His time at Leicester started with a very unusual set of circumstances surrounding his transfer from West Ham United, and included a League Cup win, European competition, relegation, promotion and administration. He is currently coaching at his first professional club, Queens Park Rangers.
Andy’s football journey, which included starring in the Premier League for QPR, West Ham and Leicester began when he was a youngster playing in the Hayes and Middlesex area.
He then moved on to play in a Wednesday night youth league for Yeading’s Under-18s team.
“At Yeading, we played teams like Reading, Chelsea and Swindon,” Andy explained. “We ended up beating them all. A lot of us youngsters went on to play in Yeading’s reserve team with men. A few of us in this team could play and we would get invited to train at Football League clubs on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
“I went for training at Chelsea, Watford, Tottenham and Wimbledon, but I wasn’t dedicated or committed enough. Instead I became an apprentice window fitter but eventually I was persuaded to get my love back for the game and play again for Yeading reserves and then for their first team. Scouts from different clubs started watching me.
Impey was a part of the side which lifted the League Cup in 2000.
“That year we won the league, won the FA Vase and reached the Middlesex Cup Final. QPR offered me a trial and then did a deal with Yeading, allowing me to play there for the rest of the season because we were on our FA Vase run to Wembley. After we won the Vase, I didn’t get to celebrate with the team as I had to sign for QPR the next day (in June 1990). That basically is how I got into professional football.”
Adapting to professional football wasn’t easy for Andy: “I was a Non-League player and it took me the best part of nine months to learn how to train properly. For the first season I was in the reserves and we used to play in a league called the Football Combination where you learnt a lot playing with experienced professionals.”
Andy broke into the first team in October 1991. Playing in a side that was always in the top half of the Premier League, he won the club’s Player of the Season award for three successive years, in 1993, 1994 and 1995. He also became an England Under-21s international.
“We were a club that had no well-known stars, but everyone was good at their job and this forged a really good team,” Andy said. “QPR was a really family orientated club and what happened on the pitch mirrored what was going on off the pitch. Roy Wegele was one of my favourite players. Les Ferdinand was forging his own career and we all know how good he became. Ray Wilkins was about 35 then and he was like a father figure and role model, even to the older players. We also had players like Danny Maddix, Alan McDonald, Darren Peacock, Ian Holloway, and later on Trevor Sinclair came into the fold.”
QPR were relegated in 1996 and in September 1997, after six seasons in the first team, Andy was transferred to Premier League West Ham for a reported fee of £1.3M.
He added: “QPR were relegated under Ray Wilkins. He was replaced by Stuart Houston and Bruce Rioch, as his assistant. This was odd for me as an Arsenal fan as Houston had been Rioch’s assistant at Arsenal. They were both good coaches but for me it didn’t feel like QPR any more. I played a season for them in the Championship and then [West Ham manager] Harry Redknapp made an enquiry. I was open to a move and it suited both parties at the time. I spoke to Harry. He was as good as gold. He made me feel as though I wanted to play for him.”
As I was driving up the motorway to Nottingham, Frank Sinclair, a good friend of mine who was then playing at Leicester, phoned me. He said: ‘Imps, Martin O’Neill wants you at Leicester. He wants to meet you. Whatever you do, don’t sign for Forest!Andy Impey
The Hammers finished eighth in the Premier League in Andy’s full season at Upton Park, but in November 1998, he moved north to join Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City. The circumstances surrounding this move were unusual to say the least, as Andy explained.
He continued: “I got a call from QPR on a Thursday evening before a game on the Sunday at Derby asking me if I was interested in signing for Nottingham Forest as the agents were doing a deal. I said that if West Ham didn’t want me that wasn’t a problem and that I would speak to Forest.
“When I went into training the next day, I asked Harry what he wanted me to do as I was obviously not going to be involved against Derby. He looked at me and said: 'What are you talking about?' I told him about the deal being done between West Ham and Forest. He said: 'Listen, take it from me. You are travelling to Derby. You ain’t going nowhere'. Then my agent said a deal was being done! On the Saturday, I asked Harry again whether I’d be travelling. He told me that I was and that I wasn’t to worry about what anybody else said.
“Then the chief executive phoned my agent and said: ‘He’s not travelling!’ I phoned Harry and he said I was! There was a lot of toing and froing going on. In the end it turned out that I wasn’t travelling and that I was going to meet Nottingham Forest on the Monday or Tuesday.”
As we now know, the story didn’t end there: “As I was driving up the motorway to Nottingham, Frank Sinclair, a good friend of mine who was then playing at Leicester, phoned me. He said: ‘Imps, Martin O’Neill wants you at Leicester. He wants to meet you. Whatever you do, don’t sign for Forest!’
“Well the terms had virtually been agreed with Forest and I was less than two hours away from signing for them, but I spoke to Martin a lot on the phone, and then drove to meet him instead of going to Nottingham. Bam! I signed for Leicester. Obviously they had to agree a deal with West Ham as well, but the deal was done!”
Impey predominately played for Leicester in the Premier League.
Reflecting on his time at Leicester, Andy recalled: “I call Leicester my second home. It was exactly the same as QPR, but in the Midlands. Everybody made you welcome, including the laundry ladies, the tea ladies, everybody. Macca (Paul McAndrew), the kit man, couldn’t do enough for you. A really, really lovely family club!
“I think that O’Neill is unique. What you noticed were his man-management skills. Players had a really good relationship with him. People say he didn’t coach but he had a way of working with players which got the best out of them. Steve Walford and John Robertson were there too. Steve was instrumental in everything. He was really influential, especially for me. He was a good coach. He was the one who had the lads laughing and joking at the training sessions, and when you needed to graft he was the one who got you grafting as well.”
Andy played in the League Cup-winning side at Wembley in 2000. O’Neill left for Celtic five months later.
The next season, under new manager Peter Taylor, Andy played in the UEFA Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade. As late as March 2001, the team was fourth in the Premier League. However, following an FA Cup quarter-final defeat at home to Wycombe Wanderers, City then lost eight matches in succession, nine out their last 10 games, to finish a disappointing 13th.
Referring to this, Andy said: “I’m not saying that there weren’t some seeds laid already, but to this day, I still can’t understand how it went so badly wrong after that one game against Wycombe. Other teams have lost to lower league clubs in the FA Cup without that happening. It was heartbreaking how things spiralled down so quickly after that. How did we go from being a half decent side to one that had just gone?”
The final match of the following season, when Leicester City were relegated, was the last match at Filbert Street, a ground fondly remembered by Andy: "There was a special feeling playing at Filbert Street. The fans were really close to you. It had an intimate feel. It was great to play there. When you were a kid, it was the sort of ground you would dream about playing in.”
Andy played an important part in helping the side bounce straight back into the Premier League the following season, during which the Club went into administration.
Leicester was a family club. Working there was more than just a job to a lot of people. It was a way of life.Andy Impey
He remembers: “It was a hard time. You’ve got to give thanks to everybody at the Club for helping Leicester to coming out of administration later that season. Leicester was a family club. Working there was more than just a job to a lot of people. It was a way of life. People say that players are removed from the fans and from the community, but we weren’t. I don’t know what it’s like now, but in those days, if you went to buy a pint of milk or some petrol fans would come up to you and tell you how long they’d been supporting the Club and about their experiences following Leicester.
“How can you not relate to that? We knew how much the Club meant to them. The lads were more than happy to forfeit part of their wages, knowing that if we didn’t get promoted, we wouldn’t get our money back.”
The following season (2003/04) was Andy’s last at Leicester. Newly promoted back into the Premier League, Micky Adams brought in experienced players such as Les Ferdinand, Steve Howey, Keith Gillespie, John Curtis, Craig Hignett, Ben Thatcher and Lilian Nalis.
“The good thing was that a lot of those signings were proven Premier League players,” Andy recalled. “I’m not saying that the lads already there weren’t, but some good players had left and sometimes you need to freshen up the place and have a little bit of help.”
In February 2004, after making 13 appearances that season, Andy went on loan to Joe Kinnear’s Nottingham Forest.
Impey was also at the Club during their spell in the top flight under Micky Adams' management.
“It was hard to realise that my time at Leicester was coming to an end and that I was leaving Leicester,” Andy reflected. “I went on loan for the rest of the season and signed permanently for the following season.
“It didn’t quite work out for me at Forest and I was put on what they call gardening leave. I have a house in Jamaica so I went there to relax, thinking that I would probably retire at the end of the season. I’d been there for about a month-and-a-half, living the life I wanted, when I got a call from Wisey (Dennis Wise), who was then manager at Millwall saying that he needed a bit of help, and could I go there?
“Ray [Wilkins], his assistant, also phoned me. I said to them both, how can I play for Millwall, when I played for West Ham, and they said that they’d both played for Chelsea and they were managing Millwall! I didn’t want to let them down so I went. I didn’t really help though. I got injured after about a day-and-a-half, and then played with an injury. I should never have gone there.”
In September 2005, Andy joined Coventry City on a non-contract basis, before retiring from playing in 2006. Andy is currently coaching at Queens Park Rangers. He is working in the academy and with the Under-23s, passing on the skills and life experience gained from his journey from Non-League football to the Premier League to the next generation.
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