Bet now with totesport - Free £25 bet!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Lee Sharpe Interview 2005

There was a time when Lee Sharpe arrived at United that we mixed, from a distance, in vaguely similar circles through a mutual friend. Although he'd quickly made it into the first team, he was a lot younger than his team-mates so he mixed back then - along with fellow 'Fergie fledgling' Russell Beardsmore - with reserve and youth team mates like Deniol Graham, Shaun Goater and Mark Bosnich. And they knew a local fixer (they wanted something, legal, and he'd get it!) who I would have a drink with on a Saturday night.

After a game, even the 5-1 defeat to City where Beardsmore regaled punters in the nightclub toilets with anti-city songs, Sharpe and his gang (some in club blazers, though never Sharpey, always the most recent clobber for him), would in those very early days without fail spend their Saturday night in the cheesy 80s venue of peroxide blonde heaven - Saturdays nightclub in the Brittania hotel. Even back then, with just a season or so in the first team under his belt, the women had taken a liking to our Lee. And he was surrounded with a healthy mix of bosoms and hair spray to choose from each weekend. As he progressed in the first team and Giggsy came along, he started to frequent more classy joints, but it seemed as though every weekend without fail Lee was out on the tiles, celebrating a win. Or drowning a defeat.

Lee obviously liked to party, but he was a decent kid, not many airs and graces but one thing was undeniable - he liked the good time. So when his career fizzled out in a manner fairly undeserving of someone who played such a pivotal role in our early 1990s changing fortunes, Sharpe had to settle for playing for the likes of Gosforth Town (well, anything is better than Elland Road) and you couldn't help feel that someone who had revelled in the adulation at United didn't deserve sharing the spotlight not with his one time party partner Giggsy, but with the likes of a 50 year old Socrates also playing at Gosforth.
So whatever the criticism of reality tv, I took to Sharpey again when I watched him on Celebrity Love Island. I didn't watch it often, fuck me it was that bad who could, but compared to the other village idiots on it, here was someone who had had talent, and had shown it on a world stage. At first you thought he was embarrassed to be there, as if he felt he shouldn't be in the same sort of company as these B list celebs who hogged the headlines, as if he were somehow undeserving. But though he was there because he was way down the A list pecking order, he deserved his chance for popular resurrection, and a public who had once forgotten about him, took to him again because they knew he'd actually had a career, rather than having once shagged Becks, appeared for a year or so in Hollyoaks or of being that nutty bird from the BBC.

Sharpey revelled in it, and I'm delighted he regained a presence in the public eye, because, you feel, it's where he always wanted to be once his career was over. Maybe he was too much of a party boy, and would never fit into todays much more regimented (Sgt Carlos) Old Trafford dressing room with their rules, diets and regulations, but those of us around in his early days know that, even if he was after a while never an automatic selection, that, before injury and wear and tear slowed him down, what a gem he was. And able to cross the ball a lot better than Giggsy ever could!

Who knows if his good time attitude cost him a lengthy career at the top, but he is, pretty much, what he was back when he signed for us. A happy go lucky lad who doesn't care much for the bad times, and whether or not there is a touch of superficiality surrounding him, is one of those people who just wants to have a laugh. Hence the title of his book 'My Idea of Fun'. Much better than the one time working title they had of 'Football Junkie'. Not the best suggestion that.

In typical Red News fashion after trying to get hold of Sharpey's publicists for weeks, they contact us one afternoon to say they may be able to slot an interview in. In fact it's early the next morning as Lee waits in the Green Room waiting for his appearance on This Morning. With little time to prepare questions I ask some of the lads for ideas. 'Is Abi Titmus really as dirty as she is in the video?' shows that his post Love Island relationship with Abi has made its mark on Red consciousness and every suggestion has that 'wahaay Lee' sort of male praise and envy that Sharpe would probably appreciate. But I don't want to ask about her, I don't care, and you can sense, especially after minutes later that's nearly all This Morning do ask about, as if he is now known for who he shags than what he himself is, that Sharpey appreciates a quick chat about his United days as hours of endless quizzing about 'his bird' begin to occupy the time publicising his book.

In even more typical Red News fashion not only do I put one big foot in it by quickly asking him about how he's taking his post Celeb Big Brother ("Oh shit, er, I mean Love Island") life but, for the 3rd such occasion (Quinton Fortune and Phil Townsend before), Houston, we have a problem as the phone I was going to use on loudspeaker to tape from, after working 5 times in trials suddenly doesn't work, so I have to hold the phone in one hand, the tape recorder in the other, elbows flying, still try to hear what he's saying (and that was hard) whilst disregarding the questions I'd planned because I couldn't get to them! Ah the lifestyle of the poor and infamous! But though playing the tape back is like listening to someone whispering in front of a jumbo jet engine, we manage to salvage most of it. It took about 50 listens. The things we do for you dear readers.
The Interview

So how has Lee taken his re-emergence? "The book promotion has just started today really, you're one of the first people I've spoken to, it's going ok". But your profile has gone through the roof, how are you finding it being on the front pages instead of the back pages? “It's fun, it's fun again to be in the press and to be invited to lots of parties and stuff, so it's good.”
What about the football? He hurt his ribs playing for Gosforth a while back and post Love Island I doubt he wants to play in the very low leagues when he and his agent dream of bigger things. Is the professional career over? “Yeah, after Xmas I'm going to play the Masters, hopefully for Man U” (er, Lee, it's United...).

What about the old teammates, for many former players mixing with their one time peers is rare, as if they fitted all their friendship in the dressing room, and Lee, bar golfing buddy Pally, is no exception. “I don't see a lot of them. I went on a trip to Canada with a few of them, me, Russell Beardsmore, Lee 4 Martin, Viv Anderson. I saw a few of them, so it'll be good to get back together and have a kick around at the Masters.”

It's a bit surprising to think Lee left United, and in some ways football, quite a while back, yet he's still only 34. Keano's age. He arrived early. Our scouting system showed it worked back then, spotting him after just a few games for Torquay and we snapped him up for £185,00. We were desperate back then, and took his signing as a massive silver lining that we'd just signed the next big thing. It was a lot of weight to place on his shoulders, so young and unqualified, but to be fair Lee rose to the challenge.

I remember those early games, even as sub he'd get an ovation running down the touchline and though his first team debut came in that poxy Mercantile Credit competition in front of a measly 14,000 home crowd, he didn't sink as many (older) players had. Not quite Eric, but at that time, this was clearly his stage. Was it difficult, just 17 and already having first team responsibility? “I think for me at that time I'd just come into the club and I think it was all about playing well personally rather than the team to start with, a way to make sure I kept my place and I just liked to do the best I could. Obviously at 17 it was a bit difficult, no-one can carry a team on their own, I was just concentrating on playing well myself. The team around me weren't too much of a concern at the time. I didn't really improve mentally.”

Sharpe was swapped between left wing and left back quite early on in his career - and back again, and back again! - and like the Aussies having a very decent spinner in his own right in Stuart MacGill, with Warne ahead, his chances are limited. Any other era and he'd have played in many more tests. Just a couple of years after Sharpey's arrival, there arrived a young Ryan Giggs to compete against. Was it hard? “It's not very often you get someone like Ryan Giggs to compete against. But I think for them couple of years when everyone came through; Fergie's fledglings type of era, Mark Robins and people like that, Lee Martin and then after that David Beckham, Paul Scholes, I was just very fortunate to play with some really very good players.” Diplomatic, but no doubt it limited his chances as Giggsy matured. Did it hurt?

There will be a full review of the book in the next issue but a quick skim shows that behind the party animal, there is a softer, and occasionally darker side. I didn't realise how hard he found it not playing at United at the end. And though his criticism to Red News is limited about his relationship with Fergie, in the book it's much more raw. Maybe after three re-writes, the publishers demanded more detail or forthright comments.

In the book he writes: “I do blame him (Fergie) a lot. There could have been more coaching, more allowances for who I was and for the fact that I had to grow up as well. I don't ever want to be bitter, about anything, but I can't help thinking that in some fundamental way, in those eight years at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson shattered me. As great a manager as he is, he made a lot of my time there a misery. I found myself a little bit smothered by Ferguson. I had to get out. I don't know the bottom line on why Becks went, but I suppose we were in a similar situation. I don't know if that could happen with Rooney. I was never a trouble maker, I didn't go on benders. It was never about getting plastered. I didn't miss training. It was not like I was a total rebel. Contrary to all the rumours I never took drugs. It was the little things that used to annoy him, the haircuts and the clothes and the cars. A little bit of self expression. Everyone does it now. A great a manager as he is, he made a lot of my time there a misery. I am angry, frustrated, still trying to make sense of what happened there.”

It's strong, moving stuff, and I put it to him that I didn't realise he'd felt that way. "Rollockings were his way to treat me, he probably didn't think I was interested in football enough, but I always liked to have a balance in my life. He felt I was going to get distracted.” But there isn't the hostility speaking to him that there is in the book: “He helped me in certain situations I had off the pitch.”

I ask whether their relationship was a complicated one. “Off the pitch he's always been great, never had any trouble off the pitch. I think as a bloke in general, as a character he's really good. It was just from my point of view as a manager it was probably not what he gave me. I think it was a learning curve for both of us at the time and it was the lack of communication really.” So Fergie taking the young, glamorous and outgoing Sharpe early on in his Utd managerial days might have seen SAF learn a few things? “I would say so, he's a pretty successful bloke and I'd like to think he learnt from the experience he had with me and with other players. He's dealt with a lot of players over the years and I'm sure that I won't have too much influence on him really but if he's taken a little bit out of it then good”.

So was the relationship tough because of Sharpey's flamboyance? “Possibly. The game had moved on to a new era, when SKY came in, there was more tv coverage and it was becoming more glamorous, and more high profile. I just think it was changing from just a game of football into entertainment. I think it was a transitional period for everyone and I think everyone had to learn from it”.

That exuberance of course saw the Sharpey Shuffle, Elvis impressions and the Three Amigos. Didn't Fergie go mental when he saw them being practised at training? “I never practised them, I wanted them to be spontaneous”. But they didn't please Fergie. When I joke well how did Fergie tolerate that shite Giggsy-Ince routine he laughs. “Well...”.

He won 3 titles at United, several Cups, but with all that, is there regret that he didn't achieve more? “No, I think when I left it was the right decision to leave. I wasn't playing regularly for the last two seasons I was there and it wasn't really about the medals for me, it was about my personal position. I felt that I was played in different positions, wide right, wide left, centre midfield, left-back, I just felt that playing two or three games at a time and then being left out for two or three games, I couldn't find any consistency. I just felt it was best that I left and went somewhere where I could play regularly”.

Was Sharpe another casualty at United due to his own versatility, was more expected of him because he could play around the pitch? “I don't think more was expected of me than the others players at all. I just think it was a little bit of a hindrance, I couldn't get into a rhythm, I could never settle myself in. He used to say that, 'Players need 6-8 games to get back to the fitness and the form that you need' and I remember struggling with fitness and form because I wasn't playing regularly. I think it was all a vicious circle and that's when I knew it was time to leave”.

United fans appreciated Sharpey. Did he feel like he was 'one of the lads, one of the fans'. “That's the way I saw it. I was a football fan before I was a player. It was always at the back of my head, my feelings as a fan. I saw the crowd go up, if there was a huge game that I was likely to be in, I imagined being on the Stretford End or K Stand. And, if you 4 like, being there in terms of scoring and putting it in the back of the net. That's why the fans liked me because they could see the joy on my face, the celebrations were fun, I enjoyed it as much as they did.” I'm pleasantly surprised that he remembers K Stand.
What about United, now? “I don't think it'll be a tough season. I fancy them to do quite well this year . I think the disappointment of the last couple of seasons will focus them, I think they missed Rio early on last season, Ruud was struggling with a couple of injuries and wasn't quite himself. If they can keep all the big guns fit this season they have a very good chance”.

In the book he also describes - and Keaney isn't very happy with the bean spilling apparently - he and Keane's drinking days together. One time Keane and Irish team-mate Phil Babb clash. “Who the f***ing hell do you think you are Babb? F**k off back to Coventry.” Sharpe added: “Keane didn’t like Phil Babb. Babb was just trying to get away, trying to remember what you do when backed into a corner by a rabid dog. Arms at your side, look down, no eye contact, go mumbly and humble.” Babb was defended by clubmate Jamie Redknapp – and he too shipped the full vigour of the Keane onslaught: “You, Redknapp, are you happy with your under-21 caps? What the f***ing hell have you ever done in the game?”

I said it sounds almost scary, was he intimidating to the United players? “No, he wasn't really scary to me, I think he scared a few people but we were pretty good mates. I used to have a laugh with him, he used to chuckle back at me and get on with it. He never scared me in the dressing room." So were you two the biggest piss takers at the club? “Me and Keano were sat in the dressing room and training ground together and we used to take the mickey out of a few people. I know Paul Parker used to walk out of the dressing room when we were sat there because he didn't like the stick we used to give him but there were a few. It was a great time, and you had some great characters in there. It was successful and it was really good fun”.

Sharpe had one of his most consistent seasons in the 1992-93 season when we finally ended that long wait for the title. Did he realise how much it meant (and means) to the fans? “Yeah definitely. I think the year before when we lost the league to Leeds everybody was really, really disappointed and gutted after that. I think everybody wanted to make up for it and then towards the end of the season the nerves were kicking in but because of the experience we'd had the season before it pulled us through and everyone was delighted, relieved and happy and everything else to win the first one in 26 years.”.

What about personal highlights? Got to be the hat-trick at Highbury in the surprising (at the time) 6-2 win in the League Cup? “I"ve had so many favourite United moments really. The hat trick at Highbury, the two goals in the two legs of the semi against Leeds, the backheel against Barcelona. There's been some great nights. To pick one out is difficult but you're probably right - the hat-trick. That was probably a defining moment when it put my name on the map that I was there I suppose”.

So how did our rivals take to you joining them from us then? “Surprisingly really well. The fans were all ready to give me a chance. I had one or two little snidey remarks when I was walking round about town but nothing really major. Everyone was pretty good, it was just a pity that it didn't turn out as successful as I'd hoped.” How comes? “Howard Wilkinson bought me and he was only there a short while before he got the sack after the United game. That was disappointing. He was great. He just said: 'That left hand side of the pitch is yours, just go and take people on, get crosses in and score goals, enjoy yourself'. And that's what I wanted to hear. He lasted a month and then George Graham came in and he sort of said: 'Right you're going to play wingback and left back and defend, you're going to have to defend'. It was pretty dour. And that season wasn't particularly great for anybody at Leeds”.

You can't quite see Sharpe taking the coaching badges and moves into management that so many of his former team-mates have. Does or did he ever really fancy it? “No, I never really fancied it. Too much like a 24 hour job, and a massive headache to me from the moment you get up to the moment to the moment you go to bed you've got to think the job. I preferred it as a player, I liked to have time off from it. I'm not surprised that Robbo and Brucey have become good managers. Sparkey I was a little bit surprised about, I didn't think he would choose to go into management but he's done particularly well. It's a while ago now but he's really gone in depth into management courses, doing it right, fair play to him, he's done a great job”.

What about Micky Phelan. We were surprised about his return to United to coach? “Micky was always one of the funny players in the dressing room. He was a character, he was one of the mickey takers in the dressing room but he knew his stuff. He'd done his badges, he was always a good pro. I'm never surprised to see any ex player that's been a good pro back at United because they do look after the players. It's like a big family.”

And then I realise he's on This Morning in a minute so I'd better go. I mention about Saturdays nightclub and his female fan club in the old days, and what it must be like to have women falling over him again. “I've become a little more popular with the girls again, yeah it is a bit weird but it's always nice isn't it!” And how does he handle the paparazzi, similar to Fergie following him around spying in the old days?! “Similar sort of people! No, I don't get paparazzi. You don't have to go into places where the paparazzi wait. You can find a quiet spot and do your own thing. It's nice to be able to pick and choose.”
And as he talks about his overall memories of United, you get the feeling that though there are open comments about his unhappiness about his final year or two at United, the papers have made more out of them from the book than the good times. “It was a really successful period for me. I enjoyed it. I picked out the points in the book, the specifics points over an eight year period and it's really not that many times that I was unhappy. I had a great time there, I have great memories of it and I wish them all the best. They are the first team I look out for for their results”.

Does he see much of Fergie now? “I"ve not seen him very often. I saw him about 12 months ago at a do we were at, he was very sociable . At the end of the day he was my manager, he's older than me so we're never going to socialise together but we're always very friendly”.

And finally, as I - and probably he - breaths a sigh of relief that I've avoided any questions about Abi, I ask his plans for the future. “Maybe getting into a little bit of tv presenting but at the moment I'm just getting invites to good stuff, so I'm just enjoying myself”. And that pretty much takes Lee full circle. That phrase kept popping up today, 'Enjoying himself', which he did on the whole at United and undoubtedly doing so now he's back in the limelight. Ryan Giggs recently said: "Sharpe fell out of love with football. I saw him about a month ago at a charity dinner. He'd just done that Celebrity Love Island and he seemed happy enough. He was incredibly talented but football's changed. The top young players are much more disciplined now and you can trust them more." He's probably right of course but I don't begrudge Sharpe his new alternate lifestyle, and for once don't ask 'what might have been', instead just wish him well as he makes the most out of the fame game, wherever it may have led him. He isn't really bitter, so why should we be?


Post a Comment

<< Home