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Battle’s on with my old pal Ince

IT was May 2003 when Keith Andrews won promotion to the Premier League. Little did he realise it would be five years before he played in it.

Andrews and Lee Naylor celebrate Wolves' play-off victory

Andrews and Lee Naylor celebrate Wolves’ play-off victory

Mind you, he probably had an inkling. Because while the likes of Paul Ince and Kenny Miller celebrated Wolves’ 3-0

play-off victory over Sheffield United, the young midfielder was sat in the stand wearing a club suit.

“I was injured at the time of the play-offs,” recalls Andrews, now 33. “Not that it mattered much. I think I only played about ten or 15 games in the whole season.

“So while I was there and I was involved, I took no great pride in going up. There was no sense of achievement. The medal they gave me hasn’t ever found its way out of the bottom drawer.”

Leadership

Now, ten years on, he is looking to win a medal he can be proud of after joining aspirational Brighton on a season-long loan from Bolton.

It is, in many ways, an odd move. Having missed a play-off spot on the final day of last season, Bolton have had a disastrous start, failing to win any of their first nine games. Their midfield is screaming out for the kind of leadership and assurance that Andrews provides.

This has been compounded by the fact that Andrews has filled in seamlessly for the Seagulls’ injured maestro Liam Bridcutt, earning rave reviews from Amex regulars. According to the player himself, his departure was forced by financial constraints, with Trotters boss Dougie Freedman short of cash and Brighton one of the few clubs able to afford his wages.

“It did take me aback a little bit,” adds Andrews. “I’d played a couple of games for Bolton and seemed part of the team.
“Then I got a phone call, informing me through my agent that they’d agreed a deal for me to go on a season-long loan to Brighton.

Andrews nets for Bolton from the penalty spot

Andrews nets for Bolton from the penalty spot

“I’m not entirely sure why. At a guess, I’d say the financial fair play element was probably a factor. Dougie wanted to bring payers in and needed others out to do that.

“Whatever the case, if a club doesn’t want you, it makes your decision very easy. But at the same time, if I’d thought it was the wrong move, I wouldn’t have been pushed around.

“I’d have bided my time and waited for the right one. But for me, it was ­fantastic – if I could have chosen one Championship team to play for it would have been Brighton.

“You soon find out what people think of this club. I got text messages and voicemails, calls from friends and family – all saying what a great move it is.

“It makes you realise what great strides the club is making and the way their style appeals to people.” Now it’s about getting back to the Premier League – again. And to do that, Andrews will have to overhaul the man to whom he owes so much – friend and mentor Paul Ince.

The Blackpool boss was written off in many quarters after successive ­failures at Blackburn, MK Dons and Notts County.

But after taking charge of the Tangerines late last season, Ince has overseen their best start to a campaign in 78 years.

Delighted

And Andrews, rejuvenated at the Dons and then signed for Premier League Blackburn by Ince, is ecstatic to see his old mate going well.

“I’m delighted for him, I really am,” says Andrews, who has 35 caps for Ireland and played all three games in Euro 2012.

“We’ve known each other a long time – firstly playing together at Wolves, then he was my manager. He’s a good friend of mine and we get on really well.

“He fought very, very hard to get me to Blackburn and that’s something I’ll always be eternally grateful for. Without him, I might never have played at Premier League level.

“But it’s more than that. I had nine years at Wolves, from youth level all the way up to the age of 24. From breaking into the team and doing really well, I ­suppose you could say I stuttered over the next few years. I was only 20-21, and Dave Jones, the manager at the time, was bringing in proven players like Paul, Alex Rae and Colin Cameron. They were experienced, international footballers and I was a kid learning my trade.

“With the lack of opportunities and then some injuries, my career stalled. It was a tough time and I fell out of love with football to a large degree.

“It wasn’t until I got back with Paul at MK Dons that my career really re-ignited and I started to enjoy playing football again.

“When he came to MK, he based the team around me. Seeing a man like that put so much faith and confidence in my ability gave me so much belief every time I walked out on the pitch.

Andrews savors scoring for loan club Brighton

Andrews savors scoring for loan club Brighton

“After a bad couple of years, it was exactly the platform I needed to kick on in my career. He is undoubtedly the biggest factor in what I’ve achieved since.”

Now, of course, Andrews is the experienced international, and like the old pros at Wolves, he doesn’t want the kids to get a look-in.

“If you stand still in this game, you go backwards,” he says.

“If you lose the hunger, if you start plodding along and going through the motions – that’s very dangerous because there are plenty of young lads desperate to take your place.

“They’ll go past you and leave you in the dust.

“So as I get older, I always try to achieve something every year.

“The reason I went to Bolton last summer was because I wanted to get promoted from the Championship. It didn’t work out, but I’ve come to Brighton for the same reason.

“I’m as fit now as I ever have been. That day when you get out of bed and think: ‘I can’t be arsed with this’ – that’s the day when you pack it in.

“But I’m enjoying it here so I hope that day is a long way off.”

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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