In this week's edition of our popular series, Derry City legend Peter Hutton discusses a glittering career that took in several top clubs plus a showdown with Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker.
Q: How did you first get into football?
A: I am one of four brothers and both my father and my uncle Tony played at Coleraine and Finn Harps, so football was in the house. Myself and my brothers joined a team called Creggan Celtic which had been set up by a man called John McGilloway. That was our first taste of football.
Q: How did you progress from there?
A: I played there for a year or two and then myself and my younger brother Emmett were asked to go to Oxford United Stars. They were a more established club and we got to play in Mallusk tournaments and things like that and you get the bug for it then.
Q: When did the path into adult football start to open up for you?
A: While I was at Oxford I had schoolboy trials at Bradford City and I had Northern Ireland Schoolboy trials too. Brendan Rodgers came down and he was playing with one of the Derry teams because where he was from there weren't a lot of teams. I got to know him and we went to the Northern Ireland trials together.
Q: How did things work out with Bradford?
A: I signed schoolboy forms, but what I don't think a lot of people knew then was that as long as you are in education that schoolboy form holds you, even if you went on to university. I'd moved up into Oxford's Intermediate League team when I was 16. Coleraine approached us and my daddy and uncle Tony had played at Coleraine so there was a draw there. Iam McFaul was the manager and Bertie Peacock was still involved at the club. He had managed my father and they came down to our house to see about signing and with that connection with my family they were probably thinking 'we might get another good Hutton here'.
Q: How did things work out at Coleraine?
A: They were a good side at the time and had been doing quite well. Steve Lomas and I actually made our debuts in an Irish Cup semi-final against Portadown in 1990 when I'd just turned 17. Steve broke his ankle in that game. To be fair to Jim Platt he threw us in against a very good Portadown team and we were put to the sword that night. It was a baptism of fire.
Q: Didn't you instigate your move to Derry City yourself shortly after that?
A: I'm a Tottenham Hotspur fan and Derry City had approached me about guesting in a pre-season friendly against Spurs. That was the Spurs of Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker who had just come back from getting to the World Cup semi-finals with England. I asked Coleraine manager Iam McFaul and he said there was no chance, which was understandable. I asked my father if he'd speak to the chairman, Jack Doherty, because he knew him. He said I had to respect the manager's decision, but I took it upon myself to ring the chairman, but let on to be my father. I explained the situation - my son's a Spurs fan and he'd love to play in the game. Jack said: "We couldn't stand in the boy's way, that's an unbelievable opportunity, of course he can play." That was the day of the game. I came on as a half-time substitute and it was a great experience. Gascoigne was trying to run riot. People were standing off him afraid to go near him because all he wanted to do was nutmeg people. Then a couple of weeks later we played Manchester United. Later down the line I told people that it was me who rang Jack and my father had nothing to do with it. He was actually in agreement with Coleraine.
Q: How did the move to Derry City eventually come about?
A: There was a bit of a kerfuffle with Bradford first because I was still on those schoolboy forms. I had done well against Spurs and Manchester United and there was a story in the local press about Derry maybe wanting to sign me. The local scout sent the press clippings to Bradford who weren't happy and told me that I wasn't able to play for any club in Ireland because I was their player. We were in the process of going to court to get out of it, but they forgot to re-register the schoolboy form and I became a free agent. I played a couple of games with Coleraine but they recognised that my head was turned and they let me go. I probably caused more of a hindrance for my father than anything because of the esteem he was held in at Coleraine.
Q: What was it like when you went on to win silverware with your hometown club?
A: We won the FAI Cup in 1995 on my mother's birthday, beating Shelbourne 2-1 after we'd lost to Sligo the previous year and I scored one of the goals. The week before we'd lost the league in the last game of the season at Athlone when Stuart Gauld missed a penalty - and he never missed penalties. I had a painkilling injection before the final, but when a Shelbourne player rattled me about a minute into the game that was out the window. The adrenaline got me through and it was a fantastic experience winning my first senior trophy at the age of 22 and it being my mother's birthday.
Q: What was it like a couple of years later when you did win the league, this time as captain?
A: Felix Healy had come back as manager and he appointed me as captain. He said a lot of good things about me, which I really appreciated. To win the league as captain of your hometown team was absolutely fantastic. Felix took a big gamble at the start of that season in letting Paul Doolin go. Paul was a fantastic player. Felix felt that I could do what Paul was doing. We went down to Dundalk a couple of months into the season and we were 2-0 down after about 10 minutes. We came back to win 4-2 and that's when I started to think we had a serious team who could challenge. On a personal level I had a fantastic season and I scored 16 or 17 goals that season. I really enjoyed the freedom to get on the end of things.
Q: Didn't you have a chance of getting a full-time move around then?
A: I played in a tournament in the Isle of Man two years in a row, first for Tranmere Rovers and then Port Vale. It was in 1994, just after the World Cup in America, that I played with Tranmere because John Aldridge came back from that to meet up with the squad. I scored in a couple of games and things were looking good at the time, but nothing ever materialised with them or Port Vale. I had gone to Derby County and trained with the first team for a week. They said they wanted to sign me and that they would sort things out with Derry, but that was the last I heard of it. Probably being young and naive I never went asking anyone about it.
Q: You did move on though, joining Portadown a few months after winning the league. How did that come about?
A: I was captain of my hometown club, we'd just won the league and things were going well. It was a complete bolt from the blue when Felix Healy rang me and said Ronnie McFall wanted to sign me for Portadown, he'd offered £35,000 and it was a good deal. His reasoning was that he needed three players, I was the most sell-able asset and he needed the finances. I told him I didn't want to go anywhere and his response was, 'ah don't be like that'. He said Ronnie would look after me. He was a fantastic man whose record speaks for itself, but I knew within a couple of weeks that it wasn't going to work out. He said he wanted me to sit in front of the back four. I told him I was a box-to-box player, but he said he didn't need that. I said he should have signed Paul Hegarty, he laughed and said I would be alright, but that wasn't my game. When I signed around Christmas they were pushing to win the league, but we ended up third and a lot of players were released so challenging was never going to be on the cards. I even asked Ronnie if he needed me to go, but he said he wanted me to stay and then made me captain. It was a good club and they looked after me exceptionally well, but I just don't think I was the right fit at the time in terms of what they wanted. That type of role wasn't my role at all.
Q: Who made the first move to take you back to Derry City?
A: It was a very different team at Portadown at the start of that season and Felix Healy came back looking for me. Things hadn't worked out with the signings he had made and he said he needed me back. I'd no problem with anyone at Portadown, the club was fantastic, but it was a natural move and my head was turned again to go home.
Q: You left Derry City again in 2000, going to Shelbourne. Didn't that cause a bit of a stir?
A: That's a bit of an understatement. I had been captain of the club for a while and I felt taken for granted. I was out of contract and nobody at the club had spoken to me about a new one. The manager said he was going to America for a couple of weeks and he'd chat to me when he got back. Dermot Keely had rang me and said that he wanted to meet me with a view to signing me for Shelbourne. I rang the club secretary to tell him and the response was: 'Sure just keep us posted'. That made my mind up in terms of meeting Dermot, who made it very appealing. I'd had the taste of winning the league a few years before and you want to be able to look back at what you've won and think that all the sacrifices were for something. Still nothing happened when the manager came back. The League of Ireland AGM was held in Derry that year and Ollie Byrne, the well-known Shelbourne chief executive, was up for that. He did an interview with the local radio, they asked him about me, he told them I'd signed for Shels, which I hadn't. I went to meet the chairman at his house that night and his wife came in and said it had been on the radio. I told them I hadn't signed anything and it was Ollie playing his games. They told me that the meeting was over. I walked out and couldn't believe what had happened. I got a phone call from one of the directors and again I told them I hadn't signed, but it gained legs very quickly and after the way things happened I thought I might as well sign because everyone assumed I had anyway. I had played almost my entire senior career with my hometown club and it just wasn't handled the way it should have been.
Q: Would you say that was a good move?
A: It was because we won the league. Dermot had a tough time personally with his family and Noel King came in as caretaker manager towards the end of the season when he had to step away. Pat Fenlon took over as player-manager and he wanted me to stay, but he wanted the team to go full-time which would have involved me moving to Dublin, which I wasn't interested in doing and I went back to Derry.
Q: Were you welcomed back after what happened when you left?
A: Gavin Dykes had taken over as manager of Derry and he was keen to get me back. I had played with Gavin when we won the league and he said his first priority was to get me back and we won the FAI Cup that next season.
Q: The next few years must have been your best years at the club, peaking with the European run in 2006?
A: We won everything bar the league and it culminated in 2006. Stephen Kenny had come in for the 2005 season and nobody gave us a chance. We went to Cork City in the last game of the season needing a draw to win the league, but we lost 2-0. That set us up for the following season when we'd that fantastic European run and we missed out on the treble when we lost the league on goal difference. Looking back, that European run was fantastic, but it probably cost us the league and the treble. We were down to the bare bones late in the season, but it was a fantastic year overall, winning the League Cup and the FAI Cup.
Q: Tell us about that final, because you scored again.
A: We won 4-3 against St Patrick's Athletic in extra-time. It was at the old Lansdowne Road - the last final there before it was rebuilt - and I scored at the same end as I did back in 1995.
Q: How great was that UEFA Cup run, beating Gothenburg and Gretna before playing PSG?
A: One or two of the Gothenburg players were writing us off as no-hopers, so we needed no motivation to try to prove a point. Stephen had us well drilled on the opposition, which we'd never experienced before, particularly in European games. We knew who we were coming up against and their strengths and weaknesses. There was nothing left to chance. When Sean Hargan scored the header we were in dreamland. We came back and beat them at the Brandywell, which showed it wasn't a fluke. I enjoyed the Gretna games the most. We took 5,000 over and they created an unbelievable atmosphere. We were exceptional on the night and the goals we scored - particularly Kevin Deery and Ciaran Martyn - were top drawer. It was one of those nights you'll never forget. I missed the PSG games through injury, which was disappointing.
Q: Was it emotional when your time as a player at Derry City came to an end?
A: Stephen Kenny told me that he wasn't going to renew my contract and while I knew I couldn't play forever it was still disappointing to hear. In the back of your mind you know that day is always going to come. I played in the last game of the season at home to Bray and we kept a clean sheet, which was important to me as I'd gone back to play at centre-half then. It was definitely emotional, knowing that I wasn't going to be doing that again.
Q: You were 37 years old, did you consider retiring?
A: As one door closes another one opens and I had the opportunity to go up to Cliftonville and experience playing in the Irish League again. Obviously I was coming towards the end of my career, but I wanted to give it a chance, it was good to experience something different. I really enjoyed it. Eddie Patterson sold the club to me. We won in Europe and then played CSKA Sofia, who I'd played against a year or two before with Derry City. Cliftonville had a great bunch of lads and obviously went on to have great success.
Q: Did you always see yourself as a manager?
A: Felix Healy approached me about going to Finn Harps. I was actually in the delivery ward before the birth of one of our children when he rang me. He was going in at Finn Harps and he wanted me to go with him. I was finishing at Cliftonville and I thought it was maybe a good time to try my hand at coaching, so I went as Felix's assistant. Midway through the first season we were walking off the pitch after a defeat at Wexford, he turned to me and said: "That's me kid, I'm done. Over to you," and resigned. We hadn't even had a conversation. He rang the chairman and told him I would take it to the end of the season.
Q: How did things go for you in your first steps as manager?
A: We did quite well, we went on an unbeaten run for 10 or 12 games and then I tried to improve things over the close season. We started pretty well and we were around the top until around June when they stopped paying the wages and everything unravelled. It's hard asking players to even do the basics, let alone extra training, if they aren't getting paid and travelling to games in places like Galway and Limerick and we can't even get them something to eat after the matches. The chairman told me he was going at the end of the season and once I knew that I was going too.
Q: When did Derry City come in for you?
A: A lot of people thought when I left it was because I was going to Derry, but it wasn't. Roddy Collins was the manager and the club wanted me to go in as his assistant and learn the ropes off him. I wasn't Roddy's appointment and I probably should have seen the writing on the wall from early on. Roddy wouldn't let me do any of the coaching and I wasn't allowed to speak in team-talks. Roddy was let go and the club asked me to take it on. We picked up a bit of form, got a few results and got to the FAI Cup final. We probably sacrificed the last few league games with a small squad. We lost the final to St Pat's, which was a bitter blow, but we'd done exceptionally well to even get there. I should have stayed as assistant to someone else and learned the ropes because I was probably too naive for my own good.
Q: How did it feel when you left in 2015?
A: It was disappointing, but it was more about how it was affecting the family. I was probably hurt for them more than anything else.
Q: How is coronavirus affecting you and your family?
A: We are managing quite well, but the children are a bit fed up and the two boys are missing their football big time. The younger girl is only nine and isn't as aware of it, but the older girl is missing her friends. I am still working from home. It was my mother's 70th birthday and we weren't able to see her, but we sent pictures and video messages and tried to make the best of it.
Date of birth: March 2, 1973
Place of birth: Londonderry
Previous clubs (Player): Bradford City, Coleraine, Derry City, Portadown, Shelbourne, Cliftonville, Finn Harps.
(Manager): Finn Harps, Derry City.