Les Ferdinand spent the 1990s terrifying Premier League defences with QPR, Newcastle and Tottenham, before late career stints saw him take in the delights of West Ham, Leicester and Bolton.
But he had worked his way up the football pyramid the old-fashioned way, starting out with the likes of Southall and Hayes in the 1980s, before a loan spell at Brentford (back when they were in the third tier).
He even had a year in Turkey, where he hit 18 goals in 30 games for Besiktas.
Now director of football back at Queens Park Rangers, Ferdinand tells FourFourTwo about the games that changed his life….
Coventry 4 QPR 1
April 20, 1987, First Division
“I came off the bench to make my senior debut for QPR at Coventry, about a month before they went on to win the FA Cup. I was up against one of my heroes in Cyrille Regis, who scored twice that day. We were 3-1 down when I was brought on – I got so nervous, and because of that I can’t remember who I replaced! Even though we suffered a heavy defeat, the chance to make my league debut was the realisation of a dream.”
Fenerbahce 0 Besiktas 1
June 21, 1989, Turkish Cup Final
“I got the winner in the first leg of the final during a season-long loan with Besiktas, after weaving through a few bodies. We won 3-1 on aggregate. My season in Turkey was a real eye-opener – the fanaticism towards football there is on another level compared to anything I’ve ever experienced. There were 35,000 fans inside the ground for my first training session.”
England 6 San Marino 0
February 17, 1993, World Cup qualifier
“I was very fortunate to play at Wembley early in my career, for Southall in the 1986 FA Vase Final. I always remember our manager, Gordon Bartlett, saying in the dressing room before kick-off, ‘One of you might get the opportunity to come back here’. We were all looking around at each other, thinking one or two of us might play in another FA Vase or Trophy final… but certainly not for England.
“Making my debut at Wembley, the home of football, was every bit as good as everyone had said it would be.
“I managed to mark the occasion with a goal near the end: a ‘thunderbolt’ header from about a yard. Tony Adams headed the ball against the crossbar and I reacted to the rebound first.”
Newcastle 5 Manchester United 0
October 20, 1996, Premier League
“At one stage of the 1995/96 season, Newcastle had been 12 points clear of Manchester United in January [having played a game more]. Man United famously closed that gap and went on to win the league by four points, then absolutely humiliated us 4-0 in the Charity Shield that summer.
“I always remember Kevin Keegan’s team talk shortly before the home match with them the following season. He said, ‘You owe all of these fans’, after they had clapped us off at Wembley when we really didn’t deserve it. Every player was so determined to win that afternoon, and what a performance it was – I headed the third goal from Alan Shearer’s cross. Whenever I speak to Newcastle supporters, that’s the game they bring up.”