In part two of our chat with Trevor, we talk about the FA Cup final, closing out his illustrious career, retirement, mental health and his love of coaching.
Cardiff’s poor league form that season was propped up by their miraculous FA Cup run. There were times when they were drifting too close to the wrong end of the table and Dave was under pressure. Why do you think the league campaign proved to be such a slog and was it a case that the cup eventually became the priority?
Truth be told, if myself, Jimmy and Robbie had been able to get on the pitch a lot more, I think we would have had a better league campaign, but that wasn’t the case. When I initially spoke to Dave Jones, he was saying I won’t have you playing two games a week. Don’t train on a Monday or Wednesday, come in and do some stuff on your own on a Thursday, trying to manage me a bit. I was into that, but as soon as you get in, you want to train every day and be in amongst it. Stupidly, I didn’t knock on his door and say I was doing too much because I felt great and I was hungry to do well. I wish I had had been more mature with the way I managed myself because I played a lot of games and then I broke down. I needed an exploratory operation on my knee and a couple of weeks later a second operation.
Cardiff’s win at Middlesbrough in the cup was a performance for the ages and earned them a trip to Wembley. It was also a game where Peter Whittingham scored perhaps his best goal for the club, against plenty of very stiff competition. He was a true modern great and is very sadly missed. I know you started the game on the bench, but what are your memories of that day and Peter in particular?
I remember Peter when he was coming through at Villa. The quality that he had I think was valued at the club, but probably undervalued from the outside. He looked a bit lethargic, but he was always in control. Quality players have space all the time and his football IQ was superb. He was always calm and never rushed. You could tell that he had an elite football education. I wouldn’t say he was wasted in the Championship, but I think he had Premier League quality. I think if he had a prolonged period in the top flight, he would have replicated what he did in the Championship because of his touch, awareness and thought patterns.
There was a carnival atmosphere at that Middlesbrough game and the boys were brilliant. I was watching on and thinking what a great group of players this is. There wasn’t one shrinking violet in that team and they all stood up to be counted. They understood the job and were superb. I was a support act and I wanted to make sure that I used all my experience to help Dave and make sure the boys were prepared.
Cardiff went on to make the final and I know you had never played in an FA Cup final before, so you had the full experience, with the suit fitting and the traditional FA Cup song. What are your memories of that day and the whole experience in general?
It was absolutely brilliant. After the disappointment of losing my mum the year before, I could quite easily have called it a day, but I wanted to carry on in her memory and it was like a gift, but wasn’t quite a Hollywood ending because we got beat. I had played at the old Wembley, but these games were my first time playing at the new Wembley and its every kid’s dream to play in an FA Cup final. I didn’t get many minutes, but started in the semi and it was a proud moment for me to finish on a high.
There was a situation where it looked likely that one of the big three signings was likely going to miss out and in the end, Jimmy started, you were on the bench and Robbie missed out altogether. How did that play out and how was that received?
I think there was a little bit of shock, but you have to commend Dave and his staff for sticking to his principles and picking the lads that had been consistent in the final months of the season. When I came back from my knee operation, I didn’t miss a day of training for the rest of the season, so I would have felt hard done by had I been the one to miss out, but I would have accepted it. Robbie had a couple of niggling injuries, but because he’s such a goal threat, I’m sure some people would have said he should have been there if only for the last 10 minutes, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I still appreciate Dave, even though he retired me after that game when he said he wasn’t going to be offering me a new contract. I was fine with it because I had already made up my mind and even if he had offered me something, I might have pushed for a play as you play deal, so if I play, I’m getting rewarded, but if I don’t, I’m not costing the club anything. I was grateful for the career I had and Dave was only telling me what I already knew.
You knew this was your last game, so it was a fitting end to an amazing career, but did that make it all the more disappointing that you didn’t start?
I would have loved to have started because I was in good form. We had recently played West Brom at home and I played up front on my own, feeling really fit and sharp. Tony Mowbray invited me down to see him afterwards, which sometimes happens when you’re one of the more ‘mature’ players and he said he thought I was top drawer. I had run the centre backs ragged and we were unlucky not to win against a side that were flying that year. I finished the season really strongly and I was looking after myself with my intake of food, my resting and stretching. I was doing everything I could to be in the best possible nick, but everyone was performing because they all wanted to be in the squad.
The semi-final was a really cold day and because I was a bit older, I think the cold affected me more than it should have done and caught me out a little bit. I didn’t have the best game and I think that probably played a part in why I didn’t start the final. It’s one of those where Dave picked the team that he thought could get the job done. If you look at my club career, I only won the Intertoto Cup, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I had the chance to go to Blackburn, but I had already shaken hands on a move to QPR. The time I had there was incredible, but I would have won the league if I had joined Blackburn under Kenny Dalglish. I was a nearly man. There was a couple of occasions where I could have joined a big club and decided to stay loyal to the club I was at, but it was never when they went on to win silverware. I never regret it though because I always felt that I was making the right decision. When I look back, I have so many fond memories from my career.
Did you find it hard to retire? I know that a lot of players find calling time on their career and adjusting to the next stage of their life very difficult. You moved to Dubai soon after. Was that a way of combatting that difficult transition?
Looking back, that was probably me trying to escape and probably process what had happened with my mum. Process not being a professional footballer anymore. It wasn’t by design, it was more by luck. Every road I visualised when I was lying in bed that night in December, none of them ended well and I needed to get away and figure out what I wanted to do.
I literally started coaching straight away in Dubai and I started doing media work. I was happy that I made the move, but when I got back, there a few things that I needed to deal with. I’m honest enough to say that I’ve had counselling and worked through stuff that I didn’t deal with at the time. That was a difficult part of my life, but I dealt with it and I’m enjoying my life. I’ve got a great family and I still feel like I’m involved with the game. I’m in a good place.
You’ve gone on to become a very impressive, considered pundit, so I was hoping to ask you about mental health. We all struggle with it and footballers are no exception, but they are not always treated with the same consideration. Thankfully, that now appears to be changing. Football is a tough industry and I know, for example, that I wouldn’t be built for it. I don’t think I could handle that sort of pressure and expectation. On social media, you’re very good at normalising talking about these things.
It has fluctuated. When I first got injured, I was on the cusp of a potential £10m move from QPR, but they then got relegated and I had an injury that kept me out for a year. That was a dark, difficult time, but I was quite open about it and I was probably a bit ahead of my time in that respect. I got help. I saw a counsellor and a sports psychiatrist that helped remind me of the tools I had that got me to that point in the first place. I tried visualisation and lots of different techniques to get me back to my best. I’ve been with my wife for 27 years, so I’ve always had someone there for me, to look after me and help me keep my feet on the ground. She’s massively valued in our house, so I feel very blessed and she’s been there through thick and thin.
I know your three sons all play football. How are they getting on and did you have any qualms about them entering the industry, having experienced all aspects of it?
Isaac is 20 and plays for Bamber Bridge in the Northern Premier League. He was released by Blackpool when he was 15 and he’s been part of our development programme at Pro Academy Direct. He’s had a difficult time in the last 18 months with the pandemic, but he’s done really well and we’ve kept him positive. He’s kept training and kept believing. Sky is 18 and a first-year pro at Blackpool and Kobe is 16 and a first-year apprentice there.
They’re all enjoying it and are good boys that work hard. They have that work ethic and resilience to keep trying, all the foundations you need to do well in life, whether that’s football or a different industry. I’m 100% happy for them to have a career in football. I’m there when they come home and I can help them through any problems they might have. Football teaches you a lot about life and that will prepare them for the rest of their life as well.
You’ve gone on to establish the Pro Direct Academy, which offers a second chance to players that have been cut by professional clubs, which returns to the earlier theme of nurturing young talent. How have you found the transition to coaching? It must be very rewarding.
Really rewarding, and not just the football aspect of it. It’s life. Helping young people who are going through difficult times. Between myself, Jamie Milligan and Andy Buckingham, we’ve been through everything the boys will be going through, so we feel well placed to help them through things. We’re not reinventing anything though, it’s all about hard work, commitment, making sacrifices, taking everything onboard and being the best version of yourself.
We’ve just had a lad, George Thomason, win promotion from League Two with Bolton, so he’s now a League One player and he was let go at 15. There are success stories that we’ve had that can inspire the next generation of players coming through. It’s all simple stuff that we do; strength and conditioning, understanding shape and formation, in and out of possession. If they can take that on, they’ve got a great chance of reaching their potential.
With your love of coaching and the nurturing qualities you have qualities, dare I say that from the outside, you look very much like management material! Is that something that appeals to you?
It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but for me, I feel like I’m helping people in the position I’m in now. It also goes against my principles. I don’t think any of my coaches as a kid were coaching me with an eye to getting a better job at a better team. I’ve got that same philosophy where I’m happy coaching these players and it’s a five-year programme, so five years of a young player’s life and you can help shape it.
It’s an important role for these kids and I don’t think some of the attributes I have would be needed at a professional club. I feel like I’m doing the right job, but I would definitely consider the right offer because managing elite players would be something that would interest me. I’ve done this for quite a while now, four days a week for the last four years and one day I might fancy a new challenge. I’ve put my CV in for a couple of things, got quite far in the process and backed out because I felt like it wasn’t for me. My kids are still young and still need a bit of support, but as they get older, I might be more open minded.