Liverpool-born striker Billy Paynter signed for Doncaster Rovers in the summer after leaving Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.
He spoke to Tom Biltcliffe at the training ground about life on Merseyside, Robbie Williams and his new gaffer, Dean Saunders.
What was your earliest footballing memory?
It was my dad taking me to watch Everton as a fan. We had season tickets when we were younger and then I obviously followed my own path in to football. My dad used to take me to the pub and I’d be outside having a kick about with my mates.
Who were your heroes during that era?
At Everton, big Duncan Ferguson was a cult hero and we loved him on the terraces.
How does it help you as a player, knowing what it’s like to be a fan?
You know what to expect, you understand the game a bit more and try and bring it in to your own game.
How did you get started as a footballer?
I was playing for the Sunday league sides and got spotted when I was 11 and then taken to Port Vale. I had a trial there, signed up and progressed as a YT before making my debut as a 16 year old.
How was your debut?
It came about after playing and scoring in a few reserve games and I was pulled to one side by Brian Horton and told to get a suit for the next day’s game. I thought I’d just be among the squad but was on the bench and got the last half hour of the game.
Did you ever meet (life-long Port Vale fan) Robbie Williams?
I came across him once actually at Martin Foyle’s testimonial. I was only young and he just walked past me but he was still a chirpy character and a decent player on the pitch as well.
Is working your way up to professional football better than starting in an academy?
I’ve had friends who were in the academies at Everton and Liverpool and they enjoy the luxury part of football but when you’re at Port Vale they look at the youngsters more and give you a chance where I think the players learn more.
Does that make you appreciate objects more because you’ve had to work for them instead of them being given to you?
Yes, obviously you have to work for it wherever. That’s why I got my debut when I did because I was working hard; the manager saw that and then gave me a chance. A lot of friends at Everton were still playing youth football and not getting a sniff because those clubs can go and spend millions of pounds. It was hard for them to stand out whereas managers at lower leagues are looking to find a gem.
What is it about Merseyside and it’s affinity with football?
If you look through the leagues there are loads of lads from Liverpool but it’s what we’ve grown up with really – playing football in the streets with your friends. You see a lot of kids walking through the streets with a ball and if it you make it great, but I’m sure there are some players with great ability who haven’t made it.
Are you proud to be from that area?
Yes, I’m proud of where I’m from. People say it’s rough; there are certain areas that are rough as there are in many cities. I’m proud of where I’m from and I wouldn’t change it.
What was the happiest time of your career?
We got a good draw in the FA Cup while at Swindon away to Fulham and we went out and enjoyed it because we weren’t expected to get anything and the pressure wasn’t on us. Obviously making my debut was a highlight, scoring my first goal, playing at Wembley. Hopefully I can do one better this season with Doncaster.
How do you reflect on your time at Leeds United?
I never seemed to get a start but injuries didn’t’ help and I had occasions when I came on for four minutes at 3-0 down and that counts as an appearance – there’s not much you can do.
What’s it like having Dean Saunders – a former Red – as your manager?
It’s alright. I heard a little rumour that he could have signed for Everton but he chose to sign for the other half instead - some people chose to make these decisions! I enjoy working with him though and that’s why I’ve come here.
Your 28 year old, do you feel at your peak?
It wasn’t working at Leeds so I needed to get out and get football. I had a few years left on my contract and could have sat there and just had basically a year’s holiday getting paid. I wanted to get back out there playing football which is something I enjoy and love doing.