he knew how to press my buttons. He knew when I needed a rocket and when I needed an arm around me, so my relationship with him was always very good.
Obviously now that I have become a manager I take similar traits from Joe into my own management career because it is important to have relationships with your players and that they know where they stand. It is important to be open and honest and to remove the fluffiness around it, that it is a good, honest relationship.
I also had a good relationship with Billy Davies at Derby County who was very motivational and he spoke about you as an individual and what you could bring to the game. It would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. He was an extremely passionate guy who was also very detailed and also tactically very clever and wise. I played under John Still at Barnet FC and he gave me freedom and a bit of license, he honed in on what I could do and he did not make such a fuss about what I couldn’t do.
He allowed me to be expressive. Mark McGhee at Brighton & Hove Albion was also very detailed. I was fortunate to play under many good managers during my playing career and I have taken a lot of experiences from them and put them into my own career. As much as you want to treat all your players the same, you have to be smart enough to see who needs what type of management and what type of relationship. I think that it is key and crucial in order to get the best out of the individual.”
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.