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Paul Devlin On Birmingham City, Scotland And playing Alongside Christophe Dugarry

Paul Devlin On Birmingham City, Scotland And playing Alongside Christophe Dugarry

An interview with Paul Devlin, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You got your big break in football at Stafford Rangers. How do you reflect on that time because you got a lot of attention while you were there?

“Yeah, it was brilliant. I’d sort of climbed up the non-league pyramid and, at that time, Stafford were in the conference which was the top level of non-league.

“When I was there, we had Stan Collymore before he moved on to Crystal Palace for £100,000 which was a record for a Non-League teenager.

“So, I knew the club was a great stepping stone for me to reach the football league.

“While there, I also got the opportunity to play with Des Bremner, who was a former Scotland international, European Cup winner and top-flight league winner. For an 18-year-old kid, it was brilliant to learn from him and develop my game.

“As time went on at the club, I was aware that other clubs were watching me which was brilliant because I wanted to progress and move on at some stage. The club certainly stood me in good stead.”

You left the club in 1992 for Notts County, what was it that attracted you there?

“Neil Warnock was the main reason that I joined Notts County because I’d had trials at Derby, who had me down there on and off while Oxford had me on trial too as did Liverpool who actually put me on trial six or seven weeks, on and off.

“I actually had the opportunity to sign for Leeds, but I did not settle when I went up for a trial there, so I decided against joining them and I signed for Notts County.

“Howard Wilkinson who was the manager of Leeds rang me at home when he found out that I had decided against joining them and he shouted at me down to the phone for signing for Notts County so that was quite surreal.

“He could not believe that I was turning down a Leeds side that had actually won what is now the Premier League to join a Notts County team that had just got relegated.”

You spent four seasons at Notts County and were a fan’s favourite there before you moved on to Birmingham City. What are your overall memories from Notts County?

“I loved my time at the club, and I had four great years there playing 130-odd games for them.

“Most of those games were at Championship level as well so it was a brilliant time for me and the club.

“I also played with some very good players, such as Mark Draper, Michael Johnson and Gary McSwegan.

“During my time there, we just missed out on the playoffs by a point which was frustrating but my performances at County enabled me to have the chance to go to Birmingham City.”

When you go to Birmingham in your first spell, you worked under Barry Fry? What was he like to work with?

“Barry is everything that you expect him to be. He is loud, brash and absolutely crackers but he is a brilliant human being.

“He would admit himself that he is not the greatest coach in the world, but he is a great motivator and that made him a great manager.

“I was from Birmingham and watched the Blues as a kid so playing for the club was a dream come true for me.

“People do not often realise how much Barry, David Gold, David Sullivan and Karen Brady got the club out of the dark ages and really got the place going again.”

Barry was later replaced by Trevor Francis as manager. What was he like to work with given his standing as one of Birmingham’s greatest ever players?

“It was an interesting time when Trevor came in because he’s unanimously regarded as the club’s best-ever player. He was a God at St Andrew’s.

“His first season I did really well but I always got the feeling that he didn’t really have a lot of faith in me even though I was his top scorer.

“We ended up having a bit of a fallout down over a new contract because I was out of contract in his second season.

“It was frustrating as I wanted to stay but things did not work out and I ended up turning down a contract that he offered and then our relationship sort of fell apart a little bit which culminated in me leaving the club for four years before returning for a second spell.”

Upon your return to Birmingham in 2002, the club gets promoted to the Premier League under Steve Bruce and you broke into the Scotland squad. You went on to win 10 Scotland caps, how proud were you to represent Scotland and play international football?

“I was really proud because I was playing as well as ever in my career and I believe that getting promoted with Birmingham and doing it in the Premiership helped me break in at international level.

“Berti Vogts was the manager who called me up but there were rumours that the previous manager, Craig Brown was going to call me up, but it never actually happened.

“So, to eventually get the call up at 30 years of age was fantastic because my dad his side of the family are from Coatbridge, and it was a place where I spent a lot of time.

“Growing up every school holiday was up there so it wasn’t like I had a long-lost grandparent and had never been to Scotland before representing the country, Scotland was a big part of my life, so it was fantastic to be able to represent the national team on the occasions that I was able to do so.”

How did you it when you finally got the chance to play regularly in the Premier League after years of close calls with promotion?

“It was absolutely amazing and to do it with Birmingham as well made it extra special.

“I was 30 at the time so a lot of my achievements came to me later in my career because I didn’t turn pro until I was 19 so it was great to reach the Premier League at 30 years of age and receive my first Scotland call up at that time too.

“Prior to my return to Birmingham, I had four years at Sheffield United where I was a regular working with Steve Bruce too.

“So, when he wanted me to come back to Birmingham when he became the manager there, it was great to go back.

“I mean no disrespect at all to Sheffield United because I loved my time there too.

“However, that period for Birmingham where we got to the play-off final, got promoted and stayed up comfortably in our first couple of years in the Premier League was a wonderful time.

“We also had a couple of Derby Day wins over Aston Villa which was brilliant for me as a Birmingham lad having followed the club for years as a fan.”

You played alongside World Cup winner Christophe Dugarry at Birmingham City in your second spell. What was it like to train and play alongside someone of his ilk?

“He was fantastic. It was surreal and unbelievable when he arrived, to be honest.

“One day out of the blue, Christophe rocks into the training ground and he was instantly recognisable with his 6ft 2 height and his long hair.

“What I can say is that he was a great fella and coolest man I’ve ever met in football who just had an aura about him, you know.

“He was a fantastic player and even though, he was at the end of his career when he came to us and his knees wasn’t great, on the pitch he was an absolute Rolls Royce of a player.

“Steve Bruce knew how to treat him differently and get the best from him. Christophe sort of done what he wanted to a certain extent in training but Steve’s answer to us lads if we ever moaned about it was, when you win the World Cup you can do that which put us in our place (laughs).

“It sums up how good he was because for a bloke that only played 30 odd games and scored half a dozen goals for the club, he’s still held in such high regard at Birmingham City which sums up how he made a huge impact.”

Finally, Paul, being a midfield player, who were your toughest individual battles in that area of the pitch?

“I remember playing at Old Trafford and being over the moon that Ryan Giggs wasn’t playing on the left-hand side, and it was Paul Scholes.

“But let me tell you, I’ve never had such a hard day when I faced Paul Scholes on that occasion. He pulled me all over the place and Silvestre overlapped from fullback at was due to the movement of Scholes. He was an unbelievable player.

“I also remember playing at Wembley in the Anglo-Italian Cup final for Notts County against Brescia who George Haji playing in midfield for them.

“Again, he was just an unbelievable talent who could do anything that he wanted on the ball. Him and Scholes defied belief in terms of how good they were.”