Former Player Remembers: Darren Eadie

For the remainder of this season, Club Historian John Hutchinson is resuming his series of interviews conducted with former players who have played for Leicester City during the last half century.
Ahead of the recent game against Norwich City, John interviewed former England Under-21 international Darren Eadie about his career as a pacey and skilful winger and attacking midfield player at Norwich City and Leicester City. 

Martin O’Neill who had managed Darren at Carrow Road bought him to Filbert Street in December 1999 for a then Club record fee of £3million. Unfortunately Darren’s career was cut short by serious knee surgery, forcing him to retire in 2003. He now works in the media and is heavily involved in raising money for Charity. 

“I was born in Wiltshire and as a youngster went to Swindon, the nearest professional club and then to Southampton. A chap called Gordon Bennett, who was the Youth Development Officer at Norwich City, talent spotted lads down in the West Country which is how I came to join Norwich as a 16-year-old schoolboy. I settled well at Norwich as it was a similar way of life. It felt like a second home straightaway. 

“Norwich had a rich history of bringing players through the system and into the first team and that was always key for me. By the time I was 18 I had broken through into the first team. I made my Premier League debut against QPR and scored in a 2-2 draw. Before that I had made my debut in Europe against Vitesse Arnhem and then we went on to beat Bayern Munich. I remember standing in the tunnel at Carrow Road and looking to my right and realising I was standing next to Lothar Matthaus who won the World Cup in 1990. It was incredible. 

“I loved all my eight years as a pro at Norwich. They had some decent cup runs but the European run (in 1993-94) which was the highlight. We lost to Inter Milan in the end but we were the only English team to win in Munich’s Olympic Stadium. That remains a big part of my life. 

“When I was at Norwich, I progressed from the England Under-21 squad to Glenn Hoddle’s full England squad, at a time when we had dropped down to the Championship. To get a call up to the full England squad was great: a really proud moment. Unfortunately, and this became the story of my career, I got injured whilst with the full England squad. 

“The Under-21 experience under Peter Taylor was brilliant. I scored a few goals playing with the likes of Kieron Dyer, Rio Ferdinand, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. I also played alongside Emile (Heskey).He was a great partner to play with. His brute strength created so many opportunities. He was a really nice guy and I was lucky to play with him. 

“I absolutely loved playing under Martin at Norwich. That was probably the decisive factor in me coming to Leicester and joining back up with him again. He was the best manager I ever played under. His man management style, and the way he got the best out of players was just brilliant. He knew how to treat different players differently. If someone needed an arm around them, he would do that. If he needed to have a go at you, he would do that as well. I have a huge amount of respect for the man. He made me feel wanted and that, as a player, made you feel good about yourself and that’s what you want from a manager to get the best out of you. 

“I remember the day he resigned from Norwich (on December 17 1995). We were playing at Leicester and I scored. We went down for the team meeting in the morning. (His coaches) Paul Franklin and Steve Walford came in and the manager didn’t. We wondered where he was and then we were told he had left the Club. Soon afterwards we found out that he had gone to Leicester. It was a huge disappointment as the lads felt we were on the upward curve again trying to get back into the Premier League under him. He obviously didn’t see eye to eye with the Chairman at the time and he felt he had the chance to go to Leicester to build something special, which is what he went on to do."

Four years later, Darren rejoined Martin O’Neill at Filbert Street. 

“Norwich were in a bit of financial turmoil. They told me that a bid from Leicester had been accepted and that I could go to speak to them. However, I was happy at Norwich at the time, I was on decent money and I loved my football, so I said I wanted to stay. But they told me that if I didn’t go, the Club could go into Administration. I had a huge amount of feeling for the Club and I didn’t want something like that to happen. However, Leicester was the closest Premier League side to Norwich at the time. I could team up with Martin O’Neill again. Also my dad was born and bred in Leicester. He had gone to the school which was right near the football ground. He had been a Leicester City season ticket holder. My nan had lived on the Fosse Road and I used to visit there as a kid so there were lots of Leicester connections. For my dad, it was his proudest moment when his son signed for his club for a record fee. It was the perfect fit really. If I was going to go anywhere it was going to be Leicester. Leicester had a very similar feel to Norwich as a football club, which I liked. It was very family orientated and I enjoyed my time there. 

“I signed for Leicester City in December 1999. I was cup-tied so I couldn’t play in the Worthington Cup Final which we won, qualifying us for Europe the next year. I was back playing in the Premier League and playing in Europe again with Martin O’Neill and a fabulous group of players. One thing that stands out for me from my time at Leicester is that the team Martin had built was a good one, doing well in the Premier League. It was a really good time for us.” 

With the team on the verge of becoming a top six club in March 2000, Emile Heskey left for Liverpool, Stan Collymore broke his leg, and at the end of the season, Martin O’Neill left for Celtic.

“Martin leaving for Celtic was disappointing but at the end of the day, every manager has an ambition. You learn as a footballer that you have to move with the times. You never know what is going to happen from one day to the next. 

“I was enjoying my time at Leicester. The problem was I had too many injuries. The one thing that always weighs heavily on my shoulders about Leicester is that the fans never really got to see the best of me because of my injuries. I have had 26 operations on my knee. I didn’t quite get the opportunity to be able to show my best because of that. Footballers are always very critical of themselves. Without injuries holding me back I certainly had aspirations to be back in the England squad. I am sure the Leicester fans would have like to have seen more of me and I would have like to have shown them more , especially the way I played the game with pace and trickery but once my knee had gone it that wasn’t going to happen, which was a shame."

Peter Taylor succeeded Martin O’Neill as Leicester City’s s manager in June 2000. 

“I think being the England Under-21 manager suited Peter Taylor very well. He was a great coach. I think he perhaps found the toughness of the Premier League a difficult place to be. It was a massive learning curve for him. It didn’t quite work out. A lot of players were sold and probably not enough quality brought in to replace them. Soon after he took over we went to the top of the Premier League. He inherited Martin O’Neill’s squad and until that started to break up we were certainly a force to be reckoned with. 

“I remember the UEFA Cup game against Red Star Belgrade (in September 2000) very well. We conceded quite early in the home leg. A flare went off in the crowd causing smoke in the stadium and Tim Flowers lost sight of the ball for the first goal. We managed to equalise but we got turned over at their place. Disappointing. We should have done better in that competition. We had quality in the team with the likes of Flowers, Elliott, Taggart, Izzet, Guppy, Savage and Lennon. There was great team spirit and togetherness, like in this season’s team whose pace, desire and work rate is just incredible.” 

Leicester City were 4th in the Premier League at the start of March 2001. This was followed by the home defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in the 6th round of the FA Cup, which triggered a run of nine defeats in the last 10 matches and a final Premier League position of 13th. 

“Nobody saw that run coming at the end of the season. I missed a lot of this due to injuries and then was out for the next two seasons injured. I was only 28 when I retired. It is one of the worst things in the world to wake up from an operation and to be told that I couldn’t play again and that my career was over. A horrible time.” 

Since retiring, Darren has launched Sellebrity Soccer. He is involved in media work with radio and TV and is Head of Football at Langley School working with Norwich City Academy’s elite players. 

“We originally started Sellebrity ( ) as a Charity auction site where we got celebrities to donate things for us to sell for their nominated charities. We sell a variety of celebrities’ items, such as furniture and clothing. We sold a load of Frank Lampard’s items from his flat in London which raised £7,000 for his nominated charity. It has worked really well. Then we started to do charity football matches with celebrities playing. We have had a couple of games at Leicester and plan another one there in 2017 bringing some celebrities to raise money for the Foxes Foundation. This year we are about to go over the million pound mark raised for Charity. It has been a fantastic release to me to give something back. 

“I also do lots of media work. I am coming to Leicester for the game against Norwich, working for Radio Norfolk. I also work as a TV presenter on Mustard TV which is the local TV station. It’s not just football I do. It’s a bit like the ‘One Show’: an all-round type of show. I really enjoy doing that. I am also head of Football at a private school in Norwich called Langley which is great because the Norwich City Academy elite players are educated there. Not only are they getting Elite Player Performance Plan Category 1 coaching, they are also getting a first class education. I am proud to be part of that.”

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