BIG INTERVIEW: It feels like I’ve come home – I can’t wait to play for Ipswich Town again, says Darren Ambrose
- Credit: Su Anderson
Darren Ambrose yesterday became an Ipswich Town player for the third time, signing a short-term deal until January. STUART WATSON spoke to the midfielder about coming through the Blues’ academy ranks, rebuilding his confidence in Greece and still having plenty to offer at the age of 30.
Q: Welcome back to Ipswich Town!
A: Thanks, I’m absolutely delighted. I came here on trial three weeks ago and there were no promises of a contract. I played in a game for Colchester against Ipswich in pre-season and I was desperate to get involved in that. Joe Dunne (then Colchester manager) helped me out massively, but it was more for Mick (McCarthy) to have a look at me in a big game and I must have done something right because he got me in to train.
“He called me in on Tuesday and said ‘we’ll give you a short-term deal’. There is some incentive there now to try and impress again.
“It’s my third time here now, people often say ‘don’t go back’, but it’s a fantastic place and I love this club. I grew up here with the youth teams and I’m delighted to be back.”
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Q: You first left in 2003 and came back for a loan spell in 2008/09. Did you think you’d end up back here permanently?
A: “I’ve always said that I wanted to come back. The last spell on loan didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I was in and out of the team off the back of a bad time at Charlton, but the following year was the best of my career probably. You have your ups and downs in football, hopefully this is another up, I can impress and get some game time.”
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Q: You’ve been without a club since Birmingham released you at the back end of last season and had trials at Colchester and Blackpool. What have the last few months been like?
A: “I had a few options to go up north or to the west coast, but I’ve just moved locally, my kids have been out of school since January, we got them home schooled in Greece, so when this opportunity came up I just grasped it with both hands.
“I told my wife I really wanted to impress here. I had three weeks to show what I can do, it’s worked and now I’ve got until January to try and impress again.”
Q: Could it become a longer-term deal?
A: “I hope so. I’m not going to look too far ahead, I’ll take every game and every training session as it comes and just try to enjoy it. I have missed being at a club and being around the boys with all the banter every day.
“I’ll enjoy every moment. If game time comes about, which I’m hoping it does, then hopefully I can impress the right people.”
Q: What was it like coming through the academy here alongside players like Darren Bent?
A: “It’s renowned for the academy here. There have been a fair few players make it. I was here from 15 onwards, stayed in digs, did all that, broke into the team quite early under George Burley and loved every minute.
“In hindsight maybe I left a bit too soon, but it was out of my hands and when a team like Newcastle and a manger like Bobby Robson comes calling you can’t say no. I’m absolutely delighted to be back now and I’m excited to try and help Ipswich push up the league to where I think they belong.
“We’ve had a slow start, but I’ve been about the place for three weeks now and we’ve got some fantastic players here. Hopefully I can start becoming involved in matches.”
Q: You were sold to Newcastle for a million pounds in March 2003 when Ipswich were in administration following relegation. Did you not have much choice in that move?
A: “The club was in a bad way, we all knew what was going on. It was a weird situation. I left in March, the transfer window was shut but administration allowed me to go. Joe Royle rang me up and said ‘I don’t want you to go but you kind of have to’.
“Whether I wanted to go or not, we had to consider whether it was safe financially for me and my family to stay and was it safe financially for the club to keep me. It probably wasn’t, so I guess it was the right decision.
“It was very frustrating for me as a kid, I thought I’d come back on loan straight away. I ended up having a good time in Newcastle, for the first 18 months it was fantastic for me, so I’m not going to look back with any regrets. You always have to look forwards and that’s what I’m doing now.”
Q: How’s the fitness? You didn’t get many games at Birmingham last season...
A: “I didn’t have that many problems at Birmingham. It was publicised that I did, but I wasn’t injured too much. I went out to Greece (on loan to Apollon Smyrni) in January and played every game there. That’s a competitive league. It doesn’t get much publicity in England, it gets run down a bit, but having been out there it’s a respectable league to go and play in. It’s certainly physical.
“Touch wood I’m going to be okay injury-wise. I think there’s 20/21 games now until my contract is up and hopefully I‘ll be available for every one of them. It’s up to the manager whether he wants to use me.”
Q: What’s your best position these days?
A: “I’ve gone through my whole career not really knowing that and playing all different positions. I’m an attacking midfielder who likes to pop up with a goal every now and then. That’s what I’m going to aim for. I know it’s a cliché that a lot of footballers use, but I’ll play anywhere.
“I’m just delighted to be back in the fold of football and I just want to be back out there an playing football.”
Q: You always seemed to score when coming up against Ipswich for your various clubs...
A: “I scored quite a few, yeah, and I tried not to celebrate too much because I’ve got a good relationship with the fans here and every time I come back they’ve been great with me.
“I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself to score these goals, but I’m a goalscoring midfielder, I see myself as that and I’ll be trying to my hardest to put a few in the back of the net.”
Q: What do you think Ipswich Town can achieve under Mick McCarthy?
A: “It’s a big club and it deserves to be pushing up towards the top end of the league and I think we can do that with the squad we’ve got. Obviously we kept a few in January, I don’t know what the loan situation is going to be, but I think we’ve got a fantastic squad and if we start picking up victories we can be pushing for that top six at least.”
Q: What was your highlight of your first spell here?
A: “The game against Sheffield United. Counago got sent off, we went 2-0 down, second half we come out and won 3-2, I scored and I think Darren Bent got the other two. That was the highlight that sticks out.
“Portman Road is a fantastic stadium and I can’t wait to hopefully pull on the shirt again and get back out there.”
Q: Do you still speak to the players you came through at the academy with here?
A: “I still speak to Benty. He’s got a young family now like me. It’s strange how we’ve both grown up. I still talk to Bloomers (Matt Bloomfield), who’s at Wycombe, and Matt Richards. There are a few I keep in touch with.
“Me and Benty lived together and he always played his heavy bass music! He’s obviously done a bit more than me in his career, he’s got the England caps and I’m absolute delighted for him. He was a great player here, a great finisher and I always knew he’d go far.
“It’s great to see a friend get to those highs. We’re both 30 now – hopefully we’ve still both got a few good performances left in us and can make a few more headlines.”
Q: Does it feel like coming home?
A: “It does. When my agent said about this opportunity to train he said ‘do you want me to send the address?’ I went ‘you’re joking aren’t you? I basically lived here when I was young!’. It’s great to be back.
“When I came back on loan I wanted to stay. There was talk of me signing permanently, but it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I went on to have a fantastic season under Neil Warnock at Crystal Palace after that though.
“The manager here is open with me, he’s told me what he wants me to do and hopefully I can repay that faith.”
Q: Has you changed and adapted as a player over the years?
A: “You have to. I don’t think anyone stays the player they start out as. I know what my strengths are and what I’m not so good at. I need to utilise that on the pitch if I get my opportunity.”
Q: It feels like you’ve been around forever, having made your debut aged 18, but you’re still only 30...
A: “Mark Kennedy told me the stat that the average footballer’s career last eight years, so for me it’s fantastic to be going into my 15th year. I’m enjoying it because I know it won’t last forever. When you’re a kid and you’re told that you don’t take any notice.
“My career has gone so quickly and I’m determined to enjoy every last minute. I know January will come around quick.
“I’m more hungry now than ever before. I had a difficult 18 months at Birmingham, some managers have you and some don’t. It was nothing personal, I just didn’t fit in for whatever reason. I went to Greece not to prove a point to anyone else but to prove a point to myself really. I wanted to prove to myself that I can still be the player I know I can be. I had a really good stint over there. Hopefully I can continue that form.”
Q: How did that move to Greece come about?
A: “Lawrie Sanchez was the manager, he asked if there was a possibility and I jumped at the chance. There’s four or five really good teams and I got to play them all. It was a chance to try something new.
“When I got there I was pleasantly surprised. It was nothing like I expected. It was a good competitive league and we went right down to the wire. We were rock bottom when I arrived and we only ended up going down on the last day with a defeat to Olympiakos.
“I’d advise a lot of players to make the same sort of move. If you want to improve and see the world then you need to go abroad.”