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Old 29-06-2006, 10:06 PM
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Interesting Andy Roberts article

'I never wanted to leave any of my clubs' Jun 30 2006


HE CHANGED hands for a total of more than 4million.

While many players try very hard and seem to achieve little, Andy Roberts was a genuinely highly talented playmaker.

He nearly helped Millwall and then Palace to promotion, and was possibly one of the last truly gifted Wimbledon players before the club deserted its fans for Milton Keynes.

His game had everything, though sometimes he looked like he was playing within himself. And it was perhaps his laid-back style which was ultimately the reason why the demand for his services slowly faded.

Roberts was brought up at the other end of the A2 from The Den, in South Darenth, Kent.

"I never even thought I was talented,"he said. "Yes, you need some talent, but also some luck and some dedication.

"But all I ever wanted to do was play football and I was lucky enough to be asked by Millwall. It doesn't come any better than that."

He became part of the Lions Academy team which won the FA Youth Cup in 1991, with a 3-0 win at Hillsbrough and a 0-0 draw at home against Sheffield Wednesday.

The semi-final had been against West Ham at the old Den, in front of thousands of fans."I used to love the atmosphere there," said Roberts."You could see the fear in the eyes of our opponents. No one wanted to play there,because it was basically a dump.The 10-inch spikes at the top of the fences were intimidating for visiting fans. But it made me feel safe - I knew our supporters were not going to do anything to me."

In the reserves, Roberts had played alongside Mick McCarthy, who manager Bruce Rioch had ousted from the first team. "I used to love playing alongside some of the stars," said Roberts. "You used to think they were the best players in the world. But playing in the first team is what you dream of.Once you've seen them in action, that's all you can think about."

The Yorkshireman must have been impressed, because within days of taking charge of the team himself, he gave Roberts his debut, two weeks after his 18th birthday, in a 1-0 defeat at Cambridge United in April 1992.

Over the next four years, and 157 games, Roberts made himself an indispensible part of the McCarthy revolution, which took the Lions so close to promotion to the top flight, until speculation linking him with the Republic of Ireland manager's job destabilised the team.

A memorable picture of Roberts, dressed in just his underpants, in the last game at the old Den, is one of the iconic pictures of Millwall history. "The fans ran onto the pitch with 20 minutes to go and were after the players kits," he recalled. I fell to the ground and there were about 15 people all around me,trying to grab my shirt. When my shorts were being torn off, the string ripped into my skin. I had to be escorted off by Reg Burr,the chairman.

"I had to be escorted off by a policeman and Mick had his evil face on, he was fuming - this big vein in his neck would pop out."

As a Spurs fan, five games against Arsenal, in the League and FA Cups,stand out.

He hit the net in the first, a 1-1 draw at Highbury in the League Cup, one of eight goals he scored for the Lions in that first spell. "A cross came in from Tony Dolby and it got knocked back," said Roberts. "I was standing on the line and just poked it in. It wasn't a top goal in Millwall's history but just to score against David Seaman, the England keeper at the time, was amazing.

"We had a great team spirit," added Roberts. "Everyone got on so well - but no one took that for granted. We all worked hard for each other and it really showed on the pitch. We all went out for a drink in the week and were best mates.

"The only disappointing thing was not getting promoted." Millwall reached the play-offs, but were knocked out by Derby,5-1 on aggregate.

Roberts did not feature because he had been struck down by glandular fever. "It was horrible not being part of the team for the play-offs - and going out when we had got so close after such a tough season made it all the worse," said Roberts.

Over to the Palace

The player was only a few weeks past his 21st birthday when his first Den spell came to an end after the 1994-95 season ended in mid-table mediocrity.

"There had been rumours but I never thought anything of it," he said. "I had only been back in training three or four days when Mick told me the club had accepted an offer.Well, I didn't want to go,because I felt we had such a good chance of going up - and the Den felt like home. I really didn't want to upset anyone,either.

"Mick said to go and think about it - but he never told me who the offer had been from. When he eventually told my dad it was Crystal Palace, I said 'No way - they are our rivals.'

"In the end I did sign, though. It's a horrible thing to say, but they had a bigger fanbase and so a better chance of going straight back up, after being relegated from the Premiership. Plus, Millwall wanted to sell me. They thought they had won the lottery."

He moved to Palace, then managed by Steve Coppell, for 2.3million - a huge amount, even 10 years later. "The amount did not bother me, because I am so laid back," said Roberts. "I was proud that anyone wanted to pay that much for me. Keith Stevens did not want me to go but advised me it might be best for me."

Roberts' Palace career did not start well. "The press were claiming the transfer figure had affected me and by the end of the year everyone was slaughtering me," he added. "It didn't help that Millwall were top of the table and Palace were bottom.

"I loved going back to The Den in that period, and getting slaughtered by the fans. I thrive on getting stick - I got the usual, like 'You fat b*****d' and 'Judas'.
"I even got threatening letters,which I did not take too seriously.Palace wanted to take them to the police, but no one was ever going to do anything to anyone."

In the end, though, it was Millwall who were relegated, despite Roberts' efforts. "Portsmouth and Millwall were only separated by goal difference in the final table," said Roberts."But I had 'scored' against Pompey a month before, in a 0-0 draw at Selhurst. I was on the edge of the box and hit a volley which flew in. But as I hit it, the ref blew for full-time. If the goal had stood, Millwall would never have gone down."

Wembley agony

Palace, by contrast, made the 1996 play-off final, at Wembley,against Leicester,whose keeper was former Lion Kasey Keller.

Roberts chose a good time to score his first Eagles goal. Coppell had him as a sweeper that day. "I used to love it there, because no one ever picked me up," he said.

In the 14th minute, he took possession just inside Leicester's half. "I ran on 15 yards, and still no one came near me," Roberts recalled. "When I hit it low, it bounced just in front of the keeper and bounced over him. To score any goal is a great feeling, but to do it at Wembley was even better."

But the Foxes,led by one Steve Claridge,came back as Roberts counted down the minutes.Mark Edworthy conceded a penalty with 13 minutes to go,which Garry Parker converted.

And with a minute to go of extra-time, Leicester brought on Zeljko Kalac, Australia's bungling keeper in last week's 2-2 World Cup draw with Croatia.

"It was the weirdest substitution in the world," said Roberts. "I didn't know who he was, but he looked about nine foot tall, and we were already looking at penalties. The whole game seemed to stop."

Leicester, though, took a quick throw-in, and Claridge volleyed in for the winner. "We didn't even have time to kick off again," said Roberts. "We were all completely stunned. It was the worst feeling in the world to lose such a massive game that way."

The following year, though, Palace themselves scored with the last kick of the game, against Sheffield United, and Roberts was in the Promised Land.

Playing alongside Sampdoria legend Attilio Lombardo, beating Everton 1-0 at Goodison Lane,were highlights of that 1997-98 season.

"We weren't the best of teams," he confessed. "What I remember most was that if you made one mistake, it was a goal, when you could get away with about five the season before."

Don for a Burton

After 131 games at Palace,Ron Noades accepted a 2million bid for him. "It looked like we were going down, but I was loving playing for them and didn't want to leave - and I had another year left on my contract,"he said.

Still, the move was to Selhurst Park tenants Wimbledon. He went to see Dons boss Joe Kinnear and was soon persuaded to sign.

"I didn't even have time to say goodbye to my team-mates it happened so quickly," Roberts recalled. "Noades was selling the club and he wanted to get money in before he did, I think."

He was among friends, too - ex-Lions Kenny Cunningham, Jon Goodman, Ben Thatcher and Mark Kennedy would all play alongside him for the Dons.

Roberts would end up playing repeatedly against boyhood club Spurs, who knocked them out of the League Cup,in the semi-final, and the FA Cup,in the fourth round, in 1999.

"Wimbledon was a great club to play for but hardly anyone watched us," said Roberts."It was like playing for a Sunday league team in front of 4,000 fans, even though we had derbies almost every month."

Sam Hammam's sale of the club hailed a downturn in fortunes. "The players under-achieved and that was all down to the manager Egil Olsen," said Roberts."We should have come straight back up,but it just got worse and worse."

Especially for Roberts, when he fell out with new boss Terry Burton in November 2001.

"You know when you're playing well, and I believed I was, but as soon as his first choice players returned, I would be dropped," said the player.

Soon Roberts found himself training with youth players and unable to play for two months. He went out on loan to Norwich, until his Dons deal ran out.

That summer,he wrote to every single league club, begging to be allowed to train with them.

He only received a handful of replies.

He trained at Brighton for a few days at the start of 2003-04, but otherwise was treated like a pariah.

Then he finally received an answer from Colin Lee at Walsall. But days before, Millwall had been beaten 6-0 by Rotherham at home on the opening day of the season. And the very day Roberts began packing for the trip north, he was called by Lions chairman Theo Paphitis."Joining Millwall was infinitely preferable to living in a hotel in Walsall,"said Roberts."But when it came to the deal, Millwall drove a hard bargain."

Roaring back for Lions

Roberts made his second Lions debut in the blazing heat of a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham.

Much of that season became a long wait for striker Richard Sadlier to return after a hip operation. But Roberts played his part. During a 2-1 win at Walsall, Roberts put in a performance which for me is one of the best I've seen in a Millwall shirt.

He was everywhere that day - tackling back, intercepting, threading passes and providing a passing option. It proved he still had everything, even if he didn't get much chance to show it.

Because the same day he had signed for Millwall, Dennis Wise had also joined the club, and the former Chelsea captain was McGhee's preferred choice in the engine room. "Neither of us could work out why we'd both been signed to play the same position,"said Roberts,who would end up playing only 71 games in three years at The Den.

He also scored a truly memorable goal against Wolves,a chest-high left-footed volley return of a half clearance that left keeper Matt Murray no chance as it looped over his defence into the far corner.

Roberts was a bit-part player under Wise, though completing a full 90 minutes in the 2-1 win at Tranmere in the FA Cup quarter-finals. He replaced injured skipper Kevin Muscat just before half-time in the semi-final. And few will forget the pictures of him and Wise hugging in euphoria at the final whistle after the Lions won 1-0 against Sunderland to book their places in the final.

But he would play just 180 more minutes of football in the next year for the club where he started his career. He was first injured, then a row blew up between Roberts and another player as the final approached. When it became public in the tabloids, Wise declared Roberts would never play for him again and the club tried to sack the midfield.

Roberts had his fifth knee operation in the summer of 2004 and the next year in the treatment room. Following an unsuccessful year of rehabilitation, his contract ran out and he had reached the end of the line.A knee injury which plagued him for years finally ended his career.

But for much of the last two years, he's been able to look after his daughter Summer while his wife Lee-Anne went back to work at ITV. Now, after the recent birth of son Finley, he's earning his keep by buying property to develop and sell on. "I tried running at Christmas but couldn't walk after that," he said. "Then I tried a five-aside game,but couldn't move the next day. I need to get myself a bike now,to keep fit."

Whatever happened at Millwall, a player who should have been enjoying the peak of his career, played his last game just a fortnight past his 30th birthday.
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Last edited by SmithEagle; 29-06-2006 at 10:09 PM.
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Old 30-06-2006, 07:02 AM
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So he's a Spurs fan?
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Old 30-06-2006, 08:51 AM
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Interesting, I had wondered where he'd gone.
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Old 30-06-2006, 10:30 AM
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I thought it was a well known rumour that he'd been sleeping with Muscat's wife which is why he was thrown out. (Before I am moaned at I did say "rumour")
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Old 27-05-2011, 09:24 PM
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Originally Posted by SmithEagle
In the end, though, it was Millwall who were relegated, despite Roberts' efforts. "Portsmouth and Millwall were only separated by goal difference in the final table," said Roberts."But I had 'scored' against Pompey a month before, in a 0-0 draw at Selhurst. I was on the edge of the box and hit a volley which flew in. But as I hit it, the ref blew for full-time. If the goal had stood, Millwall would never have gone down."
That was my first ever Palace game. I was about 8/9 years old.

Still got vivid images of that volley go flying in.
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Old 27-05-2011, 09:51 PM
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Winning 1-0 at Goodison Lane was always a highlight. So much so it dwarfed out memories of the 2-1 win at Goodison Park that very same day.
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Old 27-05-2011, 10:04 PM
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Useless fat twat.
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Old 27-05-2011, 10:26 PM
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Useless fat twat.


That's a bit harsh isn't it?
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Old 27-05-2011, 10:48 PM
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I always liked him.
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Old 27-05-2011, 11:13 PM
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Quote:
That was my first ever Palace game. I was about 8/9 years old.

Still got vivid images of that volley go flying in.
30-06-2006 11:30 AM
I remember it well too. But being reminded of the agony & ecstasy of the Leicester and Sheff U plaoff games reminds me of why i keep coming back, year after year, after year, after year.
Would we really have it any different
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Old 28-05-2011, 12:02 PM
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Interesting article. I was dissapointed with him when he first came to Palace in a midfield role. He did seem to lack pace. When Steve moved him to the sweeper role he really performed well. Reminded me a bit of when Gerry Francis had played the role for us years ago.I think he got player of the year in that role.
He certainly had that old scrote Noades sussed as well with his comments.
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