We recently spent some time chatting to Darren Purse, the former Cardiff City captain. In part one, we covered joining the Bluebirds, some of his iconic team-mates and a certain Sam Hammam. Part two covers all sorts, including the famous run to the FA Cup final, Thommo’s song and leaving the Bluebirds.
In 2007-08, Robbie Fowler and Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink joined the club. Two legends of the Premier League, what was it like having them at the club?
We signed three internationals that year in Robbie, Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink and Trevor Sinclair. All of them, to be fair to them, apart from Robbie who couldn’t reach his level because he was injured quite a bit, really made an impact on the side.
The way they were around the dressing room, around the football club, was excellent. They settled in like they were one of the boys. They had no airs or graces about them, they were just pleased to play football for Cardiff, a club which was going places.
They probably saw the same thing that I did when I joined; a club that will get promoted to the Premier League. It’s a shame we couldn’t do it that year or the year after and that it took a few years for it to happen.
That year Cardiff went on a spectacular run to the FA Cup final. You didn’t feature at all in the FA Cup during that run, how difficult was that for you?
I was on the bench every single game! There’s a trivia question there!
Yeah, it hurt a bit, but that’s football at the end of the day. Obviously Dave Jones thought that there were two better centre-halves at the club at that time when we were doing so well and that’s just the way it went. You look at Roger Johnson and Glenn Loovens and they were both really good players, the careers they’ve gone on to have at the top level.
I think I was 31 at the time and age catches up with you sometimes. I was disappointed, but it was just lovely to be involved in a FA Cup run that was so brilliant for the football club.
There were some brilliant wins in that run. The Boro win a standout. Peter Whittingham scored a brilliant goal. How good was he?
When Whitts first came into the club, his first year at Cardiff didn’t work out brilliantly for him I don’t think. Obviously he was at Villa as a young lad and he struggled to settle in. He was away from home and he struggled I think with the harshness of it all.
But after that, you look at the career he’s had at Cardiff, the number of games he played, the quality he had when in possession of the ball, and he’s probably up there with Jason Koumas. He had that bit of individual brilliance that would change a game for you.
You look at the goal against Boro and it’s probably up there with one of the best goals you’ll see from a Cardiff player. Fair play to him, he had a great career at Cardiff.
You were sent off against Burnley for a tackle on Andy Cole, who labelled you a ‘muppet’. That red card could’ve cost you a place in the cup final. What was going through your head at the time.
Yeah, I thought I was going to miss the final. On the tackle, I had no intention of hurting him. I went in for the ball and I was a little bit late. I’ve never gone into a tackle with the intention of hurting any one, but that’s the way that turned out. It was a bad tackle and three days later it got overturned (I don’t know how!).
I’m happy it got overturned because I got involved with the final, but obviously it didn’t really matter because I was sat on the bench anyway! It was nice to be involved in the final anyway.
The red card was overturned. You must’ve been ecstatic. You were captain and would’ve lifted the FA Cup had Cardiff won the final.
I think Macca (Steve McPhail) and I had spoken about it. Macca had been captain while I wasn’t playing and he was saying if we win it, we’ll go and lift it together, which was nice. If I’d missed out on it, I would’ve been gutted, but obviously I didn’t get onto the pitch so it didn’t matter.
I remember I was playing golf at the Celtic Manor and I got the call which was a nice surprise. I don’t think they’ve ever heard anyone shout as loud on the golf course!
One of the standout moments in that run for me was Steven Thompson’s song. How surreal was it to be in recording studios signing this song?
Thommo’s song was better than the one we released!
100%! I listened to them both this morning actually and thought that Thommo’s was better!
It was! When we’d won the semi-final against Barnsley, we stayed overnight in London and travelled back the next day. He was sat at the back of the bus with his guitar and by the end of this journey, we were all singing this song and all knew the words! Literally over the course of a two or three hour journey, we’d got this song done.
Monday or Tuesday, we went into see Peter Ridsdale and said “look, we’ve got this song and we want to get it recorded,” but I think they’d already signed this contract with these other people. Thommo’s song was definitely the better out of the two and I think a few of us wish we’d recorded that one rather than the one that was done.
It was a great laugh and Thommo was brilliant at that sort of thing. It just showed the team spirit we had around the time at the club. I remember we traveled to the arse end of nowhere to a recording studio in Herefordshire or somewhere. Kevin McNaughton did the whole day in a danger mouse costume and it just summed up what he was all about.
There’s the video, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, from the end of season awards do, and all the players are on stage with Thommo signing this song and it’s a brilliant video. It shows, as you mentioned, the togetherness of the squad and that there’s a great spirit among the players.
There was. I remember that night out down in the Vale to celebrate the FA Cup run and it was a brilliant time to be around the place.
The whole team was superb. Nights out, pre-season in Portugal, it all just enhanced the camaraderie we had in the squad. Kev and Thommo were massive parts of that.
We’ve mentioned Roger Johnson – you lost your place to Johnson, who partnered Glenn Loovens, how difficult was that for you?
Of course it was difficult. I just wanted to play football. I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to be the main person. I was still captain of the football club and I wanted to play. I still thought I could do it and deserved to play, but obviously Dave Jones thought differently.
That’s part of being a manager and I was disappointing, but I still enjoyed it. My family life was good and everything was fine. I enjoyed my time at Cardiff, it was superb. I was down there for four years and I think if I’d stayed another year, I’d have ended up living in Cardiff for good. I enjoyed it that much.
2008-09 was your last season in Cardiff. With Glenn Loovens sold to Celtic, you were (unfairly in my eyes) dropped for Gabor Gyepes. I know you criticised Dave Jones and perhaps your relationship with him suffered at that time. What are your memories of that time?
When I was left out for Roger and Loovens, I could half understand that. They were both excellent players. Gabor came in, and I don’t want to speak ill of Gabor, but I was a better player than him. I wasn’t playing in front of him and I think I knew then that the writing was on the wall.
You look at the Preston game away and I was sat on the bench away watching it all unfold. 6-0 away, which cost us promotion. It was hard to take, especially when you think the player that’s on the pitch isn’t good enough and you’re better than him. It’s hard to talk about that, but that’s the brutality of life.
I thought I was a better player than Gabor, but Dave Jones saw it otherwise. That’s when mine and his relationship changed because I thought I deserved to be playing.
Was it that breakdown in relationship that resulted in you leaving Cardiff?
Yes. I nearly joined Norwich in the January of that window. I think Cardiff were trying to sign Mark Hudson then and I nearly left to go to Norwich. Because they couldn’t sign Hudson, Dave Jones pulled the plug on the deal for me to go to Norwich. That was that, but half way through the season I knew Sheffield Wednesday were interested and that’s where I’d be going.
That was hard because we played Wednesday on the last day of the season and we needed to win, but I knew I was off joining Sheffield next season. I hadn’t played for ten games or so and Dave Jones said you’re playing at Sheffield Wednesday away. I thought I had a good game that day, but we were outdone by a wordle goal by a lad called Jermaine Johnson.
You left the club at the end of the season, joining Sheffield Wednesday, how would you reflect on your time at Cardiff?
I loved every minute of it. As I said, I could’ve stayed at West Brom for the last two years of my contract and picked my money up, but if you gave me my time again 100 times, I’d sign for Cardiff again 100 times.
It was just a great club. I honestly loved it. People say where was the best time you had at a football club and I can’t choose between Birmingham and Cardiff. I spent eight nearly nine years at Birmingham, four years at Cardiff, and I couldn’t choose between the two football clubs. I loved playing for both clubs.
What was your favourite goal for Cardiff?
I don’t know, Liverpool away maybe in the League Cup. That was a good header to score and a great stadium to score at, although they went straight up the other end to score! It would’ve been an interesting game if we’d not conceded straight away.
Stoke away I scored a good header again which was nice, Ipswich at home I scored two. I scored some good goals. Nothing out of the ordinary, but I think Liverpool away the header was the best goal I scored for Cardiff.
What about your favourite memory from your time in Cardiff?
I’d say really early doors; Leeds away on a Tuesday night. It was within, I think, the first three of four games I played for Cardiff. The atmosphere was superb.
Drawing 0-0 against Tottenham in the FA Cup at Ninian Park was a fantastic moment, although we went onto lose the replay. I don’t know, I just look back at the whole four years as fantastic times. I was privileged to play in Cardiff for four years and loved every minute of it.
Fast forward to the modern day, what are you doing now Darren?
I coach at Oxford and I work within a school. I do a football scholarship programme within a school for Rushden and Diamonds. Part-time, I do Oxford with the U16’s and help out with the U18’s. I’m enjoying what I’m doing at the moment.
It’s not what I thought I’d do at the end of my career – I was hoping I could move into management and all that – but hopefully this is me doing my apprenticeship and there will be a job out there for me in management. I think I’m doing it the right way. I’m enjoying it and learning as I go along, but we’ll see what the future holds.
So management is definitely something you’d like to go into then?
Definitely. Listen, I coach, which you have to do, but I don’t particularly enjoy coaching that much. I will be a manager. It’s just whether or not somebody gives you the opportunity to do that. I just hope that I look back on my life and think yeah, I got the opportunity. You apply for jobs and people say you haven’t got any experience, but there’s only one way to get experience, isn’t there?
Hopefully we’ll see you on the touchline down in Cardiff at some point during your managerial career!
That’d be nice! Even just in the academy or something like that, and try to step up like that. We’ll just see how it goes. I’m on the ladder now. I dropped to non-league football because I wanted to carry on playing for a few years and did a bit of Assistant Manager stuff. I only finished playing in non-league last season, so this is my first season in management and coaching so we’ll see where we go.
Have you seen much of Cardiff this year. If so, how would you rate the season so far?
I’ve seen Cardiff from a far, to be honest. I’m coming down for the Chelsea game, but I’ve watched from afar. I think they’ve done brilliantly, you know. Neil Warnock has been excellent. It’ll be interesting to see what they do in the January transfer window. If they don’t sign anyone, then they’ll struggle to stay up.
(Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in early January, before Cardiff had made any signings in January).
But if they can get one or two in to strengthen the side, I think they’ve got every change to stay up. I think there are three worse sides than Cardiff in the Premier League at the moment and I think they’ve got a good chance of staying up.
You mentioned transfers and the money is crazy in football now and it makes it difficult for a club like Cardiff to compete.
Totally. It’s astronomical. You look at (Marko) Arnautovic, who is 30 years of age. People are saying £30-35 million and West Ham are talking about turning that down. The money in the Premier League is just astronomical. If Cardiff can stay up, they’ve performed a miracle and Neil Warnock deserves a knighthood.