Saturday, 21 July 2012

Interview with a pro James Panayi – ex Watford, Apollon FC defender and QPR trailist

 Hello, I'm Callum Rivett and this week for The Football Front, I'm doing something a little different. I've gotten myself an interview with an ex-pro -- James Panayi. He's my PE teacher, a very good one at that, and he kindly agreed to do this interview, so I thought I'd share it with you. It actually made me more aware of his footballing talents - he clearly was a good player. Also, it made me realise how much he had been through to "nearly make it" as he put it. From Luton Town's youth academy to astonishing racism in Cyprus, this is James Panayi.  

Q: How long did your pro career span?

A: I first started with Luton Town, when I was 13 years old, for one season, in the academy. I then trained for Charlton for a year, and when I was 15 I was offered a trail with Watford, which resulted in myself being offered a two-year school boy contract, like an apprentiship, in 1996 to 1998 on £45 per week. I was offered a pro contract, originally a two-year but upped to four, on £300 per week. I spent one year as a pro in the reserves. Then in 1999, I made my debut for the first team versus Coventry at Highfield Road, which was live on Sky’s Super Sunday, so that was pretty exciting. I played the next game as well, at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday, but was then dropped meaning I missed the game against Newcastle where I would have had to mark Alan Shearer, who at that time was one of Europe’s hottest marksmen, so I was gutted. I was injured over Christmas, and didn’t play the rest of the season and had to have two operations on my shoulder. The next year in the Championship [then Division One] - so against Coventry and Wednesday was in the Premiership - I played eleven games. The stand-out game being a 4-1 win over Norwich City. I was offered a two-year contract, which I first turned down, then the management changed. It used to be Graham Tayler, ex-England manager, but he was retiring so it turned to Gianluca Vialli. I went and played on the pre-season tour, but fell out of favour, then I wasn’t offered a new deal, so I left when my contract expired and had a trial at QPR. I played against Celtic in a friendly infront of a packed Loftus Road, so that was good. I wasn’t offered a contract, and when I was considering hanging up my boots and stopping, there was a last-minute offer from Cypriot side Apollon Limassol. They had tax-free pay but a different wage structure, so I didn’t get paid for two or three months. I didn’t realise, but they were a right-wing club, in terms of politics, and the first game was versus a left-wing team [AC Omonia] and I looked around the ground and there were banners of swastikas, and loads of flares. I will say that I was put off a bit by it, and when I was paid, I went home and studied a journalism course for two months. I got pieces published on Football365’s website, then did some coaching. I decided that I wanted to go to university, so in summer 2003, I did, and now, well, I’m PE teacher at Flegg High School. But now I try to avoid playing, and I'll only play if it's for fun.

Q: Who was the best player you played either with or against?

A: Against, there were a few good players, but it has to be Rio Ferdinand. I played against him when he was in the West Ham youth team, he was 17 I think, and he’d already made his debut in the first team. He was an absolute Rolls-Royce, and West Ham has one of the best youth set-ups in the world, we never beat them. We beat teams like Man United, Arsenal, but we never beat West Ham. With, it is probably Charlie Miller, who signed from Rangers. He was the worst pro, an absolute disgrace – a borderline alcoholic, massive gambler, but the best player.

Q: What was your biggest regret?

A: Not appreciating what I had at the time. Not working hard enough. I almost became the stereotype, moan if we had double session, moan if we didn’t have a day off, moan if we had fitness training. Players worse than me have got further than me, some of my mates are millionaires. Am I bitter? Nah, I just didn’t try hard enough.

Q: Best moment in your career?

A: There was a few. I’m a big Tottenham fan, so playing in the reserves against them at White Hart Line has to be up there. But my debut at Highfield was amazing – it was a mix of cacking your pants and excitement.

Q: Who was the joker in the dressing room?

A: Me, wasn’t it? (laughs) Nah, Charlie Miller was funny, Noel Williams – he was a funny, funny guy. If you got him, he would not stop until he got you back, and got you back hard. Briefly there was Ian Holloway, he was a good character and a funny guy.

Q: If you could sum up your career in one word, what would it be?

A: Crikey. Probably ‘nearly’. I was nearly there, but didn’t work hard enough.

Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.

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