In his 17 years playing in the top flight of English football, Les also played for Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers.
Additionally, as a youngster, he spent a season playing for Beşiktaş in Turkey’s Süper Lig. Selected 17 times for England, Les is the 10th highest scorer in the history of the Premier League with 149 goals.
He is currently director of football at Queens Park Rangers. Before moving on to talk about his time at Newcastle and Leicester, Les, affectionately and widely known as ‘Sir’ Les, began by referring to his time at QPR.
“I joined QPR from non-league football,” he began. “All of my league games for them were at Premier League level.”
He made his debut for QPR in April 1987 as a 20-year-old and went on a season-long loan to Beşiktaş - managed by the ex-Leicester City manager Gordon Milne - before spending the next six seasons at Loftus Road.
His 20 league goals in the Premier League’s inaugural season helped the London club finish in fifth place. Les’ time at QPR came to an end in July 1995, when he was transferred to Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United.
Once I’d spoken to Keegan, my mind was made up. I’d played several times at St James’ Park and can always remember saying to players after the game: 'could you imagine playing in front of this crowd, week-in, week-out?’Les Ferdinand
He explained: “Before I left QPR, there were a few rumours that I was going to leave at the end of the season. I’d had a good season, scoring about 26 goals, and there was a lot of interest. Aston Villa was the first club to offer £6M and Newcastle had to match this.
“Once I’d spoken to Keegan, my mind was made up. I’d played several times at St James’ Park and can always remember saying to players after the game: 'could you imagine playing in front of this crowd, week-in, week-out?’
“The atmosphere there was unbelievable. When Andy Cole moved to Manchester United, the situation arose for me to move to Newcastle.”
In his two seasons at Newcastle, the Magpies finished runners-up in the Premier League on both occasions. Les scored 50 goals in 84 appearances. At one stage in his first season, Newcastle were 12 points ahead of Manchester United before finishing second.
Thinking back to that season, Les reflected: “We were on a roll that season. We were absolutely flying. We were entertainers. Basically, our tactics were that we would score three if our opponents scored two.
“We would score four if they scored three. It made for very good football but unfortunately we came unstuck at the end of it. When we were top of the league, Kevin felt I needed some help as a centre-forward so he brought in (Faustino) Asprilla for the second half of the season.
In just two seasons, Ferdinand scored 50 goals at St James' Park.
“A lot of people blamed Asprilla for what happened but it wasn’t his fault. Too many of our key players lost form at the same time. In the end that cost us the title. It was a real roller coaster of a season.”
One of the abiding images of that season was Keegan’s ‘I will love it’ outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson. This followed a 1-0 victory at Leeds United which brought Newcastle to within three points of leaders United with a game in hand and with two games to play.
Referring to this, Les said: “People who love football always like to see players who wear their heart on their sleeve. Keegan was a manager who did that, and unfortunately he got chastised for it.”
At the end of that season, Les was the PFA Player of the Year and in the PFA Team of the Year.
He continued: “The ultimate respect you can get from your peers is to be voted as their Player of the Year, but I never went into football for personal gain. I would have gladly given up that PFA trophy if we had won the league that year, but unfortunately we fell just short.
“In our changing room at the time, apart from Peter Beardsley, Terry McDermott and the manager, no one had really won anything. So when we lost that first three points there was a bit of complacency.
The feeling was that we would win our game in hand, and then be back to being 12 points in front, instead of making sure that we didn’t lose another three points.Les Ferdinand
“The feeling was that we would win our game in hand, and then be back to being 12 points in front, instead of making sure that we didn’t lose another three points.”
Before the start of the following season, Newcastle signed Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers for a British transfer record fee of £15M to be Les’ strike partner.
He explained: “I’d been in various England squads with Alan and had played a couple of time with him up front. Kevin brought us together because he felt we would play successfully together, and it did prove to be a successful partnership.
“We also ended up enjoying each others’ company. We scored lots of goals and we came second again. This time round we weren’t always in the hunt, but we gathered momentum.
“Then we lost Keegan half-way through the season. Everyone was surprised and shocked, because we felt we were on the cusp of doing something special and he was at the helm of it. But I suppose that’s the nature of football.
“Managers and players leave but the clubs still carry on. Kenny Dalglish came in as manager. He was very well respected and we finished the season really strongly and ended up in second place again. We also got to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup.”
The Magpies continually challenged at the top of the table during Ferdinand's time in Newcastle.
In July 1997, after two highly successful seasons, Les moved to Tottenham Hotspur.
“They offered £6M for me, I’d just turned 30 and Newcastle thought it was good business,” Les said. His first year at Spurs was disrupted by injury but towards the end of the season, he formed a good partnership with Jürgen Klinsmann and they helped stave off the threat of relegation.
The following season, playing in the same side as his future Leicester City team-mates Ian Walker and Steffen Freund, Les was a League Cup winner following a 1-0 victory over Martin O'Neill's Foxes at Wembley, the first of two finals he played while at Spurs
“In the final against Leicester,” Les remembered, “Allan Neilsen scored the winning goal very late on. Three years later we lost to Blackburn Rovers in the final. I supported Spurs as a boy and it’s a fact that your dreams can come true.
“Mine did, playing for Spurs and walking out at Wembley with them. I had good times there but I had a lot of injuries so at the time it wasn’t always great.”
In January 2003, Les moved to West Ham United and, six months later, he signed for Leicester City.
I was a free agent so I had a chat with a few different clubs. Then I spoke to Micky Adams at Leicester, who had just been promoted back to the Premier League.Les Ferdinand
“West Ham were struggling and I was signed to help stop the slide,” Les continued. “But we were relegated at the end of the season. In the summer, West Ham were talking about keeping me for another year and try to get promoted back to the Premier League.
“I was a free agent so I had a chat with a few different clubs. Then I spoke to Micky Adams at Leicester, who had just been promoted back to the Premier League. He talked about the sort of players he had at Leicester.
“I liked what he had to say, I liked the atmosphere and I thought, ‘look, let’s have a real good go at trying to stay in the Premier League'.”
Les wasn’t Adams’ only signing. John Curtis, Ben Thatcher, Keith Gillespie, Ricardo Scimeca, Lilian Nalis, Craig Hignett and Steve Howey all joined on free transfers.
Thinking back, Les recalled: “The Club had not long been out of administration and Micky could only bring in a load of free transfers. When you bring that amount of players into the Club, you always need a period of time for those players to settle in.
“New players have to get to grips with what the manager does and how he does it.”
Les joined newly-promoted Leicester City on a free transfer in the summer of 2003.
Les’ arrival was a huge boost for the Club. In an interview with matchday magazine earlier this season, Adams paid great tribute to Les, saying: "Les Ferdinand was a fantastic footballer. I was privileged to have him in the side."
Ferdinand certainly made his mark on his debut in the first match of the season, a Premier League fixture against Southampton, which ended in a 2-2 draw.
At the time he was the Club’s oldest debutant (until Kevin Phillips, one of Southampton’s goalscorers that day broke this record over 10 years later). Les marked this debut by winning a penalty and then by scoring a goal.
He said: “I concussed myself when scoring the goal and I don’t remember it! Unfortunately, from that header, I went down and did the meniscus in my knee, I was out for a little while after that first game which was a real, real shame.”
It was a difficult season for Leicester City. As well as financial constraints, off-field issues took a toll and, at the end of the season, they were relegated.
Throughout the season, though, Les was very impressive. To help the Club’s cause, Les even postponed an operation on his knee.
I loved my time at Leicester with the people around the Club. I was disappointed the time was so short. When you get relegated it is a horrible feeling. It hits everybody in the Football Club, not just the players.Les Ferdinand
He revealed: “When I first had the injury, there was no choice but to have an operation, so I did and got myself playing again, but they were saying to me that I would need to have the knee operated on again.
“It was still swelling and I was still having problems with it, but I didn’t want to interrupt the season in any way. So Micky and I were quite strategic in the choice of games to play in. I managed the condition, just playing in the games I could play in.
“Sometimes I would come off the bench. At the time I was nearly 38 years of age. I couldn’t play 90 minutes in every game for the whole season.
“I ended up at the end of the season as Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year. I was also top goalscorer. Not bad for a player towards the end of his career! I’ve always said that all I’ve ever done is try to give my best.
“I loved my time at Leicester with the people around the Club. I was disappointed the time was so short. When you get relegated it is a horrible feeling. It hits everybody in the Football Club, not just the players.
“The players go away on holiday and try to forget about it, but there are other people left there to rue the Club going down, and some people lose their jobs. I’m always very mindful of that. We did everything we could to try to stay up, but unfortunately it just fell short.”
Les intended to retire at the end of the season but this wasn’t to be.
Most of Ferdinand's goals came away from home, like this effort at Birmingham City.
He said: “I didn’t really want to retire having just been relegated but my body was telling me it was time. Then (Bolton Wanderers manager) Sam Allardyce contacted me to say he’d looked at my stats from my year at Leicester.
“He told me that with stats like that, it was wrong for me to retire. He said that if I was treated correctly, and coached in the right way, I could offer a lot and he persuaded me to play for another year.
“Bolton got off to an absolute flyer and qualified for Europe at the end of that season. Because the team were doing so well I had to bide my time to get game time.
“Even when results began to change Sam didn’t want to change the side. I didn’t just want to sit on the bench and earn money. I wanted to play so I went to Reading who were pushing for promotion from the Championship at the time.
“That was really strange because I’d only played in the Premier League. Just for that five-month period, at the end of my career, I played in the Championship.”
Les then spoke about his international career. He won 17 England caps and was in the squads for the 1996 UEFA European Championship and the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
The highlight of my England career for me was making my debut. That was a major highlight. As a footballer you want to reach the highest echelon you can, and the top of the pyramid is playing for your countryLes Ferdinand
He remembered: “The highlight of my England career for me was making my debut. That was a major highlight. As a footballer you want to reach the highest echelon you can, and the top of the pyramid is playing for your country.
“The first time you do that you know you are realising your dream. Then you need to make sure that you are not a one cap wonder. You want to get there again. I would have liked to play more games for England but there were a lot of good players around at the time.
“A lot of players would probably say the same thing. 1996 was the year I was voted PFA Player of the Year but I didn’t play one game in the Euros. The 1998 World Cup Finals was an interesting one.
“To be honest I wasn’t expecting to go as I’d had a few injuries, but I finished the season scoring a few goals. Glenn Hoddle, the England manager, wanted to take me. He put me on what was probably the last ‘B’ international game. It was at Loftus Road.
“Myself and Matt Le Tissier played up front and he was trying to find a few games for us. I went to the World Cup, but didn’t play. I was just about to go on when [David] Beckham got sent off!”
After he retired just short of his 40th birthday, Les was awarded an MBE in the 2005 New Year’s Honours list.
Laughing, Les said: “Yeah, I got demoted from being Sir Les to being an MBE! There was a fireman also being honoured. He had saved lives which is very different from being honoured for something I love and enjoy doing, playing football.
It’s a big job (director of football at QPR). I’m thoroughly enjoying it, as tough as it’s been. We’ll get QPR back to where it needs to be.Les Ferdinand
“He said to me, ‘Les, I’ve saved lives. It’s my job, but just imagine the joy you have brought to millions of people every weekend for years.’ This put it in perspective for me. It was a great thing for me to be honoured in that way.”
Between 2008 and 2014, Les coached at Tottenham Hotspur: “I really enjoyed the coaching side of things at Spurs.
”I ended up working alongside Tim Sherwood and Chris Ramsey and we saw some players come to fruition and play in the Premier League and leagues around the world which is very satisfying in terms of accomplishing a job.
“Then I moved onto QPR as director of football (in February 2005). It’s been tough. We got relegated and we’re now trying to stabilise the club and bring it back to some sort of normality.
”It’s a big job. I’m thoroughly enjoying it, as tough as it’s been. We’ll get QPR back to where it needs to be.”
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