David Nugent

Former Player Remembers: David Nugent (Part One)

Striker David Nugent was Leicester City’s top goalscorer for three seasons when he played for the Foxes between 2011 and 2015. Earlier this month, he met with Club Historian John Hutchinson to remember his career in football.
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In part one of the interview, he talks about his time before Leicester City. He describes his spells at Liverpool, Bury, Preston North End, where he played for England, Portsmouth, where he played in an FA Cup Final, and Burnley.

David began by explaining how he joined Liverpool as a youngster even though he was an Everton supporter: “I didn’t get a choice really. It was just one of those things. I played for my local team, St. Aloysius in Huyton. A couple of my friends were at Liverpool at the time and I just went for a trial.

“I was only seven. I was there for seven years but I got released when I was 14. I used to train every Tuesday and Thursday, play on a Saturday and then go back to my grassroots team on the Sunday. I learned so much at Liverpool’s School of Excellence.

“Steve Heighway was one of my coaches and to get tips off him at such a young age was special. He knew what he was doing. He’d played at the highest level. He’d been a winger and, in those days, I was a winger too. I converted into a striker later in my career. I was always quite pacy and I liked being on the right-hand side, running down the bylines and getting crosses into the box.

“When I was 14, my mum and dad got called into a meeting with the coaches. In the car on the way home from training, they had to tell me that I’d been released by Liverpool. They were gutted to be fair, but I just thought: ‘Well I can go back to playing with my mates!’ I knew I still had a lot of career ahead of me and I was still young enough to find another club.

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David Nugent

Impressive performances at Bury led to his move to Preston.

“When I was 15, the team I was playing for at the time had a tournament in Blackpool. A scout from Bury was there and he asked to go for a trial. The trial game was against Chesterfield and we won 5-3. I played as a striker and scored a hat-trick so they offered me a YTS apprenticeship straight away.

“I had a year as a YTS player and was playing a lot of reserve football with the older pros. I also trained with the first team a couple of times and, towards the end of the season (2001/02), at the age of 16, I made a few appearances as a sub for the first team.    

“I was earning £45 a week when I made my full debut which was away at Peterborough when we’d already been relegated (to the fourth tier). We lost 4-1 but I played 90 minutes and I loved every minute of it. It was unbelievable. I was still a child!

“Nothing phased me. I was playing football with grown men. I was quicker than all of them. I used to sneak the ball past them and then run past them. I was playing against these brutal defenders in the bottom division of the league, but at 16, I was as sharp as anything. I was too quick for them. I was loving it!”

David stayed at Bury until January 2005, scoring 20 goals in 103 league and cup appearances. Having netted 12 goals in 29 appearances that season, David moved to Preston North End, who were in the Championship.  

“That move nearly didn’t happen,” David remembered. “I was playing for Bury and Preston’s manager Billy Davies (a former Leicester City player) came to watch me with his coach Ned (David) Kelly (who was also an ex-Foxes player). Preston made a bid of £90,000, which Bury accepted. So me and my agent John Seasman went to Deepdale to see their chairman Derek Shaw and their manager.

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David Nugent

Scoring goals for fun at Preston earned Nugent international recognition.

“This was my first transfer negotiation. John said what we wanted, they said they couldn’t afford it, so we walked out and went back to Bury. I thought the move was over. Travelling back to Bury, I was thinking; ‘Why haven’t I just signed for Preston?’ John said: ‘They’ll come back. Don’t worry’. I had to go back and play a game for Bury that weekend.

“Early the next week, Preston came back and offered what we wanted. After the despair of not signing for them, there I was signing for Preston. When I joined, Preston were in great form, going for promotion to the Premier League. They had some great players there, like Graham Alexander, Paul McKenna, Brian O’Neil, Chris Luketti and Youl Mawéné.

“They looked after me because I was a young player. We reached the Play-Off Final that season and we were beaten 1-0 by West Ham. Bobby Zamora scored the winner. We’d battered West Ham twice in the league, including a 3-0 win at Upton Park. We were confident but West Ham just had more than us on the day. We were devastated.

“We had a squad that was capable of getting to the Premier League and, the following season (2005/06), we finished fourth and met Leeds in the Play-Off Semi-Finals. I scored in the first leg at Leeds, which was a 1-1 draw. We felt confident we could win the second leg, but we lost 2-0.”

By this time though, David was an established England Under-21s international.

“Peter Taylor picked me for my first Under-21s cap (in February 2005),” David recalled. “It was against Wales at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham. I came on as sub for Carlton Cole. Most of the players in that squad were in the Premier League, so for me, it was a great experience playing with those players, but again, nothing phased me. Playing with better players makes you want to be better and apply yourself more.”

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David Nugent

Scoring that debut England goal against Andorra.

The 2006/07 season was David’s last at Preston, who finished seventh in the Championship. However, in March of that season, David became a full England international.

“I was the first Preston player to play for England since Sir Tom Finney in 1958,” David continued. “Paul Simpson was Preston’s manager at the time. He told me on the day that we were due to play Ipswich at Portman Road that the England manager Steve McClaren was going to watch me. I think there had been a couple of injuries in the England squad and McClaren had asked Stuart Pearce to recommend someone from the Under-21s squad and he’d recommended me.

“I always seemed to score against Ipswich, but I probably had the worst game of my life. If Simpson hadn’t told me about McClaren, I’d probably have played better. Anyway, I did get called up for England. When I got the phone call, it was a surreal moment and I thought it was someone calling my bluff.”

David’s England debut was as a substitute in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying match against Andorra on 28 March 2007.

“I came on and scored,” he said. “We played Andorra in the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona because Andorra didn’t have a stadium. McClaren was under a lot of pressure because we didn’t qualify that year. We beat Andorra 3-0. It was 0-0 at half-time. 

“I didn’t expect to come on unless someone scored. Then Steve Gerrard scored two quick-fire goals and then I was told: ‘Nuge, you’re coming on’. I was shaking walking to the touchline but, after my first touch, I just fell into the flow of the game.

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David Nugent

His first taste of Premier League football came at Portsmouth.

“I scored when I tapped in Jermaine Defoe’s shot which was rolling in. I followed up and tapped it in on the line. He’d have done the same in my shoes! Any striker would have done the same. Jermaine’s done a few podcasts recently about me tapping the goal in on the line. I still get ripped for it to this day! All I can say is, I’ve got one cap and one goal! I’ve framed the cap and the shirt!”

In June 2007, David played for England at UEFA U21 EURO 2007 in the Netherlands.

“Stuart Pearce was the manager,” David recalled. “We were beaten in the end by the Netherlands on penalties. I think we lost by something like 15-16 on penalties. We went through the whole team and then went back through it again! I didn’t take one because I’d come off in extra-time.”

A month later, in July 2007, David left Preston to sign for Harry Redknapp’s Premier League side Portsmouth for a reported fee of £6M.

“Portsmouth had recently been taken over by Sacha Gaydamak,” David remembered. “The team we had that year was unbelievable. We had David James, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Glen Johnson, Lassana Diarra, Sulley Muntari, Niko Kranjčar, Hermann Hreiðarsson, Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka and then there was me!   

“Harry told me that he’d watched me and that he liked the way I played, but it just didn’t really work out for me at Portsmouth. I was gutted to be fair. I did get an FA Cup winners’ medal in that first year though.

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David Nugent

Nugent remained in the top-flight with Burnley, making a loan move permanent.

“I scored the winner against Ipswich in the third round, then I got injured. I came on as a sub in the quarters, the semis and the final. My dad had my FA Cup medal after I won it, and I’ve only got it back recently to put in my trophy room. My parents were so proud that I helped win the FA Cup and I had all my family watching as well at Wembley.”

Soon after beginning his third season at Fratton Park, David went on loan to Premier League side Burnley in September 2009 for the remainder of that season.

Thinking back, David continued: “I scored twice on my Burnley debut against Sunderland and I thought: ‘Brilliant! Premier League here we come!’ But then the manager left. Brian Laws came in and it didn’t work out for him and we got relegated at the end of the season… and so did Portsmouth!

“I went back to Portsmouth for the next season (2010/11), where Steve Cotterill was now in charge. They’d been in administration the year before and they were struggling to pay the wages. Some players left but some players were still earning a lot of money.

“I was back on the wing that season, and I think I scored 15 goals, but I didn’t score until the eighth or ninth game when we played Leicester twice in a week at Fratton Park, in the League Cup and then in the Championship. My first goal that season was in the second of those game when we beat Leicester 6-1.”

Early the following season, David moved to Leicester City, signed by Sven-Göran Eriksson. In part two of this interview, in the next edition of CITY, David describes his many highlights at Filbert Way, including reaching the play-offs, winning the Championship title, being the Club’s top scorer for three successive seasons and playing in the famous Great Escape in the 2014/15 season. He then talks about his career after leaving Leicester in August 2015.  

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