'I gave myself a minute in a cubicle' - Ledley recalls Anfield debut, 1999
Fri 25 October 2019, 11:40|Tottenham Hotspur
No ordinary player, no ordinary debut. Indeed, Ledley King’s path to legendary status at Spurs began in extraordinary circumstances at Anfield just over 20 years ago.
Ledley was 19 at the time and had been in and around the first team squad when he got the call from the bench from George Graham in the final match of the 1998/99 season against Liverpool.
We led 2-0, but Mauricio Taricco was sent off just minutes before half-time. Ledley would go on to build a reputation as one of the most complete central defenders in the game over the next 13 years, but on this occasion, his debut, he was going on at left-back, at Anfield.
“I remember being quite nervous, trying to get my focus,” recalled Ledley this week. “I had a minute to myself in a cubicle. The changing room can be quite a hectic place, but I just wanted to give myself a minute to gather my thoughts.
“I told myself ‘this is what you’ve been waiting for’ and to go out there and do my stuff. I played left-back. It must have been the only time I ever played left-back! It was a tough, tough baptism, down to 10 men at Anfield against a very good Liverpool side.
“To be honest, it was one-way traffic in the second half and the game just whizzed by in terms of my own experience. Before I knew it, it was all over.”
Making the man advantage count, Liverpool stormed back in the second half to win 3-2 with goals from Jamie Redknapp, Paul Ince and Steve McManaman. Redknapp was one of three of Ledley’s future team-mates in the Liverpool line-up alongside Oyvind Leonhardsen and Brad Friedel.
“For any young player making their debut, that’s a big weight off their shoulders,” added Ledley. “Even though it wasn’t a good result in the end, I had that time on the pitch, I was able to do some good things and it makes you realise you still have work to do, but at the same time it gives you an understanding that you can make it if you continue to work hard and progress.”
For Ledley, it was another 18 months before he became established. Injuries restricted him to three appearances the next season, 1999/2000 and it was coincidentally another match against Liverpool that permanently opened the first team door.
Ledley was joined by friend and fellow Academy graduate Alton Thelwell in the team that toppled Liverpool at the Lane in November, 2000. Liverpool brimmed with stars – Owen, Fowler, Heskey, McAllister, Hyypia, Murphy, Berger, Hamman and Redknapp, Gerrard was on the bench – yet we won it 2-1 with Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand on target. Ledley lined-up in midfield. Liverpool went on to finish third and complete a trophy treble – League, FA and UEFA Cups.
“I had to bide my time, wait a while. In the end, it was Liverpool again and that was when I had my next proper run in the team,” reflected Ledley. “I started with Alton Thelwell, a friend of mine, we came through the ranks together and we picked up a great result against Liverpool, a 2-1 win. I'm still in touch with Alton, he's now a personal trainer!
“That day, we helped each other. He was up against Owen and Fowler, I was up against Hamman, Murphy, Smicer and McAllister in midfield with Tim Sherwood. It was a great result. It was a time when we needed a lift and the fans really got behind us with two Academy players in the starting line-up. That was a special day.”
Having watched us topple Crvena zvezda 5-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Ledley is hoping to see the same sparkle from the team at Anfield this Sunday, when we take on a Liverpool team top of the Premier League and unbeaten at home since April, 2017.
“It was a really good performance on Tuesday and sometimes that’s all it takes, one big win, one great performance,” he added. “The ability is there but sometimes the confidence takes a bit of a dent. That can all turn in one game.”