Villa away is a special game for me. I used to love playing there and it took on even greater significance for me in April 2002 when I was given the captain’s armband for the first time.
Captaining your team is something you dream about as a young lad. I never got the armband at Liverpool, and it was great to get the recognition from David O’Leary at Leeds. David would always find a place for me in the team, no matter who was available, and I think he always saw me as a captain type of figure.
He hadn’t named who was going to be captain until we went for a walk on the pitch before he game and then he told me. It was a strange moment because suddenly our whole demeanour changes when you’re told that and you have that extra responsibility.
Being away from home, it was a great place to wear the armband for the first time. Villa Park was a proper old fashioned, historic stadium. I remember the Holte End was huge and they made a lot of noise did the Brummies, but I also remember how we always used to fill the other end and the noise our fans made. Leeds fans were brilliant to play for, and I think it’s a ground they always looked forward to going to, probably for the same reasons we did as players because of the stadium.
They used to have a real old school tunnel at Villa, narrow and down a few steps. You’d always get a bit of argy-bargy in there. It was just like Highbury in some respects and was a great place to play football.
You also got a proper game of football at Villa. They had a good squad with likes of my old mate Steve Staunton, Olof Mellberg, and Peter Crouch. It was always a physical game back then and they had a few old heads, but when you become captain you have to lead by example, and I think I did that day. I relished it and we won. A 1-0 win as a defender is what you always wanted. It’s the perfect result.
Big Mark Viduka got the goal, and it’s a day I’ll always remember. It proved to be the first of many times I was privileged enough to wear the armband for Leeds. I enjoyed the responsibility of captaining such a huge club, and as captain when we got relegated from the Premier League, it’s something that I’ve carried around for the last 16 years.