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Irish Hammer 12:26 Mon Oct 11
Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.

This one dates back to 2019, I hadn't read it before and thought it as a good piece, hence I'm posting it in case anyone is interested. Comes across as a decent bloke.

‘I thought, ‘f*** me, that’s my England career finished’ – Downing on Hodgson, West Ham and ‘mad’ pressure at Liverpool

LONDON COLNEY, ENGLAND - MAY 2 2019:

England manager Roy Hodgson looks on with Stewart Downing during the England training session on May 29, 2012 in London Colney, England.

It’s been five years since Stewart Downing last wore an England shirt but you get the impression he’s still not quite over how it all ended.
The former Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Liverpool and West Ham winger, now at Blackburn Rovers, played for his country 35 times and was a member of squads that travelled to the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012 but doesn’t think Roy Hodgson gave him a fair crack of the whip.
Of all the things Downing, 35, discusses with The Athletic — his childhood, West Ham, the pressure of playing at Liverpool — it is his ousting from the national team that provokes the most candid response.

He does not hold back when it comes to Hodgson, who managed the national team from 2012 to 2016 but called up Downing only twice.
A few months before his last selection in 2014, Downing had been deployed as a No 10 in a 4-4-2 diamond formation at West Ham, which led to an upturn in his form. This caught the attention of Hodgson, who named Downing in his 26-man squad for games against Slovenia and Scotland. Yet his 45 minutes in the latter fixture — a 3-1 victory at Celtic Park — would prove to be the last time he would play for the national team.
“My last cap for England was my own fault,” he tells The Athletic at Blackburn’s training ground, arms firmly crossed as he recalls the frustration. “Hodgson took me to the Euros in 2012 but I heard that squad was already picked by Fabio Capello. I could tell because as soon as I arrived for training, I sensed Roy didn’t fancy me as a player. When the Euros finished, I was out of the squad for two-and-a-half years.

“I went to West Ham and still never got picked [by England]. But when Roy saw that Big Sam had changed my position to No 10, maybe he sensed that he could use me there. So he picked me for the England squad but ahead of my first game back [against Slovenia], I woke up in the middle of the night in agony. My right knee was killing me. It had swollen up so much. I think I took a bang in training.

“I couldn’t play the first game but Roy asked if I could sit on the bench. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t even walk.’ We went to Scotland for the second game and I was still struggling.

“I trained but my knee just didn’t feel right. But the thing is, if I didn’t play, I knew Roy wouldn’t pick me for the next squad, so I took an injection to play. I never should’ve done that. In the first minute, bang! Someone kneed me in my right knee and it blew up again. I made it through to half-time and Roy looked at me and said, ‘You’re not right with that knee, are you?’ so then he took me off. I think he was worried about Big Sam’s reaction.

“I got back to West Ham on the Thursday and missed that Saturday’s game [against Everton]. I think it was the only game I ever missed for West Ham and Sam went absolutely bananas. He said, ‘How dare they let you play with a bad knee?’. It was mental. I was thinking, ‘Fuck me, that’s my England career finished.’ After that, Roy never picked me for England again.

“I thought, ‘I had an injection on my knee to play for you’. I was 31 at the time, so if you were going to do that, why didn’t you just pick a young player? If he thought I was only going to be there for one game, then what was the point in calling me up? That’s what I don’t understand. I said to Big Sam, ‘Don’t worry about it. I won’t be going back there again.’”

While we’re on the subject of England, Downing makes a point of stating he is of the opinion his former West Ham team-mate Mark Noble should have earned at least one senior cap.
“I played with him for England at youth level,” he says. “We clicked straightaway and he’s a lovely lad. When I scored against Tottenham, he was like, ‘You don’t realise what you just did. You scored against Tottenham. I hate them’ and so on.
“I know it’s a cliché but Mark really is Mr West Ham and Karren Brady loved him. He came through the ranks as a kid. He will probably finish his career there and become manager there but he definitely should’ve had the chance to play for England. Around the time I got back in the England squad, Hodgson was at our ground every week. He used to come into Sam’s office.
“When I first signed for West Ham, Big Sam said he was going to get me back in the England squad but I honestly thought my time had been and gone by then. Hodgson didn’t pick me when I played for Liverpool, so, no disrespect, I thought he definitely wouldn’t pick me once I’d joined West Ham.

“But Sam told me Hodgson was watching me, Noble, James Tomkins and Aaron Cresswell. There was a moment at West Ham when we were third in the league and we flying, so I thought to myself, ‘If Roy ignores us now, we’re never getting in’.

“He picked me, and I think Cresswell was on standby. Then someone got injured but Roy plucked someone else from nowhere. That’s when I knew Noble wasn’t going to get in.
“I asked what he would do if England turned him down again and he said the Republic of Ireland were desperate for him to play for them. His mum is Irish and I think she wanted him to play for them. I honestly thought he would end up playing for them and he didn’t in the end but he should’ve definitely at least been called up to an England squad.

“If you look at some of the players who played for England around that time, Nobes was as a good as them. West Ham were challenging for a top-six spot and he wasn’t even making the 30-man England squad. No disrespect to Jake Livermore but he was at Hull City and they were struggling in the bottom half of the league when he got picked ahead of Mark. If Livermore could get in the squad, why not Noble? I reckon Noble was hard done by a little bit.”

Downing joined Blackburn on a one-year deal in the summer and found a Championship club with old school values, where the academy eat after the first team. Downing is happy with how quickly he has been able to settle under Tony Mowbray.

“I’ve been here for two or three months but it feels like I’ve been here for years,” he says. “It’s good because when you go to a new club, you want to feel settled straightaway. I knew the manager because he lives up north near me, so that helped.

“The gaffer phoned me when the season was over, so I went over to his house with my dad and we spoke about football, family, his plans for the club and how he sees me fitting in. The vibe felt right. Tony wanted to know how it would affect my family if I moved, which was impressive because some managers don’t really take an interest in your family. They just want you, the player.”
Downing was the only boy of five siblings and fondly remembers the days his dad, also named Stewart, would take him to junior football matches — even if it meant getting absolutely drenched.
“My dad travelled across the country to watch me play and I think that was a big thing because it kept me going,” he says. “My mum was with all my sisters doing the dancing competitions and my dad took me everywhere for football.

“He tells me he was a decent footballer when he was younger. He had schoolboy trials at Aston Villa — he actually showed me the letter, so I knew he wasn’t lying — but he left because my mum fell pregnant with my older sister Natalie. He said the right thing to do was to bring up his family and that would’ve been a big decision for him.

“There’s a lot of things I’ve forgotten over the years — Premier League and Champions League games, even — but I will always remember the day me and my dad got drenched. It was a cup game for my local junior team and it was absolutely chucking it down.

“We lived about half-an-hour away from where we were supposed to go and I remember my dad saying, ‘I think we’re going to have to give it a miss today, son’. And I remember telling him, ‘No, no, no dad, we have to go. I can’t miss this game’. Then, after he took me on his bike, we got absolutely soaked. I’m talking drenched, but those are happy moments I’ll never forget.”
Sadly, Downing’s childhood wasn’t filled entirely with happiness. In 1993, his younger sister Vicki passed away after a battle with leukaemia — a tragedy understandably difficult for a nine-year-old lad to comprehend.

“When it happened, I was probably a pain in the arse for my mum and dad because I just wanted to go and play football, while they were grieving,” he says. “I look back and think, ‘How on earth were they able to get through that?’. My mum and dad were 26 or 27 when we lost Vicki. She was four and I was nine. I really took for granted all the things they had to go through bringing up three kids when they’d lost one.

“[When Vicki was ill in hospital], sometimes my mum would be around for a week and my dad would be at the hospital, then they would swap. They rotated so often, so it must’ve felt like they were doing shifts.

“Vicki is buried locally in Middlesbrough, so every year, I’ll go there for her birthday and for Christmas. My two younger sisters never met her so they always ask what she was like. Vicki would be 30 now, so a lot of years have gone by since she passed away. I always wonder what she would be like if she was here. Me and my parents still talk about her. I think about her all the time.”
Downing made his Premier League debut for Middlesbrough in April 2002, lining up alongside the likes of Gareth Southgate and Paul Ince in a 1-0 defeat at Ipswich. He played 234 matches for his boyhood club, including the 2006 UEFA Cup final defeat to Sevilla, before moving on to Aston Villa following Boro’s relegation in 2009.
His time at Villa Park saw Martin O’Neill’s side battle for a place in the Premier League’s top four and reach the 2010 League Cup final (which they lost 2-1 to Manchester United), and his performances were enough to seal a move to Liverpool in 2011. He had just joined one of the biggest clubs in the world but it wasn’t an entirely enjoyable experience.

“The most difficult time in my career was dealing with being in the spotlight at Liverpool,” he says, his gaze locked firmly on the ground ahead of him. “When I was at Aston Villa and we’d played well, the coverage would obviously be good, and when we’d played poorly, the coverage would not really be any different.

“But at Liverpool, it felt like if we got a draw, it was the end of the world. The pressure and the demands were so high. I would just be thinking to myself, ‘This is mad’.

“The first season I was there, they spent a lot of money on players and we finished seventh. We won the Carling Cup and got beat in the FA Cup final [by Chelsea] and I thought to myself, ‘That actually wasn’t a bad season’. But people kept saying that it wasn’t good enough and I just thought, ‘This is crazy’.

“We got a lot of stick. It was a new type of pressure for me. That’s when I stopped listening to what people in the media were saying. When I was younger, I read and listened to what people said about my performances but that’s when you start to overthink things. I don’t need the papers or the people on the street to tell me whether I’ve done well. It can be brutal but you have to blank out all the negative stuff.”

Downing seems at his happiest when talking about West Ham. His beaming smile returns when he reflects on his two-year spell at the club who plucked him from the Anfield pressure pot in 2013.

“I absolutely loved it at West Ham,” he says. “It was a strange one, really, because I wish I could’ve stayed at Liverpool for another year because it was that season they nearly won the title [under Brendan Rodgers]. I played for them in pre-season but Brendan told me a decent offer had come in from West Ham and it was up to me whether I stayed or went.

“He said, ‘I would like you to stay but I’m going to bring in new players — you’re going to have to fight for your place in the team.’ It’s not that I didn’t trust him. I just didn’t get a good vibe from it. Then, Big Sam is on the phone and he’s selling me the dream. He said I was going to play. He said the Olympic Stadium would be great for the club and I just had a feeling it was going to be good there.

“But if Big Sam had stayed, I wouldn’t have left for Middlesbrough. I wouldn’t even have entertained it. I reckon Big Sam probably would’ve given me a contract extension and obviously, I would’ve signed it and stayed. I even said to [Slaven] Bilic, ‘If you give me an extension, I’ll stay,’ but he said he couldn’t because of my age. That’s what probably pushed me to Middlesbrough.

“Of all the managers I’ve played under, Big Sam got the best out of me. There was a time when I was at Middlesbrough that I could’ve gone to play for him at Crystal Palace on loan but it didn’t happen in the end.

“I think the way Big Sam was treated towards the end of his time as West Ham manager was bad considering what he did for the club. The environment he created at West Ham made football so enjoyable.

“His man-management was one of his strengths. When Big Sam left, I was absolutely gutted because I thought he would’ve been there for another three or four years.”

Downing had left West Ham a year before they moved into the London Stadium in the summer of 2016. He misses Upton Park and three years on from the club’s move to Stratford, he still believes they won’t be able to replicate the legendary Upton Park atmosphere.

“I miss watching West Ham play at the Upton Park,” he says with a sigh. “When I watch them play at the Olympic Stadium, it just doesn’t feel right. I went there with Middlesbrough and the ground had no atmosphere.

“Upton Park; that place was always rocking. I remember going there as an away player and thinking, ‘I fucking hate playing here’. The fans were so close to the pitch but it made the atmosphere so much better.

“The Olympic Stadium just seems dead. The fans are too far away. Don’t get me wrong, it has amazing facilities but when you think of West Ham, you think of Upton Park.”

When you think of Stewart Downing, you may not necessarily think of West Ham, but there can be no doubt the winger loved his time in East London.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

147man 4:12 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Roy Hodgson - Athletico Mince

https://youtu.be/7OViejutf60

Russ of the BML 3:52 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Thanks Irish.

Pav BML 12:38 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Still can't believe Allardyce stopped playing him at the top of the diamond when Nolan came back from injury. Everything was working so well until then and we were a shambles 2nd half of the season. Allardyce was finally onto something but his stubbornness got in the way

Thanks Irish 12:30 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Thanks Irish

Lato 11:41 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Another good one Irish thanks.

Good player was Stewart Downing over 600 appearances at club level and 35 England caps is proof of that.
I was surprised Bilic let him go but I suppose with Payet and Lanzini coming in he would have gone down the pecking order.

chim chim cha boo 4:12 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Thanks Irish.

Downing was one of those players you wonder what all the fuss is about until he plays for your team. Then you think 'ah, I get it now' .

It seems like a hundred years ago that he played for us but he put in some amazing shifts for us and I wish him all the best.

charlie paynter 12:36 Mon Oct 11
Re: Decent Interview with Stewart Downing.
Cheers Irish, I forgot about Stewart Downing. He was outstanding for us for a while. Interesting to hear him speak so highly of BFS.





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