Football might be his living but it’s not his whole life. The gifted midfielder tells Liam Mackey about his passion for music, literature, history and the game he loves, as well as addressing his controversial exile from the Irish team
YOU’RE talking to a top professional footballer so it’s hardly anything out of the ordinary when he names his favourite player of all time as Maradona.
(“It’s almost like he had an aura around him on the pitch, like in a religious picture”).
Nor should it come as a surprise when he declares that the best footballer he’s ever played with is Roy Keane (“You’d look around your dressing room and you’d think: ‘we’ve got Roy Keane playing for us’”).
But rather more unexpected perhaps is to find a professional footballer waxing eloquent and enthusiastic about Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.
Or citing his friendship with, and admiration for, Christy Moore. Or raving about the songwriting of Damien Rice. Or quoting lines from Oscar Wilde and WB Yeats.
Or selecting James Joyce’s Dubliners as his favourite book whilst confessing that it took him a couple of goes to get to grips with Ulysses.
This is Andy Reid, at home in Nottingham over the Christmas, sitting on a sofa in a room with a painting of Dylan on the wall and an acoustic guitar resting in its stand — though the bulk of his six-string collection, some 23 guitars in all, resides at his other house in Durham, his home from home since signing for Sunderland in 2008.
This is Andy Reid, formerly of Nottingham Forest, Spurs and Charlton, currently — though suspended for the trip to Burnley today — finishing a loan spell with Championship side Sheffield United and, of course, a cause celebre since becoming Ireland’s midfield maestro in exile.
But, to say the least of it, there’s more to the 28-year-old Dubliner than the standard stereotype allows.
Football might be his living but it’s not his life. He’s passionate about the game but passionate about many other things too. And, as he tells it, he wouldn’t — indeed couldn’t — have it any other way.
“At the very, very top, I think you find people who are almost ridiculously obsessive,” he reflects.
“Probably a perfect example of that would be Roy Keane. But I couldn’t be like that, and I realised that quite early on my career. And I don’t apologise for that. And that in no way is it me not being dedicated to football. I just couldn’t live my life like that. I love football, I adore it and when I’m playing, I give everything to my manager and to my team. And I hate losing, absolutely hate it.
“But I have to have things away from football. I need to talk to people, I need to read, I need to play guitar, I need to go on the internet. I can’t just come home here and sit thinking about football from two in the afternoon until half-nine then next morning when I go training again.
“I could never have done that because I wouldn’t have been happy. And for me to play football, I need to be happy. It’s something I always say when I’m working with kids: play with a smile on your face. Especially when you’re young because, trust me, it doesn’t get any more enjoyable as you get older.
“It gets a lot more intense when you’re a professional. It can still be enjoyable when you’re three-up but there’s nothing enjoyable about being 2-0 down with 40,000 people on your back. And anyone who tells you different is telling you lies.”
THERE was always music in the family home in Crumlin which he shared with his parents and four brothers but, following the example of his father, Bob, who played for St Patrick’s Athletic and Fatima Rangers, it was football which held sway for Reid from an early age.
“Probably from about seven until I was maybe 15 or 16 I was really only interested in football, ridiculously so,” he says.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without a ball. My ma would send me down to the shop and I’d take the football with me, carrying the bags back with the ball at my feet. I realised, as I was getting a bit older, that when I’d play a game of football with friends, I’d know naturally how to kick a ball to make it curl in and, with the outside of your foot, to make it curl the other way.
“I don’t think anyone can really teach you that and I seemed to know how to do it when I was younger.
“The thing is, if all you do is toe-poke a ball, then the ‘keeper will save it the majority of times. So you have to think of different ways to beat him. And, really, that’s what football is all about: imagination. If you’ve no imagination, you can’t play football. And that has to start when you’re younger, before you’re ever coached.”
That said, he admits he was fortunate to encounter enlightened coaches at his schoolboy clubs Lourdes Celtic and Cherry Orchard and then, after his outstanding talent had brought him to the attention of English scouts, luckier still to come under the wing of youth team coach Paul Hart — now being tipped for the vacant post at Bramall Lane — when, as a teenager, Reid signed for Forest.
“He always wanted us to try and play football, to play out from the back,” he recalls. “And I always remember him saying to us: ‘If we play this way, we are going to give the ball away. But I’ll never give out to you about it — as long as you switch on straight away and give everything you’ve got to get it back’.
“Paul Hart was brilliant and I don’t think anyone could have got a better football education, not just technically or as regards positional sense but in terms of football etiquette as well — how to conduct yourself on and off the pitch.”
The extent to which life off the pitch can eclipse life on it was illustrated in a momentous way for Reid when, aged just 16, he became a father, after Pamela, his then girlfriend in Dublin, gave birth to baby Saoirse.
Reid’s first instinct was to pack in his burgeoning football career and head home but after talking it over with his girlfriend and her family, his own parents and, finally, Paul Hart, he agreed to stay on in England and commit himself to trying to realise the potential his coach felt he had to make it as a top professional footballer.
Hart, he says, was hugely understanding and ensured that, whenever possible, Reid would be allowed time to go home and visit his daughter.
Saoirse is now 11 but, despite the success her father has gone on to have in the game — and the resultant financial stability it has helped him bring to his daughter’s life — Reid is still not convinced he actually made the right decision all those years ago.
“I’ll always be torn on that one,” he says. “Football-wise, yes, I’ve been very lucky in my career but at the same time I’ve missed out on a lot of Saoirse as a child growing up and that’s stuff I won’t be able to get back. As she gets older, it’s up to me to explain to her the reasons why I did what I did. And I think she does understand. And I don’t think she resents me for it or resents the decisions I made. But I missed a lot and nothing that ever happens in my life will bring that back. And I’d have always regretted that part of it, even if I’d won a World Cup or a Champions League.”
When Reid finally graduated from the youth ranks at the City Ground, his inspirational performances made him one of the most talked about players outside the top flight.
And, on one memorable occasion, it was yet another man-of-the-match performance by Reid which facilitated his one and only encounter with the most revered figure in the club’s history, Brian Clough.
“He’d turn up unannounced at Forest, just walk in the front door and everybody would be absolutely all over him,” Reid remembers.
“He’d be given the best seat in the director’s box — and, rightly so, he may as well have owned the club. This day, we beat Coventry 1-0 and he’s decided that he wants to present the man-of-the-match award. So I walk into this room, with probably about 150 people in it, with a microphone at the top. And he’s presenting the award to me but, it was funny, the way he was talking it was like there was just me and him in the room. And he says, ‘Son, I thought you were excellent today, you did really, really well.’ Now, I’d had a good game but I’d also put a couple of chances over the top. And then next thing he’s saying, ‘But those couple of chances that you missed — stop watching that Jonny Wilkinson. He’s supposed to kick them over the bar. You’re supposed to kick them under.’ And the only thing I could think to say was, ‘Thanks very much, Mr Clough’.”
Reid bought the house in which we’re talking just at the end of his time at the City Ground, though the nomadic life of the professional footballer has since seen him play, with varying success and frustration, for Spurs, Charlton, Sunderland and, of late, Sheffield United, as well as racking up 27 appearances for his country until Giovanni Trapattoni controversially left him out in the cold.
Over the course of his career, does Reid think he has done justice to his undoubted talents?
“Over a sustained period, maybe not,” he concedes. “Injury plays a big part or maybe mentally at times, for one reason or another, you’re not quite right. There’s all those factors. And maybe as well I couldn’t have done any more. But you always feel as a player that there’s more to come. And I still feel that. I’m 28 and I believe that over the next three or four years I’m going to produce the best football that I’ve ever produced.”
Reid talks about the need to commit even more to the game as he gets older but insists this is not to suggest that he’s never been complacent in his attitude to his sport, despite repeated accusations that, at various times in his career, he has carried excess weight.
“I do think that’s been exaggerated,” he says. “The comments never really bothered me. I believe that once I’m in a team, week in and week out, then it’s not a problem.”
Still, the late summer of 2009, did see Steve Bruce singing the praises of a leaner Reid when the player returned for pre-season training at the Stadium of Light.
“What happened,” says Reid, “is that because I hadn’t played very much at the end of the season before that, I wanted to give myself the best opportunity I could to be in really, really good shape when I came back for pre-season. So I worked with a personal trainer in the off-season and I did exactly the same this year. And it’s probably something I will do every year now as long as I’m playing.
“There are so many ways of prolonging your career now — rehab programmes, stretching programmes, injury prevention programmes. All these things weren’t there when I started playing football but they’re things I’m trying to buy into now. Because you can always improve.”
The new regime certainly paid off at the start of the 2009/10 season, as Reid showed his best form to date in the Sunderland colours but, as so often happens in football, injury woes rudely intervened.
“It was the left leg. First, I got a hamstring injury on Stephen’s Day. Then on my first day back in training after that I hurt my calf and needed an operation. Then I did rehab over the summer and ended up with an achilles problem.
“By the time I got back from all that, Sunderland were doing well and I was only getting 10 minutes here and there. And, because I needed games, that’s what I’m doing at Sheffield United. My loan spell is up on January 3. I feel I’ve done reasonably well, scored a couple, set up a few, got some good match fitness in.
“After that, I’ll head back to Sunderland and take it from there. But whether I stay at Sunderland or go somewhere else, I want to be a Premier League player. Because that’s where I feel I belong.”
GIVEN his silky skills, eye for a pass and dead-ball expertise, it’s no surprise to hear Reid say that he’d love to play for a European team. But, of course, being Andy Reid, it’s not just the style of football which he attracts him.
“I’m a very curious person, I would like to experience different cultures,” he says. “There’s more to the world than what I’ve experienced in England and Ireland. I understand why people think about footballers in a certain way but I think they’d be surprised as well by the amount of footballers who want to know more, want to learn more and not just about football. There’s loads of things which fascinate me. Music, obviously. I also absolutely love history. At Christmas, if anyone wants to buy me anything, it’s ‘just get me books.’ I love Irish literature. Joyce, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats. I love poetry.
“I didn’t get it from school, I had very little interest in school, so much so that I’d love it when I’d get off early to play a football match. And I regret that now. But I was lucky. There’s a really good friend of mine at home, Tom McLoughlin, who grew up in Fatima Mansions with my dad. And he would have been a big influence on me in terms of literature.
“He plays guitar as well, which is probably how we got close in the first place. He’s just a really knowledgeable man and one of those people who, when you sit down to have a conversation with him, you look at your watch and it’s seven hours later and it feels like it was two minutes.
“So, yeah, I’m interested in a lot of things but at the same time I think a lot of people do the stuff I’m talking about for effect. I’ve no problem, if there’s something I don’t like, in saying that’s not for me. I’ll leave it even if it seems to be hip. Say, for instance, when I read James Joyce’s Dubliners, I completely and utterly loved it. Then I read Ulysses because I felt, not like I had to, but just because it was Ulysses. And maybe I wanted to be able to tell myself that I’d read Ulysses, as in in a sense of achievement. So it probably wasn’t until the second or third time that I read it that I started to understand it and enjoy it. But I’d never pretend to read something and like it just because anyone says I should.”
As we near the end of our conversation, I think it’s well established that Reid has a life outside football. But what about that potentially trickier prospect — his life after football?
“I’ve thought about that quite a lot,” he says. “I don’t know exactly what I’ll do. I’m doing my coaching badges at the moment ‘cos I want that to be an option. But what I really want to make sure of is that, when I do finish playing football, that that’s not the end of my life. I only want to see it as the end of a chapter.
“And then it’ll be: ‘now, let’s go again, let’s do something else.’”
‘If the same situation happened again, I’d do exactly the same thing’
Andy Reid on the infamous night he got on the wrong side of Giovanni Trapattoni and the price his family has paid for his Irish exile.
IN HIS house in Nottingham, Andy Reid brings me down to the basement games room — where framed Irish and Italian jerseys bearing the names ‘Reid’ and ‘Del Piero’ gaze down on the pool table — to dig out pictorial evidence of his happiest moment in the green shirt.
It’s a big colour print, yet to be framed, showing the celebration on the pitch moments after Reid had scored one of the best goals of his career — a sublime 25-yard curler into the top corner as Brian Kerr’s Ireland beat Cyprus 3-0 at Lansdowne Road in September 2004.
“I couldn’t have placed it better if I’d used my hands,” Reid says of the perfect strike.
The picture shows an impromptu pyramid of jubilant Irish players, with John O’Shea on top supported by Damien Duff, Graham Kavanagh and Andy O’Brien. Somewhere in the middle, hidden from the camera, is the goalscorer. “That’s my favourite picture from my Irish career,” he smiles, “and I’m not even in it.”
Six years on, Andy Reid needs no reminding that now he really has become the invisible man of Irish football.
Giovanni Trapattoni has always maintained that his refusal to select Reid is pragmatic. “If I was certain he would improve the team, he would play tomorrow,” he has said. But no-one can dispute that the player’s cause was severely damaged by a fall-out with the manager after a wee hours sing-song at the team hotel on a free night in Wiesbaden in September 2008, an occasion on which the Italian is said to have finally set about the Dubliner with a rolled-up copy of the ‘Gazzetta Dello Sport’ after the guitar-playing Reid, and team-mates, had allegedly ignored the manager’s repeated requests to call it a night.
Trapattoni’s disputed version of events has it that Reid was pretty much the ringleader and the last to go to bed. “If he was my son, I would go ‘boom’,” the Italian once said, miming a kick up the arse.
For his part, Reid is still visibly uncomfortable when offered the chance to present his side of the story in public.
“I haven’t gone into it and I don’t want to go into it,” he says. “But there’s two points that I’d make. I didn’t bring a guitar to Germany with me. It was a member of Ireland’s backroom staff that had a guitar. So it belonged to somebody else in the group, not me.
“Secondly, talking about the ringleader thing: you can’t tell me that I’d be a ringleader in a situation where you’ve got people like Robbie Keane, Richard Dunne and Shay Given. (I’m) not saying that they’d be ringleaders but what I am saying is that they’d be strong enough people to do whatever they want to do, whether I’m there or not. So I’m not in control of what anyone else does.
“The reason I’ve never spoken about it is because I’m a really firm believer that what happens within a squad stays within a squad. I don’t feel free to talk about what happened (in Wiesbaden) because it doesn’t just involve me. It involves the coaching staff, the manager, the backroom staff, everyone who was there.
“When I play for a team, it’s my team and I played for that team at that time, so I’m not going to talk about anything that happened in that squad. And I never will as long as I’m playing football.
“At the same time, I can understand that a lot of people might turn around and say, ‘well, he’s saying that because he’s got something to hide’. But I’ve not got anything to hide. I just stand by my principles. I don’t feel I have anything to apologise for.
“I behaved in the way that I was brought up and I had a really good upbringing by really good people. And if the same situation happened again, I would do exactly the same thing. No doubt about it at all.
“Out of everything that has come from this, the thing that hurts me the most is that I think it has hurt my family. My daughter as well. Kids coming up to her and saying things like, ‘Trapattoni doesn’t like your Da. What did your Da do?’ And then having journalists ringing my Mam and Dad.
“My Mam and Dad are my Mam and Dad, they don’t do interviews. It’s things like that that hurt me.
“As for me, I don’t know if hurt is the right word — not because I don’t care, because I do, a hell of a lot — but I’ve never said that I’m not going to play for Ireland.
“What I’ve said is that I’d pay my own plane fare over and for my own hotel to go and play. If I say that I’m resigned now in my own head to not playing (under Trapattoni), then it’s like saying that I’m not prepared to go and play. And I am. I’m ready to go and play as soon as I’m asked.
“I know there’s been a lot of goodwill towards me and it’s always nice to know that people are on your side. I get it from every second person I pass when I’m back in Ireland. But I’m also not so naïve to think that if Ireland play tomorrow night and win 5-0 that anybody will be thinking about Andy Reid.”
Picture: FIGHTING FIT: a spate of injuries dogged Andy Reid last season at Sunderland but he has been recovering form on loan at Sheffield United. Picture: Inpho/Huw Evans
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