Paul, we spoke in some detail about the 2004/05 season in part one of our interview, but tell us about your move to the Albion…
I arrived towards the end of 2003/04, when we ended up winning promotion to the Championship through the play-offs, which was a memorable start. I had left Bradford City who ended up getting relegated to League One, so the Albion basically swapped places with them.
I had been told by Michael Standing, who I played with at Bradford, that Brighton was a family club and that was definitely the case. I stayed with the Standing family initially and am forever grateful that they put me up as this allowed me to settle very quickly.
We had a strong group of players at the time, so did they help you settle too?
The group during my time got on really well with each other, on and off the pitch. I remember travelling in with Guy Butters as well as Adam and Paul Hinshelwood when I moved to Chichester; baking banana cakes for the players; playing darts after training; and dressing up as Dame Edna Everage and Steve Irwin for a couple of Christmas parties! On the pitch, we didn’t have any real superstars and I am sure the players would be happy for me to say that.
The likes of Danny Cullip, Guy, Charlie Oatway, Richard Carpenter, Kerry Mayo, Gary Hart and Nathan Jones would have put a player in their place if they were not pulling their weight and thought they were bigger than the club.
What about the dressing room banter? Any anecdotes you can tell us?
Colin Kazim-Richards was a very gifted footballer, but one day he turned up to training with an image of his face on a shirt. You can only imagine what the players thought! Before he had time to get back into his car after training we had ripped the shirt off him and torn it into little pieces! I also remember sitting in the dressing room at the training ground when Mark McGhee came in to say the club had sold Adam Virgo to Celtic.
We were so pleased for Virgs; like the squad, he was not a superstar but a talented player with a great attitude. When we found out that Celtic had paid big money for him we made up a chant along the lines of ‘We’ve robbed Celtic of £1.5 million quid!’
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What would you say was the highlight of your time at the club?
The one game that really sticks out was beating Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park in 2005/06 when Paul McShane was awarded the goal. I initially did not realise how big the rivalry was between the clubs and the atmosphere at Selhurst Park was amazing - a tight ground, passionate supporters and a memorable win to cap everything off.
The supporters I became friends with were calling me as we made our way home, telling me that the pubs were full of Albion supporters singing and winding up the Palace supporters!
How did you find Withdean?
Withdean was not ideal but you got on with it. It was not the greatest for our supporters with limited covered seating and being so far back from the pitch, so I felt for them as well. It is great now that the supporters and players have the Amex so hopefully I can come over to watch a match in the not too distant future.
Paul Samrah told me that he was speaking to the groundsman at Withdean and he still remembers me coming out before every game to check the pitch eating a banana, which was one of my pre-match routines.
You returned home in 2008, so bring us up to date with what you're up to now…
Dick Knight actually offered me a role with AITC, which I turned because I had a lot of playing still in my career as I was still only 28. I went on to play for Adelaide United, Melbourne Heart and Insee Police United (Thai Premier League) before signing for A-League Sydney FC for 2012/13.
I stopped playing professionally after that season and was offered the manager-community programmes role at Sydney FC, while playing amateur football for Rockdale City Suns until 2019. I knew I would end up being involved in the community area of a club as I really enjoyed volunteering my time during my playing days.
Dick obviously saw that in me and if it was later in my career I would have jumped at the opportunity to stay at Brighton. I am now assistant coach at Sydney FC, which also involves the recruitment of players, so I am really looking forward to developing further as a coach.
Good to see Maty Ryan and Aaron Mooy follow in your footsteps?
It is always great to see Aussies doing well and being major contributors overseas, especially in the top leagues in Europe. We don’t have enough Socceroos in the best leagues, which happened ten to 15 years ago when we got out of the group stages at the World Cup. To compete at the highest level in international tournaments you need your best players playing at the highest possible level. Now that I am at Sydney FC, I am hoping to be able to recommend some Aussies to clubs like the Albion.
Is there more interest in Brighton because of those two?
Definitely, as they are regulars and two of the most influential players in the Socceroos’ squad. I would not say that people have been converted just yet to support the Albion instead of the likes of Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, but I would not be surprised if they are becoming their second team.
I have always been a Liverpool supporter since a young age but I now watch more Premier League games that the Albion play on TV here than Liverpool.
Finally, how's life in lockdown Down Under?
The family are all fine here which is the main thing. I miss watching my kids play football as their season is postponed until further notice but I’ve been helping them with their home schooling (especially maths as it is my favourite subject!) Sydney FC were eight points clear of second place [Melbourne City] who only had three games left while we had six games remaining. We had basically wrapped up the title much like Liverpool in the Premier League so we are currently in limbo on what will happen from here.
There is talk that we will look to complete the remainder of the season possibly in July but only time will tell. I would like to end by wishing everyone at Brighton - the supporters, players, staff and families - all the best over the coming months. Stay safe and healthy, spend time with your family and there is always time for more football when this once-in-a-lifetime situation is controlled.