After the big money move to Blackburn, was it a difficult decision to come back to Saints? How had the club changed?
KD ‘It’s well documented that I didn’t enjoy my time at Blackburn. It was a big money move and sometimes they just don’t work out. I signed a seven year contract when I went up there and then had a difficult first season competing with five or six strikers. I was used to playing in dressing rooms where everybody got on and I didn’t feel that at Blackburn. There were power struggles going on and it felt quite cliquey. It didn’t feel right and I didn’t enjoy my football. We got relegated that season and I was in and out of the team with injuries and illnesses. It was a difficult time especially with the expectation that came with the fee. There were pressure and nerves and I was driving back to Sheffield a lot. Roy Hodgson got sacked and Brian Kidd came in and a couple of games into the Championship he pulled me into his office and was very understanding with me. He said ‘Would you be interested in going back?’ because Blackburn wanted to swap with Egil Ostenstad. So with ten minutes to go I was in the car with my medical records heading back down. It wasn’t a difficult decision at all because I’d had a great time at Southampton and I wasn’t prepared to sit there for five or six years just picking up my money at Blackburn. It suited both parties and for me it was the easiest decision of my life. I have to say that Jack Walker was fantastic with me throughout my time there and he knew I wasn’t happy.
Not much had changed at Southampton. There was still a great team spirit and Dave Jones was still there. It was like going back home. I loved the lifestyle and the area and I had great friends down there. The only thing that changed was me. My confidence had taken a bit of a battering so it took some time to get that going again.’
While most might remember the FA Cup exploits with Chesterfield, some forget the last minute goal for Saints that kept them in the 2003 competition (which led them eventually to the final). How disappointing was it not to be involved in the final?
KD ‘Gordon Strachan came in and we didn’t see eye-to-eye from the first week. That happens in football. I wasn’t in or around the squad so I took the decision to go out on loan. I was in my final year anyway and I wanted to prove I could still do it so I went to Millwall. It didn’t matter where really because I needed some games: I was rotting away. I came back and knuckled down and started scoring in the reserves. There was a cup run and I think I came on as a sub for that game and scored a late equaliser. We won the replay and got to the final and though I’ve had lots of good points in my career that was a difficult moment when he pulled me aside an hour before the game and told me I wasn’t going to be involved. It was a huge disappointment for me. I knew I wouldn’t start but I was hoping to be a substitute and you have those dreams about coming on against Arsenal and scoring the winner. I was desperate to get my hands on that trophy throughout my whole career.
I see Gordon Strachan on the media circuit now and I know it’s difficult. Somebody has to miss out and back then it was me.’
You were perhaps unfairly labelled as a more physical player later in your career, which is nothing like the style of the player at Southampton. Why did your game change?
KD ‘I can’t remember a moment when I thought I needed to adapt. At Chesterfield I’d played out on the wing or behind the main striker. I was a bit nippier in my younger days and maybe the injury to my ankle affected that. But I always enjoyed the physical side of football. I grew up on a council estate and I’d play against the older boys on the parks. Then I went to Bolton with Sam on trial around 2003 and, I don’t know, I just enjoy the battle and getting the better of your opponent then shaking hands and having a couple of pints. That was my way of thinking. So it just developed and that first season at Bolton we had a huge amount of success with me as the main striker and the likes of Campo and Diouf playing around me. The stats backed it up because I was involved in about 70/80% of the goals. Maybe Sam just stumbled upon it and we went from there.’
Who was the best player you played with at Saints (Le Tiss excluded) and the worst?
KD ‘Matt was obviously the most naturally gifted player I’ve played with alongside Jay Jay Okocha. At Southampton we didn’t really have a lot of superstars: we were hard-working players who enjoyed training and each other’s company We’d be out at weekends together having a few drinks. It was a proper changing room. We had characters like Carlton Palmer, John Beresford and David Hurst – old-school players – so no-one was allowed to go off on one and be big-time Charlies. I’d liken it to Wales at the Euros where they did so well without having any proper superstars other than Bale.
“We had some good players of course. Marians Pahars was a natural finisher and they loved him down there. There was my partnership too with James Beattie’