Luke Steele Thanks Reds
- Steele ‘fell in love’ with Barnsley FC
- The 29-year-old joins Greek side Panathinaikos
- Former Manchester United goalie says decision was 'hardest' he's had to make
- Liverpool, Plymouth and Huddersfield stick out as unforgettable games
- Steele Says Oakwell Academy is 'Best Youth Setup I've seen'
- Barnsley is building 'something special' adds Steele
Luke Steele got in touch with Barnsley FC to pay tribute to the Club and its diehard followers who have supported him throughout his Oakwell stay with this honest, candid and exclusive interview.
The goalkeeper departed for Greek side Panathinaikos after 227 appearances for the Reds since February 2008 and wanted to say thank you to everyone associated with Barnsley FC.
Luke, we’ll have to start from the beginning; it was special from the start with your man-of-the-match performance in our famous win at Anfield back in 2008, wasn’t it?
I’ve spoken about my debut game loads and loads over the years, but I suppose when you look back it was a crazy way to start a career at a Football Club. It couldn’t have gone better for me and it was a great platform to build on from there. It was a game I’ll never forget and still is one of the best days of my life in a football shirt, it was an out-of-body experience and everybody knows what went on that day. It was something so special and I often think about it and try and take myself back to it. To repeat that day will be very, very difficult, whatever happens in the future.
What else sticks out for you during your time as a Tyke?
I think the relegation battles – there are two that stick out including the day at Plymouth. My first few games went so well and then it felt like a bit of a disaster the next season. It was disappointing for me as I felt like I was doing enough to get into the team and I just couldn’t get a game. The last few games of that season I felt like I would never play for Barnsley again. I sort of dismissed it and carried on training as hard as I could. All of a sudden I got told I was playing and was just delighted. Those last four games were strangely some of the best games I can remember. I’d gone from sitting on the bench but I was training hard and was taught from an early age that I should keep myself fit. It came true and I did quite well to help us stay up. From then they offered me a contract and I said ‘no’ to begin with – without even looking at the money because I didn’t think Simon Davey wanted me there or rated me. I thought that I was going to have to move on. Once I spoke to him it turned out he really liked me and wanted me to be his number one. That was the new beginning of my Barnsley career and I was so happy to sign.
Then, last year, being captain was one of the proudest moments of my footballing career after being at the club for over five years. To go through what we did with Flicker and achieve something what I said at the time, and still believe now, was the best achievement overall for a collective season, because we were dead and buried but we pulled it out of the bag and even got the point on the last day of the season. That felt as good as a trophy would feel. So those two stick out more than any.
How did this move to Panathinaikos come about?
Basically, Nikos Dabizas is the Technical Director there. He’s watched me quite a lot of times and it was something that I didn’t feel would happen. I’d had other offers in England and in the Championship but it didn’t feel right. I don’t know if it was because I’ve been at Barnsley so long but it didn’t feel right moving to another English Club. If a big Premier League Club had come in it might have been different but it didn’t feel right. Nikos was great, he’d been watching me for a while and had seen a lot of my game. He’d done his homework. He wants me to play football and that’s what I want to do. I want to get back to how I was brought up at Peterborough and Man United. I felt that going down to League One might have stopped that and I really wanted to do something different. When this opportunity came up it was the first thing in a while that got me interested. The way they conducted themselves in coming to England and talking to me about Greece and how much they knew about me and my game was impressive. It was important to me that they really knew me as a person as well, they felt strongly about signing me. That was a few weeks ago and still then I didn’t really think it would happen. They got me over to Greece a few days ago and I did a medical, within 48 hours it was all agreed. It was something I wanted to do but leaving was the hardest thing I’ve had to decide. I was so emotionally upset with leaving. It was hard to say goodbye. I didn’t know I was definitely going but when I started saying goodbye to people, it got way too much for me. I had to leave and make sure it was done so hopefully I can get over and say goodbye properly. Saying goodbye is the biggest weakness of mine. I’m not very good at it. I get attached to things and people know how emotionally attached I am to being a Tyke. I think it will be really difficult to do it, but I will when I get back to England in a few weeks.
What do you have to say to all the Barnsley fans and Barnsley people?
Well, I want them to know how hard this decision was. It was the hardest decision in football that I’ve ever had to make. When you’re playing for a club and you go for a brief time, not everyone gets attached to the place, they move on quickly. Because of what happened at the start of my career, and how long I stayed at Barnsley with the ups and downs, in the end it’s clear that I fell in love with the club. There were times when I thought I’d be here forever and I really did want to break all the records and play longer than anyone else. That made it more emotional for me to leave. Leaving is huge and I want to thank all of the fans for being so good with me from the start. Even through the difficult times they seemed to be so positive and on the club’s side. I never really got any stick compared to other players. Hopefully they saw that I gave 100% and I would love to thank every single one of them, individually, and give them a pair of gloves each or my shirt but obviously I can’t do that! Hopefully I’ve done enough to do them proud and I hope they continue because it’s such a good club. When people look at it from the outside, when Premier League teams look at it, it sometimes gets overlooked for certain reasons and I don’t know why. Barnsley is building and it can build something special and really go forward because it is such a great club with some great people working there. The town is unbelievably friendly and they all seem to support the local team. Over my time here, my family have never been happier, they’ve never had bad times with the Club because they’ve been so good to us. My friends and family have loved coming home and away to watch us. I’ve built up some amazing relationships with the local people, whether that be Vicky who cuts my hair at Victorvictoria – literally from day one when I arrived! That’s been a regular thing for me and the girls down at the sandwich shop near Oakwell who have been friendly with me. There are loads of people at the Club as well. Elaine and Kath who are real friends of mine, they maybe don’t even get seen by the fans but they’ve looked after my family and been there for me through the season. Obviously Norman and people like the Academy staff – Ronnie and Bunny – they’ve been class with me. I can go on record saying that it’s the best youth setup I’ve seen out of all the clubs I’ve been at. People know that I’ve been at Man United, Coventry and West Brom but I can, hand on heart, say that this is the best youth setup I’ve seen with the organisation of it and the way that they’ve produced the lads – not only as footballers but characters and personalities. It’s fantastically well run and it’s no surprise that they’re selling players like Stonesy for millions. Hopefully that will continue and this is a big chance for a lot of the young lads to shine this year. People like Malcolm the Kitman who has been there about the same time as me. He’s been class and someone I’ve always been able to talk to. We don’t talk about football but we have good conversations about other things. I’m going to miss things like that. It’s a big thanks to the Club. I’ll be getting in touch with people individually. The fans – I want to remind them of the stuff I’ve enjoyed and the games where they travelled miles. The fans who travelled all the way to Plymouth when we were 4-1 up and the game was abandoned. Thanks to them for standing in the rain and singing like they did. They came back to the 0-0 game and that was amazing. The way they travel thousands of miles home and away throughout the year. It inspired me and I probably never said this enough but it did inspire me when I was playing – seeing the same people at different grounds. They must have spent all their money on train tickets and match tickets. Even when I went to Halifax I got the train there and was chatting to the fans on the train. They all made me laugh. They were all there early for a friendly game in the pubs, it was amazing. It’s part of what Barnsley Football Club is. It makes it a social event. I’ve seen a real togetherness and that’s so special. It kept us in the Championship for years. I’ve been inspired from what the fans do so I have to say thanks for that.
You’ve still a long while playing left, Luke, this isn’t the last we’ll see of you at Barnsley, is it?
Hopefully not. In the end people were telling me to think about my career. In the end I came to the conclusion that I needed to move on and go as far as I can. I promised my family at this World Cup that this next four years is really important to me and I want to give everything I’ve got to get as close as I can to that set-up. To do that I’ve had to move and playing at a big Club here in Greece can only help me so, like I said I’m 29 and I’ve got quite a few years left in me but time’s not on a footballer’s side. I’ve had to think about my career and moving on. Whoever even mentions money to me as being a reason is a foolish man because I can assure you it’s nothing to do with that.
Luke Steele was speaking exclusively to www.barnsleyfc.co.uk