Exclusive Interview: Paul Stewart

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ''Hi Paul, thanks for talking to me at TSF today.  Let’s start by reminding the Spurs fans that they can win a trophy when they put their mind to it.

PS  ''When I joined Tottenham Hotspur from Up North as we call it down South, I was very young and going to the bright lights.  It was a bit daunting for me and unfortunately I didn't start too well.  Tottenham Hotspur bought me as a striker for an awful lot of money back then and they expected goals from me, but in my first season the goals didn't really come.  I did manage to score 12 goals that year but it was a tough season for both me and the club.  It was a difficult start really, but then, purely by chance, I dropped into midfield after a couple of players got sent off in two different games, and in one of those games I ended up scoring two goals and getting man of the match.  I got man of the match again in the next game which then convinced Terry Venables to keep me in the role.  That was probably when my career started to take off at Spurs. 

As you say, the highlight was obviously the FA Cup run in 1991 where we beat Nottingham Forest in the final.  They called it the “Gazza and Clough Final” *.  Fortunately for me I was able to score the equalizer and we went on to win the game. I really enjoyed my time at Tottenham Hotspur, especially once I had settled in and got over the fact that it was a big move for such a young lad.  My family and my career moved forward from that moment and I began to win England caps whilst playing for Spurs.  I have many happy memories from my time at the club”.

JR  “If Spurs were a big club, Liverpool were a monster.  You had four years at Anfield, what happened?

PS  ''The problem I had was that I had already gone off the rails.  I was at the club for four years and I played just 32 games.  I did not do myself any justice and it remains one of the biggest regrets of my career.  The club signed me for two and a half million pounds, a huge amount of money at the time, and I was coming back to live up North to play for one of the biggest clubs, not just in the country, but in the world.  On the face of it everything looked like it was great and it should have been great, but as I say, unfortunately that was when I had gone off the rails so it was not a good time for me at all''

JR  ''I think every player has his regrets, even so, you were capped by England which must have been a huge honour?

PS ''True.  I suppose the first game is a big highlight.  When I was a kid I dreamed of playing for England, as anyone making their way in the game does, I was no different.  I got my England cap when I came on alongside Paul Merson as substitutes against West Germany in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley.  At the time West Germany were a formidable side who dominated world football having won the World Cup at Italia 90.  Although we lost the game 2-1, it was a boyhood dream come true to play for and represent England. I would have liked to have won more caps but it did not transpire for me, but the highlight for me was my debut for England for sure”.'

JR  “For this next question I have a name in mind that I’m secretly hoping you’ll say.  And I dont think I’m alone, so here goes.  Who is the best player you ever played with?

PS  “Ha! 'I think that’s an easy question to answer for me. Without a doubt the best player I ever played with was Paul Gascoigne.  When we went on that journey of winning the FA Cup in 1991 he was unplayable, absolutely unplayable.  But also in the league too, and don't forget he had also done so well at the World Cup a year earlier in Italia 90.  I had the pleasure of playing alongside him in midfield and it made my job an awful lot easier''.

JR  “When you moved in to midfield I guess you’d have come up against versions of Gazza elsewhere, who stands out?''

PS  ''One of the best players I ever played against would be Eric Cantona when he was at Manchester United.  He was just mercurial, and believe it or not when you played against him it was still a joy to be on the same pitch as him, he was just that good of a player''

JR  ''Paul, I really appreciate you talking to me at TSF today, and I also want to say how much I admire you for recently speaking out on behalf of the next generation of young footballers; that took tremendous courage.  Can I just finish up by asking you about the coaches that played a positive role in your football career?''

PS  ''Sure.  My first ever boss at Blackpool FC was a man called Sam Ellis and he was a former Sheffield Wednesday FC, Watford FC player who became manager of Blackpool FC when I was 16 years of age.  He taught me the principles of the game and how to respect other players in the game.  He was a tough taskmaster but I saw him as a mentor. 

And playing for Terry Venables.  He was very innovative having come from FC Barcelona to manage Spurs, he brought a new style of play to training which was always interesting. Every day I learned an awful lot from him. 

Finally I would have to say Peter Reid.  When I went to Sunderland he gave me back the confidence I’d lost. If you gave Peter Reid 100 percent then he would stick by you at all times. In my professional career those three managers were definitely the most influential on me, not just as a player but also as a person too''. 

*In 1991 Gazza was one of the best players in the world and played his last game for Spurs before a record transfer to Lazio. Forest manager Brian Clough was trying to win the FA Cup at the 35th attempt.  He would never win it.

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.