Steve Stricker - The Dying Breed
Hackney, North-East London
"First five minutes, let him know you're there", arguably the most shouted phrase in English Sunday league football. For me, they were words to live by. Not just in football but long before that. Growing up as a young Hackney lad was tough. I had a troubling background, fought with my parents, skipped school and hung around with the wrong crowds. Nothing mattered to me as a kid-except football. Football meant everything to me, whenever I could I was out on the streets playing jumpers for goalposts with the other local boys. Things would get heated quickly, scraps were common, punches thrown between rival "gang" members over something as petty as football. Hard to believe I know, but when you grow up within a gang culture you learn to understand that anything can be used to fuel a fight, everyone wanted to fight.
Hackney, one of the poorest parts of London, it had it's perks. Community projects were well funded and I remember at the age of 13 being offered a place in a football community project ran by West Ham United. Twice a week, on Tuesday's and Friday's the project would run down on Hackney Marshes. It was here my footballing ability really took off. At 13, I was taller than others of my age at five foot eight inches. I was stocky and muscular, pushing others off the ball with ease. I was placed as a centre back, a position I was familiar with. I won't lie I wanted to be one of football's hard men-a proper "Hackney lad". Players such as Roy Keane, West Ham's Julian Dicks and Stuart Pearce among others. It was the aggressive, the bending of the rules, the scraps and the passion that I wanted to emulate. At the age of 16 I somehow was offered a youth contract at West Ham, no nonsense defending and hard tackling led me to the under 21 squad and eventually at the age of just 20 I was given my first West Ham start. I remember the date, 24th November 2001, a home game Spurs. Brought on in the second half it was then that that cliched phrase was shouted at me again. "First five minutes, let him know you're there, Steve" shouted Glenn Roeder. The player I had to ruthlessly take on was the Spurs winger Gus Poyet. I wanted to prove my prowess, 20 minutes of ruthless football, perfect tackles all game, the odd spat with the spurs lads. I had Poyet in my back pocket, I wasn't afraid to tell him that too. Who would have thought the young Hackney lad would have kept Poyet quiet all game, he certainly didn't!
I was loyal to West Ham, 150 appearances for the club, never played anywhere else. My commitment to the club was clear to those around me. I was in their debt for giving me the chance to show myself as a 13 year old in a little community project. England caps came thick and fast, 20 in total, I captained West Ham for 3 seasons and also picked up the clubs record tally for yellow cards and red cards in a season. I had become a football "hard man". Shaved head, rolled down socks and sharpened studs I never held back from a challenge and found myself in my fair share of scraps too. It was my rivalries with players that led to my playing career being cut short. Injuries from tackles received saw me never fully regaining fitness, my left leg became strapped up every game for my last season before the medical team persuaded me into retirement at the age of 30, too soon.
With no qualifications and no more job I became a social recluse. Drugs and drink took over my life, a way of escaping from depression and crippling debts, ultimately, this is where my life took a turn for the worst. In 2012 I was jailed for 3 years for an assault in a nightclub, a stupid crime and one that I felt instant regret for. Jail was tough but it remoulded me as a person, my links to football enabled me to take my coaching badges and I led the prison football team and educated inmates on how to stay out of trouble. My release was quick, the judge saw me as a "reformed member of society". the FA hired me as a youth coach, I was leading the same community projects I had attended myself all those years ago. These lads had talent too and I could see replicas of myself. Most of them knew who I was, what I had done and knew my background-the same as theirs.
Here I am now, a 36 year old man about to embark on my newest adventures, a football manager. How? My skills and eye as a coach had been spotted by clubs from around London and beyond. I'd declined offers from teams such as Wealdstone and Sutton United over the last few years but now the offers were coming in thick and fast.
Steve Stricker is back.