Men United are going Dutch. On the eve of the 2014 World Cup, we’re stepping up our bid to beat Prostate Cancer by taking on a 150-mile cycling challenge from London to Amsterdam.
Among the ex-pros, fans and Football League club officials blazing a trail across the continent will be Arsenal cult hero – and former Colchester, Dagenham and Southampton winger – Perry Groves. So how is Perry preparing for the two-wheeled challenge? We asked another former Gunner, Adrian Clarke – who once upon a time cleaned Mr Groves’ boots – to find out…
Adrian: Hi Perry, great to speak to you again. What’s all this I hear about you cycling from London to Amsterdam to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK?
Perry: Yes, it’s true and I can’t wait to get cracking. As you know, Clarkey, I’m getting a bit old these days, so whenever I go running my knees, ankles and joints all begin to hurt pretty quickly. Six months ago I gave cycling a try, and now I’m hopelessly hooked on it as a way to keep fit. I did buy myself a lovely bike and chained it up at Colchester train station a few weeks back, only for it to get nicked! Honestly, if someone had told me they’d run over my dog I’m not sure I’d have been this upset. Losing that bike felt like a bereavement to me. I’m back in training again now on a new one, and I’m like Forrest Gump. I ride for miles and miles, losing track of time. I love it.
Adrian: I’m guessing you must have an extensive Lycra collection by now then, mate?
Perry: I quickly learned that you HAVE to have a gel seat. If not, you’re done for, and I know that I would come off the bike looking pretty bow-legged, what with all that nasty chafing. I think I’ll be kitted out in some decent gear to be fair. Honestly, I know I’m going to really enjoy it. I’ll get fit, lose a bit of weight and raise money for a fantastic cause. It’s a win-win-win.
Adrian: You’re riding alongside a few other members of the talkSPORT team, aren’t you?
Perry: There are eight of us in total and we’ve all bought into it big-time. I did some stuff for Men United in Movember, and noticed the fantastic response we got, so now that we know it makes a difference we’re all up for it. Catherine, the producer of the Colin Murray show, is taking part, and we’ve all bonded over it, swapping training stories. It’s great fun.
Adrian: What was your most memorable European excursion as a player?
Perry: During most of my era English clubs were banned from Europe, but I was part of the side when we made a return in 1991. The away match I remember most was against Benfica at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon. To us at the time it seemed like such an exotic place, and for us to go overseas for a big boy’s game, not just a pre-season friendly, was really exciting. There was a very different feel to it. We drew out there, and lost after extra-time at home, even though we battered them. Our inexperience playing continental sides probably cost us.
Adrian: The London to Amsterdam ride will have a pit stop in your home town of Colchester. What are your memories of playing for the U’s?
Perry: I learned my trade as an apprentice and young pro at Layer Road in the old Fourth Division and they were good times. It was real muck and nettles football, where you quickly turned from a boy into a man. If you didn’t, you’d get eaten alive! I remember coming up against some gnarled old pros but enjoyed it a lot. My fondest memory is scoring two hat-tricks against our Essex rivals Southend United. Doing the business in important derbies like that, in front of big crowds, gave me a lot of belief. I loved Layer Road. It was rickety, small and a bit scruffy but it smelt of proper football. It was some atmosphere in there too.
Adrian: If you could pick one former manager or team-mate to issuing a rallying cry that inspires you for this cycle trip, who would it be?
Perry: Good question, Clarkey! I think it has to be Tony Adams. He’d sit us all down and tell us what it meant to us as a team to succeed, and he’d make us all feel really together. Then, just like in the old days, he’d start screaming and head-butting the walls, telling us that we were like caged lions and tigers. “Lions and tigers, that’s what we are!” he’d shout, rousing us into a frenzy. If only to see the shock on everyone’s faces, I’d want Tony to give us that team-talk. The first time me and Merse [Paul Merson] saw him do it, we looked at each other as if he’d lost it.
Adrian: On the Holland theme, who’s your favourite Dutch footballer?
Perry: That’s easy, it’s got to be Dennis Bergkamp. I never played with him, sadly, but Merse tells me he was on a different level to anybody else at the club – and for a player of Merse’s talent to say that is good enough for me. His vision and touch were just so good; he was a pleasure to watch. This may sound odd but Dennis played football as if he was watching it from a helicopter hovering above the pitch. He saw things that no one else down there on the pitch could see. So many times I watched him on TV or live, and thought ‘wow, how did he think to do that, so quickly?’ He was unreal.
Perry Groves is cycling 150 miles to Amsterdam in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. Feel like joining him? Read our interview with the Arsenal cult hero and register your interest!