The next season started really well for me. It was looking like becoming the best one of my career, and I was getting a lot of interest – even from Premier League clubs.
But, in November 2001, it came to an abrupt end.
I remember the moment clearly. Partly because it was my next-door neighbour, Des Lyttle – the guy I drove to training with every day – who caught me. I got to the ball just in front of him and he stuck out a foot. Straight away I felt something pop in my knee.
It was a partial tear of my posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). These days, it’s the kind of injury that 98 per cent of people don’t even have operated on. But I ended up having the ligament reconstructed, and that’s where my problems really started.
I went into the operation with one injury, and came out with four.
“It was an addiction. But it was one that helped to keep me away from a far darker path”
Football’s a tough industry to be in. Generally, there are a lot more downs than ups. The two years following that injury were two of the toughest I’ve experienced.
I tried everything I could to get back to playing.
I was in the gym constantly. Doing way more than I should have done. I just wouldn’t let it go. I got a little bit obsessed with it all.
If I’m honest, I was completely obsessed with it.
At the time, I didn’t recognise it. When I started coaching at West Brom a few years later, I got talking to the club doctor who had come in when I was probably at my lowest point. He told me that, if he’d been at the club earlier, he would have got me to see someone.
“What do you mean?”
“You were horrible. A completely different person. Aggressive. You’d give people no time. Very rarely engaged with anybody. It’s Jekyll and Hyde compared to how you are now.”
I’m sure the people around me could see it, but they were too scared to say anything.
It was an addiction. But it was probably one that helped to keep me away from all sorts of other stuff that could have taken me down a far darker path.
One that stopped the demons from taking control.