EXCLUSIVE: 'I went missing for a few years at Chelsea… but I am back on the map down the road at ambitious Fulham' says midfielder Sidwell
20:57 GMT, 27 November 2012
With the ink on the ‘Rafa Out’ banners still drying and the shouts of ‘we don’t want you here’ fresh in the memory, Fulham are the next visitors to Chelsea on Wednesday night.
The abuse emanating from the stands overshadowed much of this weekend’s Premier League action, particularly in London, but former Chelsea midfielder Steve Sidwell, now of Fulham, remembers happier episodes of ‘football banter’. The catcalls he heard from the terraces always used to be about his hair colour, rather than his race or religion, after all.
‘Down at Reading they had a ginger day,’ he says, laughing. ‘I think it was the last game of the season. All the fans, to represent me and Dave Kitson, came up with ginger wigs and ginger T-shirts. The whole changing room was orange at the time.
In the goals: Steve Sidwell has scored three times for Fulham this season
Back in the big time: Steve Sidwell is playing regularly at Fulham
‘He didn’t really seem too keen on it but I found it funny. Football banter isn’t it I’ve been called a lot worse and I’ll be called a lot worse in the future I bet, too.’
But Sidwell, who turns 30 next month, knows all too well how tumultuous life can be at Stamford Bridge. The player who made his name by winning the 2006 Championship title with Reading had been a Chelsea player only two months when Jose Mourinho left the club in September 2007.
Sidwell started only five more Premier League games under Avram Grant, did not feature at all after February and then joined Aston Villa in July 2008. The suggestion he only moved for the money, however, still rankles, and he insists it was a decision he does not regret.
Back in command: Fulham midfielder Sidwell was at the launch of Call of Duty Black Ops 2
‘There were other clubs that offered me more money to go to them, rather than Chelsea,’ says Sidwell. ‘They were the champions and when they come knocking on your door and Mourinho says he wants you personally then you don’t fancy anything else. A lot of people say I went there for the money, but it wasn’t the case.
‘I’d rather have finished my career and say I tried to give it a go and it didn’t work out, and I can tell my boys and my grandsons that I played for Chelsea, rather than saying: “Well, I could have played for them.”
‘My dad, Gordon, was a Chelsea fan. Not just him – there are quite a lot of Blues fans in my family. If they had found out that I had turned it down there would have been uproar. But I went for footballing reasons only – and that’s all that matters.’
No regrets: Things did not work out for Sidwell at Chelsea but he does not think it was a mistake to join the club
Restricted: Sidwell found it hard to get a starting place under Avram Grant
Sidwell, though, admits he ‘went missing for a few years’. The potential he showed at Reading did not materialise at Villa, either, and he has taken time to settle at Fulham, with a hernia injury forcing him to miss another eight months last season. Now, however, Sidwell feels he is ‘back on the map’.
‘I wanted to show people that I’m still around and I can still play at a decent level,’ he says. ‘Fulham was a club that I could see had ambition.
‘I went missing for a few years with previous clubs but now I’m back on the map and showing that in my performances.’
But a mention of the word ‘ambition’ generally prompts a raised eyebrow at Fulham. Mark Hughes left in June 2011 suggesting the club lacked it, while the departures of players of the calibre of Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey last summer could have raised further question marks. The arrival of Dimitar Berbatov, Sidwell suggests, was therefore an important sign of intent from Martin Jol’s side.
Sidwell said: ‘The players that we lost – Clint, who was our top goal-scorer, then Mousa as well, who was one of the best players I’ve played with over the years – (meant) we needed to get somebody in who was going to be a good buy and Berbatov has turned out to be that so far.
‘Glimpses of what he does in training and stuff – he’s just brilliant. And you’re seeing that on the pitch as well.
‘He’s very happy-go-lucky, very easy. Nothing seems to faze him. That’s how he plays, doesn’t he Some people don’t like that that particular style but when he’s producing what he’s doing at the minute, you just applaud it.
‘When he first came he was really quiet – but I think that’s his personality and persona. He’s started to come out of his shell and he’s quite dry, really. He comes out with a few one-liners every now and again.’
Jol has slowly begun to dismantle the side that Roy Hodgson built, with senior players such as Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson leaving the club in the past 12 months. The style of play has changed too: it’s not quite ‘sexy football’ but it’s no longer Hodgson’s two regimented banks of four, either. Goals are flowing – at both ends of the pitch.
Playing the game: Sidwell was at the launch of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 in London
‘Martin likes things done the right way,’ says Sidwell. ‘Coming from Holland he wants that…not sexy football, but that type of football. I like him. He’s tough, but fair.
‘Obviously there have been players in the past who he’s not seen eye-to-eye with, but that happens at every club, and those players have moved on. Things needed to change and it does feel like his team now.’
A little different to the situation the ‘interim manager’ facing Jol on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge will experience, then.
Steve Sidwell was a guest captain at the Black Ops 2 Live eSPORTS tournament, in partnership with SBTV. The tournament was part of a four day event to celebrate the launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which is out now. To find out more about the game head to http://www.callofduty.com/blackops2