My home debut, when we played against Liverpool. They were the champions and I was an 18-year-old lad. The week before, I’d made my debut up at QPR because Raymond Wallace was suspended – I’d given a penalty away, Timmy Flowers saved it and we won 4-1. Back in those days the team was announced at quarter to two in the dressing room, and I didn’t know I was going to be playing against Liverpool until Chris Nicholl came in and said it was going to be an unchanged team. All the senior players were abusing me, trying to embarrass me, but then we’ve gone out and played Liverpool, who were an amazing team, and we won 4-1. I put a cross in for Paul Rideout to score the first goal – it was just surreal. This was only six months after I’d arrived from Bath City, so for me it was just an unbelievable experience. The nicest thing about it was John Barnes coming up to me at the end of the game and saying, ‘well done, Jason – well played’. I didn’t even think he’d know my name, so it was just a lovely touch and that’s always stayed with me because it doesn’t matter how good you are, you can still be grounded. For someone like him to say that just made my day.
Playing as many games as I did. I had 13 different managers while I was at the club, and for six or seven years I was captain. In theory, every time there’s a change of manager everyone starts on an even keel, and if you haven’t been playing for the previous manager it opens the door for you. For me, staying in the side, staying as captain and playing the number of games in the top flight that I did, that was my greatest achievement. People don’t see the work that professional footballers go through to stay fit, stay in form and stay in the manager’s eye to make sure he picks you. I always wanted to play every game – how I’d deal today with having to rotate, I don’t know! Coming to games, looking at the programme and seeing I was in the top three for appearances every season – that was the most important thing for me.
I didn’t get that many! I’d probably say one of my first goals, against Crewe in the FA Cup, when I’ve cut in on my left and bent it in the top corner, or one against West Ham at The Dell from about 25-30 yards that flew into the top corner. I didn’t score that many, but it tended to be that when I did score, they weren’t bad goals.
It’s quite funny because everyone takes the mickey out of me that on Matt Le Tiss’s 100 goals, I tend to be in quite a few of them! He used to score headers and I assisted quite a few for our Matthew. I had a great understanding with Tis – I knew exactly where he was going to be and what he wanted to do, so I didn’t even have to look. It would be difficult to nail one down, but I’d probably have to say my first assist when I put the ball in for Paul Rideout to score against Liverpool.
Tis, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve been very lucky because when you’re playing in the top flight all the players are good! In the early days there was Alan Shearer and Rod Wallace – we played in the England Under-21s together and won the Toulon Tournament as well. In the early part of my career there was Jimmy Case, Glenn Cockerill and Russell Osman – I learned so much from those boys, I’ve got so much respect for them and still do now. Even now, Glenn Cockerill runs the ex-Saints, and if he rings me up and asks for anything, I do what I’m told! That’s just the respect you have for your senior players.
I was never the best player, but I was always a player the manager could trust in. If he needed something sorted out, I’d be the man to do it. As I got a little bit older, we had the senior pros who were controlling the dressing room for the manager. Those learnings that I picked up from the senior pros certainly helped me when I was skipper for a good few years.
Iain Dowie used to make me laugh, just because of the confidence he had in his own ability. In training the ball would be bouncing off him all over the place, but he still felt he was the best player! He used to get a bit of stick from the supporters, but it never fazed him at all. When we had a six-a-side you’d pick him in your team because you knew what you were going to get – he’d give absolutely everything. He had a load of patter, just a wonderful character to have around. In those times we were normally relegation favourites, so we needed a really strong dressing room. You needed characters like Iain Dowie, because it was always hard for us.
All the managers I’ve worked under were fantastic, but there were two key ones for me in the best part of my career. Glenn Hoddle was brilliant because it was all about small percentages – the psychology, the preparation, with everything like that Glenn was magnificent. I had three years with Gordon Strachan when I was captain and those were probably my best years. We finished eighth and got to the FA Cup final in Cardiff. It was the fittest I’ve ever been and we had a really good side, some wonderful players. I’d do anything for him because even though I was over the age of 30 by then, if I was doing what he wanted and performing well, he would reward you with a contract. He was honest and fair, and that’s what I tried to bring into my coaching and management. I learned a lot from Gordon, he was fantastic for me.
I was a Man United fan from the early 80s when Man United were struggling and Liverpool were winning everything, so it was strange to play against the team you used to support. For me, I watched them at Old Trafford and then I was lucky enough to play against them up there as well. It was a privilege in the 90s because they had the best players and you wanted to see where you were in relation to them. The Arsenal Invincibles were fantastic as well, with the likes of Bergkamp and Henry, so those would be the two best teams. It was a great challenge and I loved it.
I can honestly say as a full-back I didn’t get ripped apart too much, but I remember facing Arsenal and Anders Limpar played, and we were about five down at half time! He absolutely rinsed me. For that 45 minutes I couldn’t get near him – it was a lesson. It sounds silly but most weeks I was up against a wonderful player. I used to do my homework on my opponent so I knew exactly what their strengths and weaknesses were, and what I could do to help the team.
Apart from Twerton Park?! Everything about Old Trafford was just immense – the atmosphere, the build-up, going out to warm-up… I’d also have to say Anfield when we first started and it was all standing. People say I have quite a loud voice, but Kevin Moore was probably five yards away from me and I was shouting at him at a corner and he couldn’t hear me, because the noise of the Kop was unbelievable. Those are great memories, but I’d have to say it would be Old Trafford, just because I was a supporter when I was younger.