To coincide with Neil Banfield’s 53rd birthday, we pulled an interview with the current Arsenal first-team coach from our archives. This piece first appeared in the Arsenal Magazine in 2006.
Where did you start your playing days? I’m from East London so I started at East London Schools and from there I went to Crystal Palace where I signed associated school boys forms. I went there when I was 14, signed professionally when I was 17 and then made my debut shortly after my 18th birthday. It was against Aston Villa, and we lost 2-1. I was usually a central defender or a full-back, but I could also play in midfield too.
What international honours did you gain? I played for England schoolboys, that was at Under-15 level, and we played at Wembley in front of 60,000. I played there twice actually and along with making my debut for Palace, it was my career highlight. We played West Germany, I was right-back but unfortunately we lost. Nicky Law was our centre-half, and Alex Chamberlain was on the wing, and Trevor Bennett played too. Then I got selected for the England Under-18s which was the England Youth side, and I played a year beneath my age because I was 17 and played for the team for two years running. Our biggest achievement was probably winning the UEFA Tournament in Leipzig.
Who else was in that England team? In the first year it was people like Clive Allen, Paul Allen, Colin Pates, Tommy Caton, Noel Blake, Mark Dennis, Les Carter. In the second year it was people like Terry Gibson and Paul Walsh.
And you signed professionally at 17 for Palace? Yep, Terry Venables signed me and I made my debut at Villa Park the year Villa won the league and they had Peter Withe and Gary Shaw up front. That was the Palace team that was known as the ‘Team of the Nineties’ because we had a lot of youngsters who people said would go on to be big stars. I was a couple of years younger than those players though, people like Vince Hilaire, Gerry Murphy, Billy Gilbert and Kenny Sansom. That was a period when we had all those players at the same time.
How much of an influence was Terry Venables? He was an extremely big influence, not just on the playing side but also with my coaching philosophy. He was ahead of his time, a very intelligent coach. I’ve always enjoyed coaching, I took my preliminaries when I was 17, but of course it came quicker than I thought because my playing career didn’t take off as I hoped it would. But since I’ve been a coach I’ve been really pleased with how it’s gone.
What was your next step after Palace? I left Palace when I was 21 and played out in Australia for Adelaide City. England had played in the World Youth Cup in Australia and I got spotted. I was there for 18 months and really enjoyed it and was close to starting a new life out there. But Leyton Orient contacted me and the pull of coming back to have another go as a professional in England was too strong. I had a couple of good seasons there under Frank Clarke. But then at 25 I thought I perhaps wasn’t good enough to push on to do what I want to do. So I went to play non-league and then took up coaching.
Who were the best players you played alongside? Billy Gilbert was a good player, and at Leyton Orient Barry Silkman was a good footballer. There was Keith Houchen too who went on to score that goal in the 1987 FA Cup Final. At Palace probably Hilaire and Murphy.
What are your fondest memories of those days? Well playing at Wembley as a school boy obviously, but also making my professional debut for Palace, to be able to say I’ve done it. Obviously there is always the regret of not fulfilling the potential I think I had, but when I look back, I did achieve something. I played in the First Division, I had two professional contracts and I really enjoyed it. OK it wasn’t the longest playing career but as one door closes another opens and I’ve been coaching now for the past 13 years. I had five good years at Charlton, where I was head youth coach. Then I came to Arsenal, worked with Liam Brady in the Academy and now I’m working with Arsene Wenger and I admit sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think where I’m working.
Can you relate your experiences as a player to your position at Arsenal now? Yes because I’ve seen the other side of it when my contract wasn’t renewed. You wonder what you are going to do, so I can relate that to the youngsters, but until they sample it for themselves they won’t know. But yes I had a wide range of experiences, the highs and the lows, so I pass on whatever I can.
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