Emile Heskey

Former Player Remembers: Emile Heskey

Earlier this season, Emile Heskey chatted to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his football career.
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Between 1995 and 2004 he made a combined total of 426 appearances for Leicester City and Liverpool scoring a combined total of over 100 goals in all competitions for the two clubs.

He played a significant part in helping rescue Leicester City from Administration in 2003.

His 62 appearances for England included playing in the 2002 and 2010 World Cup Finals. He also played in the Premier league for Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City and Aston Villa. He is one of the select group of players to score more than 100 Premier League goals.

“When I was junior school,” Emile began, “I preferred athletics to football. I was good at sprinting and long jump, but then I got more involved in football as the athletics season is short and football seems to be all year round, especially when you are a kid.

“Leicester City picked me up when I was nine from school football. I went for a trial at their Centre of Excellence. There were about 50 or 60 kids down there. Neville Hamilton was a coach there. He was a great man.

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Emile Heskey
Emile Heskey

Emile scored a late equaliser against Middlesbrough at Wembley Stadium to send the 1997 final to a replay.

“I didn’t get into Sunday league football until a couple of years later. To start with my dad wouldn’t let me play on Sundays because I’d be at church, but then he agreed and it went from there.”

Emile played for the England Under-16s schools side before being given a two-year Youth Training Scheme contract at Filbert Street. In March 1995, aged 17 and still in his first year as a trainee, Emile became the youngest Leicester City player to make a Premier League debut when he came on as a substitute at Queens Park Rangers.

“A few people came down sick,” Emile remembered. “I’d played in a pre-season game at Notts County. I got injured, then I came back to play in the youth team and the reserve team and started travelling with the first team on the bus. I didn’t have any notice for the Queens Park Rangers game so I didn’t have time to overthink things and get nervous although I don’t think I did particularly well.”

Leicester City were relegated at the end of the season. Manager Mark McGhee played Emile as a substitute in four early season games. After scoring the winning goal at Norwich City, Emile was given a professional contract in October 1995, early into his second year as a YTS player. Martin O’Neill was appointed as the Club’s new manager a couple of months later.

“It was Martin who gave me a regular starting place in the side,” Emile said. “He resigned as Norwich City’s manager on the day we played Norwich at Filbert Street. David Nish and Steve Walsh were our caretaker managers. I came on as substitute when we were losing 2-1. I set up a goal and then scored the winner.

It was an amazing feeling to score the late equaliser at Wembley. To score in a Cup Final at Wembley is one of the things you dream about as a kid.

Emile Heskey

“When Martin came in, he told me to just go and express myself which was brilliant. It doesn’t give you too much information to cloud your judgement. You just went and played. He was great for me. Really good.”

That season Leicester City beat Crystal Palace in the Play-Off Final and were promoted back to the Premier League.

“The old Wembley was amazing to see,” Emile continued, “with people walking up Wembley Way, the Twin Towers and everything. It was an amazing feeling to walk out on to the pitch with your family watching. To win there was even better! It was me who got fouled right at the end of extra-time for the free-kick which led to the winning goal. Walshy headed it back and Steve Claridge scored four seconds from the end.”

The following season, Emile was back at Wembley in the Leicester City side which won the League Cup after a replay against Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.

“I remember Middlesbrough battered us at Filbert Street not long before the final at Wembley,” Emile recalled, “So the gaffer decided to get Pontus [Kaamark] to man-mark Juninho, telling him to follow him wherever he went. It was an amazing feeling to score the late equaliser at Wembley. To score in a Cup Final at Wembley is one of the things you dream about as a kid. Then we won the replay at Hillsborough. I hit the post but Steve Claridge scored the winner. We had a bit of a party afterwards which was good!”

At the end of that season, Emile was runner-up to David Beckham as the PFA Young Player of the Year. He became a full England international the following season. He played in two more League Cup Finals for Leicester City, (winning again in 2000), played in the UEFA Cup and was a key member of O’Neill’s sides which achieved four-successive top-half finishes in the Premier League. He also won his first five full England caps.

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Emile Heskey
Emile Heskey

The former Leicester City striker scored in England's famous 5-1 victory over Germany in Berlin.

Reflecting on his time at Filbert Street, Emile continued: “My partnership with Tony Cottee was similar to the one I had with Michael Owen at Liverpool. We had the same understanding. The big man-little man combination worked well. He was a proven goalscorer and I’d set him up. It was great to have such a good understanding. Actually, I had a good partnership with most people. I had a good understanding with Stan Collymore before I went to Liverpool.  We’d have been two big lads terrorising people!”

In March 2000 Emile was transferred to Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool for a Club record selling fee of £11M.

“Liverpool had been watching me for a while,” Emile explained. “It went back to when I was playing for the England Under-18s. We played in the European Championships and I played up front with Michael Owen. The French side was managed by Gerard Houllier.”

“When the move happened, it happened quickly. I was 22. It was tough to start with. I was born and raised in Leicester and didn’t know anything else. My parents, all my mates and all my support mechanisms were there. When I moved to Liverpool I was on my own. I felt isolated.

“I was fine on the pitch but not off it. I’d go training and I’d be great because I’d be with the players. Then I’d leave them and I’d think, ‘What do I do now?’ It happens a lot. I’ve had people calling me up about it. People forget that you’re still a human being who has emotions and a need to have people around you. It wasn’t nice and I had to grow up.”

 “I settled into the playing side quickly. Playing for England, I’d already been around Jamie Redknapp, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Danny Murphy. I’d also played with Jamie Carragher all the way from the England under-16s to the full international team.”

I couldn't have got to where I was without being given the chance as a nine-year-old to progress. I had to do something to help.

Emile Heskey

“Gerard Houllier’s management was different from Martin O’Neill’s. At Leicester we didn’t have many meetings. At Liverpool, we’d talk about literally everything.  It was probably the better way because I learnt a lot about football.”

 In his third full season at Liverpool, Leicester City went into administration prompting Emile to make a very significant financial contribution to help the Club’s plight.

“I was saddened to see they’d got into that situation,” Emile reflected. “When I saw what Links (Gary Lineker) was doing to help, I felt that I had to get involved because if there was no Leicester, there was no me. I couldn't have got to where I was without being given the chance as a nine-year-old to progress. I had to do something to help. I wasn’t doing it for any praise. I just felt that I couldn’t let something that had been part of me for so long just disappear. It was scary. But now look where Leicester are!”

Between 2000 and 2004, Emile made 228 appearances for Liverpool. In his first full season at Anfield, he scored 22 goals and won the FA Cup, the League Cup and UEFA Cup. He also won the UEFA Super Cup and the League Cup again in 2003.

Emile had been part of the England set-up dating back to his Under-16s days and while at Anfield he won a further 35 England caps.

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David Beckham & Emile Heskey
David Beckham & Emile Heskey

Emile Heskey celebrates with David Beckham after the England No.7's iconic free-kick against Greece.

“It was nice to represent your country especially at a young age,” Emile said. “I went down to the National Centre of Excellence at Lilleshall for an Under-16s trial and not long afterwards I was going to the U16 Euros with players like Andy Cole, Sol Campbell, Nick Barmby, Jermaine Defoe, Joe Cole and Jamie Carragher who was then the main centre-forward before he became a centre-back.

“Coming through the ranks with England meant I knew how to play international football which is totally different from playing in the Premier League. It was about getting on the ball, playing it through the lines, getting no long balls and playing it down the side.

 “I made my England debut [in April 1999] in Budapest against Hungary. I came on as sub as did Jamie Carragher and Frank Lampard. I’d been training with England for a while which had given me a feel for it and I could see that I could do it. 

“My first start was against Argentina at Wembley [in February 2000]. It was me and Shearer up-front. I just played the way I played at Leicester. The ball would be played in from behind, I’d chase it and cause havoc. I didn't complicate things.”

On the way to the 2002 World Cup Finals in South Korea and Japan, Emile scored in the famous 5-1 defeat of Germany in Munich in a qualifying match.

I now do a little bit of ambassador work for Leicester City and I’d like to get more involved. I also try to come to as many games as possible.

Emile Heskey

“The closest I came to winning a trophy with England was to reach the quarter-finals in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan,” Emile continued. We had a good team but we were beaten by the eventual winners Brazil. We didn’t feel ready to go home. They had Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo up front. I still don’t think Ronaldinho meant to score that goal!

“Sven-[Göran Eriksson] was very quiet and very meticulous as England’s manager. You understood exactly what he wanted because he explained what he wanted you to do by moving  pieces around on a clip board.

“The following year I played for England against Serbia Montenegro at Leicester,” Emile recalled. “It was amazing playing for England in your home town, especially as I was captain for part of the game.”

Between 1999 and 2010 Emile won a total of 62 England caps, in a career which also saw him play in the Premier League for Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic (becoming the Latics' only England international) and Aston Villa. He played in his second World Cup Finals tournament in 2010 in South Africa when Fabio Capello was manager.

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Emile Heskey
Emile Heskey

In his first full season at Anfield, he scored 22 goals and won the FA Cup, the League Cup and UEFA Cup.

“I quite liked him. He was a disciplinarian, but he didn’t do too well at getting the players on his side," he said. "He just wanted to control, control, control. You need a balance. One dinner time, he threw some of those trays that cover your food because I was on my phone!”

While playing for England, Emile suffered some racial abuse, an experience again shared this season by members of the current England team.

When asked about this, Emile said: “Players in my era were programmed to turn the other cheek and try to brush it off. I don’t want my kids to go through what we went through. We are taking more of a stance now. It’s going to be tough to eradicate it. It’s a society thing. It’s not just football which has the problem.”

Emile concluded by referring again to his affinity to Leicester City: “I now do a little bit of ambassador work for Leicester City and I’d like to get more involved,” he said. “I also try to come to as many games as possible.”

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