Saturday, 14 January 2012

Ultimate Stoke FC Recall: Phil Heath

Phil 'Steady' Heath was one of those footballers that every fan of every club would be proud of, a local born lad, who played for and supported his local team.

The tricky, fast paced winger had a distinguished career for the Potters after coming through the youth system. After Stoke he moved to Oxford United and eventually finished his playing career turning out for Aylesbury United in 1994.

We managed to track down Phil via twitter and as part of our new recall section of ex-Stoke City players we put several questions to him:

You came through the youth system at Stoke and made your debut in the 1982-83 season, can you remember who this was against and how were you feeling on the day of the match?

I made my debut in the very last home game of the 82-83 season coming on as a substitute against Coventry. I can remember coming on quite early in the match and the game seemed to whizz by. I didn't have time to feel nervous because I got a call Saturday morning saying to report to the ground for the afternoon and not to travel with the youth team for that mornings match. I expected just to be 13th man so was quite shocked when the manager Richie Barker said that I was the sub that day.

My full debut came away at Southampton in the 83-84 season where I came up against Mick Mills that day. On my full home debut I got the equalizing goal against Everton in a 1-1 draw.

Was your position always as a winger or when you played for the youth team did you play any other position?

I played both as a winger and centre forward in my youth days; in fact I was quite like Ian Painter who played in both positions. In many youth games both Ian and I would play up front, we didn't have much height but we had a lot of pace that centre halves used to hate. When we got the ball down on the deck, playing it in between the full back and centre halves we were a quite unstoppable partnership.

During your years at Stoke the club when through a somewhat turbulent era, including narrowly avoiding relegation on the final day of the 83-84 season, followed by a disastrous following season with only 3 wins. Mick Mills was drafted in during the 1985-86 era and although he had alot of critics he did steady the boat at Stoke, what were your memories of him as a manager and was he the best manager you ever played under?

With regards to the 84-85 season it was a case of throwing to many youngsters in at the deep end too quickly. I think the senior pros became dejected early on after the miraculous escape the previous season and didn't give us youngsters the support that we needed. The training was a shambles that year which didn't help in the slightest. From a personal point of view I came out of the season with some strong performances against the likes of Mills, Perryman, Neal, Gidman playing in 34 games that year.

When Mick Mills arrived the following year he did a great job in steadying the ship under extreme financial pressures. Mick came in at left back and instantly gave my game a great lift with his vision and experience. It was this 2 year period where I played my best football for Stoke, Mick gave me the confidence and belief that I could become a top player. Sadly he had to retire and then I struggled to get a partnership going with new left backs.

What was the best Stoke game out of your 200+ appearances and why?

The best game from a personal point of view was Oldham away in 85; I was on fire that day and scored the best goal of my career running from the half way line beating about 5 players (probably only 3)! and walking it around the goal keeper. From a team’s point a view it was a tossup between the Man U 2-1 home win in 84 or the Leeds 7-2 thrashing at home in 86, both memorable games and victories.

There has always been talk that table topping Everton were interesting in signing you, was there any substance in this and if so do you regret not signing for them?

Everton apparently did come in for me at the end of the 85-86 season. They made a bid of £150,000 for either me or Neil Adams, Mick Mills made the decision at that time, wisely or unwisely to sell Neil and to keep me. It was the era of no agents and I was none the wiser, there was no question of putting in for a transfer I was a local boy playing for my local club and at that time was really enjoying it.

What are your thoughts how Stoke City are currently doing and do you get down to the Britannia stadium to watch them?

I'm really pleased to see Stoke doing so well at the moment and be back to the position where I first joined them in the early 80's. I go up to watch them about a dozen times a year and have followed them to the Wembley trips, Tel Aviv and am going out to Spain to the Valencia game shortly. I'm an active member of SCOBA, Stoke City Old Boys Association where several times a year the old boys meet up to watch games, put on functions and raise money for local charities or any Stoke or Vale ex pros who are in need of financial support.

After Stoke you played for the likes of Oxford, Cardiff and Aldershot, what was the highlight of your football career?

The highlight of my career was always playing for Stoke, being born in Longton and to go on to play for your home club was always the ultimate.

Do you have any regrets during your playing career? And if so what?

Looking back now the only regret I have was not having the chance of joining Everton, at the time they were the champions of England and I feel that I would have gone to the next stage of my development playing and training with such a squad of talented players.

Recently we have seen Paul Scholes coming out of retirement because he apparently missed the game, how did you feel when you retired and did you miss playing, indeed do you still miss playing?

I retired from the game at the early age of 28, at the time I had no regrets, I was young and had started a business that needed my full time attention. It was not till some time later when I was about 37 that I started playing again and missed the game. I took my coaching badges getting my UEFA 'B' badge, played a bit of non league and veterans football, even today at 47 I still turn out for Oxford United veterans which I thoroughly enjoy.

Who was the best player you ever played with or against and why?

The best player I played with for me personally was Mick Mills he helped to develop my game so much, another team mate was Mark Chamberlain he had two or three seasons where he produced some stunning performances. The best player I played against was Chris Waddle, he ran the whole show when we came up against him (he also had a nice mullet)!

Finally what are you upto nowadays? Are you still involved in football?

Today I run 2 successful businesses, one is an import/distributor business where we import china ceramics, distribute them to garden centres and department stores in Britain. The other is a china and cookware store in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds. I have recently just finished coaching The Oxford Universities Football team and now spend my time watching the game and attending SCOBA functions.

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