Steve Sidwell has enjoyed three contrasting spells at Brighton & Hove Albion, arriving at the club as a young loanee, an experienced campaigner and most recently a budding academy coach — but we asked the 36-year-old about his initial arrival in 2002.
The Seagulls dipped into the loan market during their 2002/03 second-tier campaign, after a difficult start to the season which saw just one league victory in 15 matches.
The central midfielder arrived from Arsenal in time for a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, and Sidwell admitted it was an easy decision to make the temporary move south.
He said, “I had a productive loan at Brentford during the 2001/02 season. Obviously Brighton got promoted that season, and Brentford got into the play-offs and we lost to Stoke.
“I then went to Belgium in pre-season to Beveren but I wasn’t really playing, so I came back and obviously Steve Coppell went from Brentford to Brighton.
“It was important for me to go back out on loan, I’d done youth football and reserve football, but I’d had a small taste of men’s football and wanted more.
“It was a no-brainer, as soon as I spoke to Steve, I was jumping for joy to be coming to Brighton. The facilities at Brentford weren’t great, so I was used to the facilities we had at Brighton.
“That’s what loan spells are all about, it’s not just a footballing environment, it’s everything that goes around it as well.
“We were still training at the university and playing at Withdean with a running track and portacabins, but I absolutely loved it. It was all about playing football for me."
Sidwell made an eye-catching impact for the Seagulls, finding the back of the net five times, including the winning goal against Norwich City at Carrow Road and a late brace against Burnley at the Withdean.
“I remember my first day when I came through the door,” he continued. “I went up to Steve Coppell’s office and he said ‘obviously we’re in the relegation zone and we need legs, someone to get into the box and get goals’.
“I didn’t think I’d be scoring five goals in 12 games, but I could literally tell you about every goal.
“There was good build up to the Forest goal, also Preston away, and obviously the two Burnley ones in the last couple of minutes were absolutely brilliant.
“You literally think you’re dead and buried, but if there are seconds to play on the clock, you’ve just got to keep going. Fortunately, I got the two goals — Bobby Z set me up for the second, I bundled it over the line.
“I was gutted to leave, I really did want to stay. I remember speaking to Dick Knight many years after and he said that he tried his hardest to keep me, but obviously Brighton just couldn’t match the financial package that Reading were offering Arsenal at the time.
“I have really fond memories of that loan spell, the group of players we had were all old-school lads. I grew up so much during that short period at the club."