Recently we were fortunate to sit down and have a chat with David Brightwell. A former Manchester City youth who lived the dream by playing for his boyhood club. This is David Brightwell – his story.
On how he joined City….
I was playing for South Cheshire and Cheshire schools so was already playing at a decent standard but things were a little different from today. These days you get picked up at 6 and 7 which I think is ridiculous but then it was 13/14. There were Sunday teams that were associated with the club and from there the players were either offered an apprenticeship/YTS or released.
Ian (brother) was obviously at the club at the time and it came about as Tony Book phoned the house and was asking for Ian who was just doing something so I got talking to him and he asked me to go in in the school holidays for a bit of training/trial. It went from there really and I went in and did okay then would I go in in the holidays and train with the younger lads. I played a few times for the A team and then the youth team. I was offered a YTS at 16 but decided to carry on the way I was doing it and stayed on at school and did my A levels. I signed a 2 year semi pro contract at 16 where I got paid 25 quid a week and then £30 in the second year and I thought I was rich ha ha. All my mates at school were washing up in pubs and waiting on and I was getting for just keeping myself fit. I used to get the train from Congleton to Manchester on a Saturday morning to play in the A team and on a few occasions I would run from Picadilly station to Platt Lane sometimes if I missed the bus. Can’t see the young lads doing that today!!!!!
On the pressure of following in the 1986 F.A Youth Cup success…..
I started playing in the youth team when I was 15/16 and the standard of that team was not the same as the team that Ian played in. The two exceptions were Andy Hinchcliffe, who was coming back from a long term back injury, and Paul Lake. Lake was an unbelievable player and he carried that team pretty much on his own. I played a few of the games in the early rounds at places like Wigan and I did okay. I had always been a central midfielder and scored a lot of goals but started playing up front for the young teams. I was training every day on my own doing athletics sessions that my dad gave me, so I was pretty fit, but lacked match fitness for football that you get from training and playing every day. I was also a bit behind the full time lads physically and was tall but skinny (my nickname was Sticks). As I say we got through games but that was mainly because of Lakey being so good. A few players came back from injury in the latter rounds so I ended up on the bench and we lost in the semi final over two-legs to Coventry who won it. The following year we had a decent team again with Neil Lennon, Michael Hughes, Gerry Taggart, Ashley Ward, Paul Kelly and Mike Sharon. It was a better team and again I played the early rounds and progressed but I had to have an ankle operation and missed from the quarter-final on-wards. The lads got to the final but lost to Watford who had Rod Thomas playing for them and he was amazing. At 15 he was being called the next Pele he was that good and he was similar to Lakey as he won it for them on his own literally. He made his debut for the first team at 16 or so but never really fulfilled his potential.
About your debut……
Steve Redmond was having a bit of a tough time and Reidy was rumoured to be looking at a few centre halves. Keith Curle was captain and was a great player, as quick as they come and a great leader, but he wasn’t the tallest and the team were conceding a few goals at set pieces. I had been hovering around the first-team and training with them for a while and had been on the bench for an FA Cup game away at Port Vale but never got on. I was travelling here there and everywhere and would either be 14th man (only 2 subs in those days) or occasionally made it onto the bench. Then we had a game down at Wimbledon against the ‘Crazy Gang’ when they had Fashanu, Vinny Jones etc and the first-half they battered us. Fashanu won every header and I think they scored from two corners so at half-time Reidy just said “Sticks you’re coming on Reddo you’re off”. I don’t think I had time to be nervous as it was sprung on me so I only had ten minutes to think about it. I came on for my debut and Mike Sheron also came on for his with me. I will never forget it as they took the centre and then launched it to Fashanu and I won the header and headed it out for a throw. Jones then took it and threw it long to Fashanu and I won it again. “OK Big Man” he said “You won’t do that again” and sure enough next time it came to him from a throw I was up thinking I’ve won this and he came from nowhere and caught me with an arm!!!! “This is Fash’s pitch” he said “And nobody is going to show me up on here”. The next 40 minutes was a real battle and Shez pulled one back to make it 2-1 but that’s how it finished. I couldn’t believe how physical it was but I had had probably the toughest debut you could have and I had done well. I kept my place for the next game at home to Villa to make my full debut and we won and it went from there.
Your impression of Peter Reid – the manager and person…..
Reidy came in with Howard Kendall obviously and his impact was immediate. He was in his mid-thirties but was still a great player and a great influence on the dressing room. He trained exactly how he played and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He was the manager who gave me my debut and I will always be grateful for that and he did an amazing job for City. Some fans thought we were too direct with him and Sam Ellis got stick for that but it wasn’t long ball stuff. We had Quinny upfront and he was an amazing target man who could bring others into the game. Sam was also a great influence on me and spent a LOT of time with me after training working on stuff. He was an old fashioned centre half himself when he played and wanted to pass on as much as he could to me. Reidy commanded respect from all the lads because of what he had achieved in the game and training was hard work but we had a laugh as well at the right times. All the lads were very surprised when he was sacked and couldn’t understand the reasons behind it.
On Reid’s sacking……
We were playing a Tuesday night game with Tony Book as caretaker manager (again) against Coventry I think when we were told Brian Horton had got the job. I think it was a nil nil bore and I was sub but the general reaction was “Brian who??” No disrespect to him but not a lot of the lads knew of him and the way it had been done was a bit shit. Peter Swales had employed John Maddock to do his dirty work and it just didn’t make any sense. Brian though was great for me personally. He played me a lot more than Reidy had and put his confidence in me to play centre half or left back which was new to me. He gave everybody a chance and gave a lot of the younger lads a chance to prove themselves.
On your style of play….
I was a City fan and that is obviously an advantage to play for your club. Ian had been with them for a long time so I had been brought up around the club and the people. There was a bit of turmoil behind the scenes but there were some amazing people there that gave there everything for City. We had Tony Book and Glyn Pardoe who were running the reserves and youth teams, Ken Barnes who was chief scout and found most of the lads that came through the ranks, even down to Stan Gibson the groundsman and the kitchen staff and the laundry lady who was brilliant. I think I was steady and obviously I was big so I was handy at set pieces. Everybody thought I was slow because of the incident in the derby with Andre Kanchelskis (people still take the piss today ha ha) but if you watch it, and I have loads of times, he just gets a run on me so I cant catch him up! Once he is away from me he doesn’t go further away as we are both running I just can’t get back to him. He crossed it for Cantona and that was the first goal but it wasn’t the first time he had outrun somebody and he did it to a lot better players than me. The next derby at Old Trafford was 5-0 to them and he got a hat-trick when I wasn’t playing!! I was certainly a better player – a lot more composed on the ball and more confident when I left City. I think I always thought of myself as a bit part player and was never really confident enough and believed in myself at that stage in my career.
What it was like being involved with City during the mid 1990’s…..
Being involved in the club at that time with all the stuff going on behind the scenes was “interesting” to say the least. A lot of the fans had grown tired of Peter Swales and his perceived lack of investment but that was the way chairmen were in those days. They were not the billionaires that we have now they were normally local business men made good and loved the clubs. When he did go I think it was the right time to do so and Franny came in obviously on the crest of a wave but that didn’t really out great either. Compared to today it was a world apart. I used to read that the club were four or five million in debt and that was an astronomical figure to everybody but that is the equivalent of a £100 million profit compared to the debts of today’s clubs! Regarding the players it didn’t really affect us loads at the time because we were still getting paid every week and we were somewhat kept away from that side of it. There was a lot of unrest when Reidy was sacked and Brian came in more because of the way it was done with John Maddock but generally the players just got on with it.
The best player to ever played alongside you……
There were some great players there at the time from when I was in the youth team really. Lakey was certainly up there because he had everything and could play anywhere. I think earlier on that was a bit of problem for him as nobody knew what his best position was but when Howard came in and played him centre half everybody just said “ahhhh that’s what he is”. Keith Curle was a great person to play along side and was a great captain. It was reassuring to know that if you made a mistake because he so quick he could get back and make a tackle. Niall Quinn and Steve McMahon were also great lads to have around as well as being top players. Later on when Brian brought in Walsh, Beagrie and Rosler they were magnificent and were the difference in keeping us up in the end. Uwe scored some vital goals, Walshy was a proper players player and although Beags was a nightmare to play behind sometimes as you didn’t know what he was going to do he could give a fullback a hernia twisting him one way and another. I was there for a short time when Kinkladze arrived and yes he was an amazing player with as much talent as anybody but the problem with him was where to play him. He was a luxury who would have been great in the United or Arsenal teams but when we were struggling he wasn’t one for digging in and I think that that showed in that season where we got relegated from the Premier League. He was the right player at the wrong time for City.
On being loaned out to Lincoln and Stoke…..
I went to Lincoln as Sam Ellis had taken over and wanted me there so I thought I would give it a go. Alan Ball had come in and he wanted a few players in and needed to get some out to get them. A few of the bigger wage earners left like Curly, Quinny, Phelan and then there were obviously a few more he didn’t fancy like myself, Andy Hill who had done a good job, and Michel Vonk. We started great at Lincoln and beat Preston with David Moyes in charge for the first game when they were promotion favourites but then we lost a few games and Sam left so I came back. I went to Stoke for a month with Lou Macari and it was a funny set up where we hardly saw him through the week with Chic Bates and Mike Pejic did all the training. It was really hard work as they did a LOT of running sessions but I really enjoyed it and would have stayed as it was only 20 mins from home in Congleton. I went as cover for a few players who were injured and did okay but they returned and he was overloaded with defenders then so we couldn’t sort anything out. It certainly did benefit me as I played a few first team games and got my match fitness up and there is nothing like first team football. The reserves was okay but not anything like the pace of a first team game at any level.
On leaving City for Bradford…..
I then went to Bradford on loan as Gary Megson was the number two to Chris Kamara. I had played with Meggi at City. I went for a “trial” reserve game at Rotherham and did well then signed soon after. I was bitter towards Alan Ball about the way he went about it at the time and for quite a while after but I saw him in Hong Kong when I was at a over 35’s tournament a few years after and we had a beer and he explained everything about his decisions so I was really glad we did as he sadly passed away soon after.
We did well in the first season I was there and went on a great run at the end of the season winning something like 10 out of the last 13 to get into the play-offs. We played Blackpool who should have gone up automatically but they got nervous at the end of the season and missed out. They came to Bradford for the first-leg and beat us 2-0 so it was going to be almost impossible to get through by beating them by 3 at their place! Sam Allardyce was manager and big Andy Morrison was captain and they were talking all week about arrangements for the Wembley final and probably relaxed too much. We ended up beating them at Bloomfield Road 3-0 and it was one of my best nights in football. We played Notts County in the final and beat them to go up to the Championship so it was a great time. I stayed for a couple of years then moved to Northampton where we again got to the Play-Off final but lost that one. I stayed there for a season then went to Carlisle and although we struggled I had my best moment in football when we beat Plymouth on the last day of the season in the last second to stay up. It was the game where Jimmy Glass the goalkeeper came up for a corner in the 93rd minute and rifled it in. I had actually scored to make it 1-1 but nobody remembers that because of Glassy’s heroics. After two-years there I went to Hull with Brian Little where I enjoyed my football more than anywhere. He made me captain and although the club was in turmoil off the pitch it was a great club with great lads and we did well. Unfortunately although I was playing my best football of my career there we weren’t getting paid for long periods and with a family I had to look elsewhere. It looked like nobody was going to come in and save the day and I ended up signing for Darlington as we were allowed free transfers and it was the worst thing I did. About a week after I left somebody came in and took over and the club went from strength to strength. That was certainly my biggest regret – leaving.
On his later career….
I spent a couple of years at Darlo but had stopped enjoying my football and knew it was time for a change. I was living in Carlisle travelling an hour and a half to training each way and then we had away trips to Torquay, Exeter, Plymouth, Bournemouth etc and it was killing me. I decided to pack in at the end of the season unless something really good came up and although I was close to moving to Cyprus to play nothing really materialized.
Life after football….
I didn’t have a job to go to initially so worked for a mate who was a plumber just doing general stuff and labouring and it was great to get my life back. I know that people have this idea of glamorous lifestyles with Ferrari’s and Bentley’s but lower down it is certainly not like that and I got to the stage where if I wanted to go away for a weekend in the season with the wife. I loved every minute (almost ha ha) of my time in football and would not swap it for anything but the time was right. I applied for the Fire Service and was lucky enough to be accepted and I have now been doing that 14 years. It is a great job with a similar environment to football in some ways and although it is at times challenging and emotionally difficult it does give you a great sense of achievement when we help people.
Nearly transfers during his career….
When I was at City I think there were a few inquiries about me and Brian Little told me when I went to Hull that he inquired when he was at Villa and Leicester about me but City wouldn’t sell at the time. I was happy at City at the time and it would have had to have been a decent offer to persuade me to leave but who knows?
On how different life is…..
Ian is still involved at the club today and I still go to a few games it season but it has changed out of all recognition from when I was there. It would be great to be playing nowadays because of the financial rewards but I think that we had a lot more freedom outside of the games to enjoy ourselves and that was great. I could come home on a Saturday after a game and go for a few pints with my mates and there is no chance of doing that now. I loved my 7 years at City and look back fondly on those times