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Bez Lifts the Lid...
 Life with United...and beyond   Part XX

After relentless grilling of Bez for the first half of the season, we then crept up on his blind side and elicited the following bits and bobs from him when we came to play teams for a second time.

Bez on Bradford: 

John only ever played against Bradford in the friendly game struck up as part of the deal to sign Des Hamilton. We asked John about our very own Disco Des.

Des is a smashing bloke but I think he felt a bit intimidated by coming to a club the size of Newcastle. I can't remember who started it but he got nicknamed Bubba - the dopey character out of that Tom Hanks film, Forrest Gump.

Unfortunately Des did the worst thing that you can do in situations like that and let everyone know he didn't like it. He'd ask us to stop calling him it, which usually meant the mickey-taking got worse and he'd often get asked if he was going off shrimp-fishing.... It was one of those situations where he showed a weakness and suffered for it but it was never anything personal, it happened to everyone but Des seemed to take it badly. He also got nicknamed "Shelf" because of his big backside and the lads would ask him if they could rest their pint on his shelf. Again, he wasn't too keen on that.

He was a strange player in that he arrived with rave reviews and could look really good in training but at other times he didn't look so clever. However, one thing which he was a world-beater at was Tomb Raider. When we were in the Champions League we all got given a Sony Playstation and he was fantastic. If ever anyone got stuck they'd give Bubba a ring. This also lead to his another nickname - "Rain Man".

In the friendly game at Bradford Des was made captain and he lead the team out onto the pitch. When we ran out we stopped and he ran out by himself. I think everyone saw the funny side of that. Incidentally in that game I played as left wing-back and I was directly up against Chris Wilder who is now my current boss at Bradway. [Bez now plays for a Sunday League side].

Our only other Bradford angle was to ask John if he had any stories about Stan Collymore.

Probably nothing more than the usual ones. As well as playing against him for Liverpool and Forest he played against us for Southend in the promotion season. Stan quickly got a bad reputation among players who saw he had fantastic ability but knew he was the "missing link". I can remember the England lads, Shearer, Rob Lee or Bats coming back and saying what he was like. I also remember Steve Stone at Forest didn't think too much of him.

When you played against him there was never much point in roughing him up which seemed to make him play better. The best thing was to just talk to him - he was easily distracted.... 

Bez on Ipswich

ITFC 0 NUFC 2 28.2.95
- Fox & Kitson on target

Paul Kitson had one of the weirdest senses of humour, he was a bit off the wall at times. Most of the lads didn't quite know how to take him. He didn't smile a lot and was very sarcastic and it took a while to get to know and like him. There was one thing that he started that became cultish at the club. 

At the end of saying something sarcastic he would say, "Zaza". So, for example, if you had a really bad game he would come up to you afterwards and say, "Bez you did alright today, zaza." This would be used in all sorts of different ways and really started to catch on.

One morning Keegan called us all together for a meeting when we'd hit a bit of a bad run. I think Kitson wasn't keen on signing his contract and he'd had a few disagreements with Keegan. KK asked around if anyone had any problems and no-one really said very much. "And what about you, Paul?" he said. Kitson looked a bit taken aback and said nothing. "Come on, there must be something you'd like to say and I'll take as many zaza's as you like." The room erupted.

Paul used to fancy himself a bit and thought he was a bit of a tough nut. I don't know whether he was or not but "I'll knock ya out," became a bit of a catchphrase for him. This backfired a bit after he came off worse after a night out in Leeds. I think he was out with his girlfriend and some lads started having a go. Instead of laughing it off Paul squared up to them and took a bit of a battering. Of course the lads were sympathetic and took the mickey all week. I'm sure every time Paul told the story one more was added to the number of lads he took on.

We asked John about the infamous incident when Keegan apparently turned off the radio on the team bus when callers into phone-in, 606, abused Kitson on the way back from a 0-0 at Sheffield Wednesday.

I honestly don't remember it and I'd be a bit surprised if it actually happened. We never had it on in the bus. As soon as the results were read out at 6.00 the radio would get turned off and a music video would get put on.

Bez on the 'Ammers

Tommy Wright was our keeper at the start of the 1992-3 promotion campaign which included a 2-0 win over West Ham.

"You might not think it but Tommy was the best runner at the club which was pretty unusual for a goalkeeper. I can run a bit and got put into the quicker group which would give the others a head start and I was surprised that Tommy was in there. 

He had no calves and often took a bit of stick for having "chicken legs". After we'd given the first group a few minute's head start we set off and Tom was off like a shot. 'He'll be knackered after a couple of minutes,' I thought but I couldn't catch him. It was only afterwards one of the lads told me he was an Irish Cross-Country champion.

He and Liam [O'Brien] were the best of mates but Tommy would always put himself out and couldn't do enough for you, which is still the case today. After that game with Man City when Tommy played a blinder everyone wanted to talk to him. I caught his eye and he made sure I got the first interview with him straight after the game."

Bez on the Saints:

We asked him first of all about the other players who had been at both St.James' and the Dell in recent years, and after pleading the fifth amendment over Barry Venison (although the man himself will spill the beans directly to us at some stage), he was more forthcoming about defender Alan Neilson.

We always referred to Alan Neilson as "Mad Al" and wondered whether he was the Missing Link....
He was a great athlete but whenever he gave the ball away he would chase it back like a man possessed. You sometimes felt that he'd send his own team mates flying if he could win it back. I actually roomed with him for a while.

He was also a bit of a gambler and occasionally got himself into trouble through it. There was one time when we went down for a game at Chelsea he was playing cards with some of the lads and started to lose heavily. 

He kept chasing it trying to win it back (like on the pitch!) but got further and further into trouble. He was losing money that meant an awful lot to him although to the other players it wasn't that much. By the time we got down to the match he was in no fit state to play, although he did and he was all over the shop.

He's a good player, though and if he can just avoid diving in too much then I think he could do well in the Premieership with Fulham. 

Moving on to Southampton's recently-departed manager Mr Hoddle, Bez commented: 

"Most of us thought that Glenn Hoddle saw the Southampton position as a stepping stone for the Spurs job. David Howells would often say exactly that and although it was speculation on our part, it was no surprise when Hoddle went to White Hart Lane."

Bez also revealed that the current Saints caretaker manager Stuart Gray was instrumental in him moving to the South Coast from the toon:

"I was out of the team and a bit depressed, with Pistone and Pearce having been brought in, and while I understood Pearce signing, I knew I had more to offer than 'Sandro. I had a right go at Dalglish and he told me that he had to play Pistone as he'd paid big money for him!

"I was watching a Newcastle game from the stands a few days later, and got talking to Stuart Gray who was doing some scouting for Southampton. He asked me why I wasn't playing, and when the story came out, he said straight away that Southampton would be interested in signing me.   

We also asked Bez about his final competitive appearance at St.James', when he returned with Southampton (16th Jan 2000).

"My last game had been back in the October when on loan at Birmingham, and although I knew I was nowhere near fit enough to play, I was desperate to be in that side for one more game at St.James'.

Even during training that week I was in agony, but managed to look ok whenever the gaffer (Dave Jones) looked across. I knew that i f I told him I was alright i'd be guaranteed a sub's spot for the game, and sure enough he put me on the bench. 

Finally, with Newcastle already four ahead
(it finished 5-0), he asked me if I wanted to on, and I made it for the last 17 minutes, even though I was just about doubled up with pain when I was waiting to come on!

The reception from the Newcastle fans was one of the highlights of my career.

Finally, we asked Bez whether he had any particular recollections about going down to Southampton during the Keegan era, given that our then- Manager had been a Saint at one time. 

"Keegan never really seemed that bothered about going back to The Dell. I know he didn't play for them for that long but he lived down in Hampshire for a good while. He was never like he was when we went to Anfield. That was always a special trip for KK."

Bez on the Gunners

Once more we went a bit tangential in our second wave of interrogation. Mentioning a few of Bez's Arsenal England colleagues brought up one or two tall tales....

"The England game I got called up for was a qualifier in Turkey and there were a number of Arsenal lads in the squad. Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Ian Wright were there. Dixon is a very quiet lad and although I know he's not a big favourite with Newcastle fans off the pitch he's actually OK. He's a scratch golfer and spends a lot of his spare time working on that.

"Tony Adams was a fantastic captain. His team-talks before a game were something else. On the pitch he'd also look after you and was great at organising. But the joker of the pack was Ian Wright. In Turkey Gazza and Wrighty were there and the two of them together was a frightening  combination! In the team-talk that Graham Taylor gave before the match Gazza and Wrighty were sitting together and every time Taylor turned to the board to talk about the opposition's players they would start thumping eachother. When Taylor turned back they would both sit bolt upright and nod in agreement and look concerned before punching eachother when Taylor turned his back again. It was hilarious - a bit like being back at school. At the end Taylor summed up and then thanked Gazza and Wright for the entertainment....

"It was quite nerve-wracking meeting all the squad for the first time but Wrighty was great in putting you at ease. As soon as I walked in he shouted "Alright, big man?" and made a big effort to welcome me to the squad. You might also remember one picture from our training out there when Gazza and Wrighty were covered from head to toe in mud. That was when we trained on a mud-bath and the press and fans watching were in hysterics as the pair dived into pools of mud. 

"There was also a bread roll fight that the pair had at the hotel restaurant. They were sitting about 20 yards apart and they were absolutely pinging them at eachother. Shortly after I got in the lift with them as we went back to our rooms. The FA Secretary Graham Kelly was also in. Gazza started making fart noises saying, "Ahwww Mr Kelly, that's disgusting." 

"When we got to the stadium the fans had already been in the ground for ages. I remember a banner on the far side that said "Gazza Die" and as we came out of the tunnel they pelted us with all sorts of things. Gazza and Wright both gave "Come on then" gestures which didn't exactly quieten them down. As we came off they were throwing lighted bits of paper at us and one landed on an elderly woman's head. She must have had a fair amount of lacquer on, as it went up in a big blue flame. It got put out very quickly and I don't think she was hurt but I remember Steve Howey, Steve Watson and Lee Clark being there with the under-21's and we were all very nervous sitting in the stands. 

"We won the game 2-0 but unfortunately I never got on the pitch despite warming up on the touchline. I played in a couple of England B games at Anfield and Hillsborough but that time away with the England squad was an experience I'll always remember."

Niall MacKenzie

Page last updated 24 June, 2009