Darren Purse, the hard hitting defender took time out of pre-season training with Plymouth to talk to 'Missing the Kick Off' about all things football, his career and his thoughts on this season.
So Darren, you’re a Millwall fan. You finally got the chance to play for them after leaving Sheffield Wednesday – that must have been special?
‘Yeah, to play for your boyhood club is fantastic. I remember standing on the halfway line at the Old Den for years. And to score as well – I scored against Preston at home. So yeah, it was a great time and I’m really glad I got the opportunity.’
Did the Millwall fans give you a warm reception?
‘Yeah, I was one of the subs at Leicester away in my first game. We were 3-1 down and had a man sent off. It was pretty much backs against the wall stuff, but a lot of the fans knew I was a Millwall fan anyway and the reception I got was fantastic. That was for pretty much every game as well. Millwall fans are very passionate so, to have someone who supported the club playing for them, they were really happy to have that.’
You started out at Orient. They signed you professionally when you left school at 17 - that must have been a big buzz at that age?
‘Yeah, I’ve been really lucky. I had the chance to do YTS at other clubs but Leyton Orient said to me, don’t sign YTS and we’ll sign you professionally as soon as you turn 17. I did that and three days later I made my debut at Brighton away, which was fantastic. Orient was five minutes from my house, a nice family club and a great club to start playing football at.’
How did you spend your first wage packet?
'Errrrrrr, can’t remember! Me, I’ll have probably gone and bought myself a car or probably gone and bought myself a load of pie and mash! You being a northerner won’t know what pie and mash is, will you?’
What happened when you went to play in Finland? Did you get any games?
‘Yeah, I went out to Finland for two months when I was at Orient, coming towards the end of the season. Pat Holland was in charge then. He said to me, I want you to go and play some games out in Finland. So I went out there and played, but while I was out there Oxford enquired and came in and bought me from Orient. Oxford were in the Championship then so it was a great move for me.’
‘What was it like out in Finland? Going out to Finland at that age, it’s not a common move. It must have been quite daunting?’
‘It was, it was weird more than anything else. It was light for 23 hours a day so it took a week or two to get used to sleeping in the light. But it was a good club that I went to [BK-IFK]. A lot of youngsters were playing in the side. It was a good experience and, to get away, it makes you grow up a bit. It was a nice experience, I really enjoyed it.’
You had a good spell at Oxford before leaving for Birmingham City where you’re still seen as a bit of a legend. Are those seasons your fondest memories?
‘Yeah, probably, it’s where I had my most success as a player and it’s a great football club to play for. We got to the play-offs four years on the trot and managed to get promotion at the fourth time of asking, so it meant a lot to the players that were there at the time because we tried so hard and played so hard to get it. When it happened it was fantastic and I obviously played with them in the Premier League for a couple of years. Just to play in the Premier League was fantastic in itself.’
You scored a penalty in the Worthington Cup final in the sixth minute of injury time. You had to wait a long time before you could step up to take the penalty – what was going through your mind?
'That’s probably one of the most memorable things. When you’re a kid you dream about scoring in a cup final and I was obviously lucky enough to do that. I always knew what I was going to do with the penalty, so I wasn’t really nervous or anything like that. I knew what I was going to do. If he went the right way and saved it then that was life. Thankfully, it ended up in the back of the net. It was a fantastic feeling to score and take it to extra time, where I believe we should have won the game, but it wasn’t to be.’
You picked up a bizarre injury whilst at Birmingham. What happened there?
‘Yeah, we were having a game. Trevor Francis – he was still a great player when he was manager, he used to join in all the time – hit a shot, and nobody ever wants their manager to score so I dived and saved the shot but broke my wrist. I was out for six weeks, it was a freak injury.’
A lot of people remember you for your time at Cardiff. How are you received when you go back there?
‘I still think the fans like me there; I’ve had a good reception when I’ve been back and played. I think Cardiff was my most enjoyable time as a player. As a whole package, with my family life off of the field, there was just something at Cardiff that just really fitted. I got on really well with the manager, the fans and all the players there. We all mixed, we all used to go out on a Saturday night together with the wives and that. There was a real nice family atmosphere at the club. Both on and off the pitch I had some good times. Obviously getting to the play-offs and the FA Cup final was good.’
Andy Cole famously called you a ‘muppet’ but your ban was overturned for that tackle. That must have been satisfying?
‘Yeah, thing is I’d have missed the FA Cup final if that hadn’t been overturned. It was a bad tackle, a mistimed tackle, but there was never any malice in it. I think the professionalism in him calling me a ‘muppet’ was poor but sometimes you’ve got to rise above it. People were saying to me, you’ve got to come out and speak your mind, but I just left it as it was. If that’s the way he felt and that’s the way he wanted to deal with it then fine, but there was never any malice in the challenge. It was just one of them things. I was lucky enough to get the ban overturned and I was available for the Cup final.’
Dave Jones, your former boss, is now the manager of my club and one of your old clubs, Sheffield Wednesday. Are we in good hands?
‘He’s a top, top manager. He’s got contacts all over the place and I got on really well with Dave when we were at Cardiff. I’ve got a lot of time for him. He deserved to get into a big club and that’s what he has walked into at Sheffield Wednesday. Hopefully he can take them onto bigger and better things as well.’
You left the Owls by mutual consent midway through the season. That doesn’t happen very often, what led to you leave under those circumstances?
‘I’d have loved to have stayed up at Sheffield Wednesday but there were new owners in charge and I had a clause in my contract that said if I played 30 games I got an extra year on the contract. Basically, that was that. The new owners weren’t in charge when I signed the contract and they didn’t like having that clause in the contract. I could have stayed until the end of the season and sorted it out then but that just wasn’t the right thing for me to do. We agreed to terminate the contract and then the Millwall move materialised – which was a blessing in disguise, going to play for your boyhood club – but I would have liked to have stayed at Sheffield Wednesday because it’s probably the biggest football club I’ve ever played for.’
You must be proud of your Under-21 caps. How do you look back on those?
‘Yeah, scoring in the cup final is great but I’m a proud Englishman and to have a couple of Under-21 caps is great. It was great to represent my country. I’d have loved to have done it at senior level but I was never quite good enough or never quite lucky enough, but to do it that way at Under-21 and sing the national anthem with the Three Lions on your chest is something you’ll always remember.’
What do you think to the current England?
‘Everyone was obviously talking about Harry Redknapp for the job. I think Harry would have been great but Roy Hodgson is an FA man. He fits the bill for what the FA want. I think he’s got good experience from coaching all over the world, he’s had good success and he has come out of the Euros with a lot of credit. We never really played any creative football, we played football to get us through the group, but with the situation at national level I think that’s all we could have hoped for. To go out on penalties is just England’s luck.’
You’re at Plymouth now. You have said they are a huge club in the wrong league and many would agree. What are your goals for this season?
‘Everyone is going to be looking at saying we should get promoted, with how big the football club is, but where we are now compared to where we were in November we’ve come on leaps and bounds. We were destined for relegation. I think we were nine points off safety when I signed, so to claw ourselves out the way we have and stay up was a fantastic achievement. If we get a good start to the league who knows where it might take us, but we can’t get above our station because seven, eight months ago the club was going bust, but promotion is a realistic aim and one we will all be working hard to achieve.’
Finally, my long shot for relegation this season is Villa, which must please you being an ex-Blue, but how do you see the Premiership title and relegation this season?
‘Man City have the experience of winning it last year and it will help them massively this year. They’ll go and strengthen again and some clubs won’t be able to live with them so they’re my tip. Relegation is tough but if I had to pick one I’d say it could be Wigan’s season to go down, but they always prove everyone wrong so we’ll see.’
Senior Football Analyst
Football Radar Ltd