“Any club I played for I always wore big shorts, always looked a bit scruffy, and ran in a lazy swagger. But I was working hard. I worked just as hard as anybody else in that team. I suppose that was just my style”
Some may see it as a blessing, some a curse. The moment Nicky Summerbee graced the pitch after his signing from Swindon Town to Manchester City in the summer of 1994; the older proportion of the crowd became touched with nostalgia. It had been 19 years since his father, Mike, had played for the Blues and made exactly the same first transfer. Just the sight of the famous surname on his son’s shirt had fans excited and intrigued.
Playing in the same position as his hugely successful senior, Nicky was soon creating a ‘buzz’, with his wing partnership with Peter Beagrie paying dividends. But the team then-manager Brian Horton helped to create was dismantled by Alan Ball and a plethora of various managers that followed in quick succession following the club’s relegation in 1996. Nicky became disheartened and went on to play for the likes of Sunderland, Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Bradford City before retiring in 2006.
Football Pundette caught up with one of City’s most misunderstood players and asked him about his dad, his memories and his hopes for the future of a football club he holds so close to his heart.
Did your father’s career influence your decision to become a footballer?
Basically I was born with it. I went to the games with my dad and it’s just your lifestyle. Everywhere I went I would go and watch City. I was just born into it. My dad’s dad who I never met, George, used to play for Preston North End, obviously dad played and then I played so football really is in the family.
When you moved from Swindon to Manchester City in 1994, was you aware of the pressure that your surname would invite?
Yes I was, but what do you do, not get out of bed? You have to deal with it. On one hand it’s helped me, with my dad being able to help me in certain situations in football. But it went against me really. It was hard. It was a lot tougher than someone whose dad wasn’t famous. But I knew about it and just had to get on with it. Some people would just refer to me as Mike, I even had a journalist call me Mike during an interview. It’s something that I just took on the chin and accepted.
At the end the City fans were a bit unfair on me, but I don’t think that I helped myself. If I look back now I probably would have done a few things different. But with going to City I was always going to come up against my dad’s name; at the end it really wasn’t nice with mum and dad, but at the start there really was no problem so I don’t regret anything.
You got to play with the likes of Paul Walsh, Uwe Rosler and Niall Quinn at City. What was that like?
Amazing. Obviously I played with Quinn up at Sunderland as well. If they would have kept those players there at City and then built on that…I mean you had Tony Coton, Terry Phelan, Keith Curle, Garry Flitcroft, Steve Lomas and then Georgi came. If you would have kept those players, they were much ahead of their time really. But they got rid of those players and it didn’t work out.
But to play with them was great. In 1994, the season when I came, it was ideal because I was playing as a winger and Brian Horton played out-and-out wingers. So there was Peter Beagrie and I feeding Quinn and Walsh and together made one of the highest goal-scorers in the Premier League, even though we conceded a lot. It would have been nice if we would have had another year together, we probably would have matured a lot.
Did you play in the Liverpool relegation game? What did you think when Alan Ball told you to keep the ball and play for a draw?
I was a substitute on that day, it was awful. We were getting battered, it was terrible. We couldn’t just keep the ball for 25 minutes against Liverpool! Then Quinn came running out and said that all the other teams were winning…we thought that we had done it, we thought the draw would be enough. The final whistle was devastating. Really bad times. As a player it’s just not good whatsoever. Alan Ball was a World Cup winner. I just don’t think that he brought the best out of the players if I’m honest. He wasn’t a great manager.
Is it true that you had the quickest shot in world football at one point?
Yes (laughs). I did this thing when I was at Swindon called Record Breakers with the late Roy Castle. A magazine called Shoot or Match went around different football clubs and tracked the speed of shots by using a speed gun, similar to what the police use. I got to the final at BBC Television Centre in London with Roy Castle and Cheryl Baker. I think the speed of my shot was over 80 miles per hour. It was a bit of fun, a little moment of glory for me. I’ll have to dig the video out as I was only 18 or 19.
One thing I’ll always remember from that day though is shaking Roy Castle’s hand before I headed to the bar and he said to me: “Just be careful, there’s a lot of smoke up there”. At the time I didn’t think anything of that comment, but he later died of passive smoking. That really sticks in my mind.
Tell us the story of your supposed race with Georgi Kinkladze on the M56.
At the time Georgi had just bought a Ferrari so we parked the cars up at a hotel in Hale and went into town for a bit of something to eat. On the way back I asked him to give one of my mates a bit of a spin in his new car. So Georgi was driving and as we came out of the hotel, he took a left to go down to Wilmslow and I let him go past me. As he went past me he accelerated but the car span and he crashed into a wall. They both immediately got ejected out and landed on their feet on the road. It was awful. Georgi was alright, but as he turned round he had these scratches on his back, it looked like a bear had attacked his back. It was covered in really deep cuts.
I remember Georgi’s first game back at City after his recovery from the crash. The pitch announcer was reading the teams out and when he got to Georgi he said: “And number 10, straight from Daytona, Georgi Kinkladze!” He was just a young lad in a fast car who didn’t really know the power behind the accelerator. Looking back, it could have been a lot worse.
What’s the best memory of your career?
Playing for City and playing in Manchester derbies. Just to play in that kind of derby was brilliant. Away from that, I went to Wembley with Sunderland. I’ve been involved in four promotions: Swindon, Bolton, Sunderland and Leicester City as well. I’ve had some good times but bad times as well. When you look back at life as a footballer, you’re young and you don’t have a clue what’s going on. If I look at certain situations I probably would have done things differently. It’s strange when you come out of football and look back.
Do you have any regrets?
Not really. If anything I would have probably played to the crowd a little bit more. The first two years at Swindon I came across somebody who put the fire in my belly. At first he told me to go away and improve because I wasn’t good enough. I actually considered packing it in then and then thinking that it wasn’t the game for me. But I worked hard and proved him wrong. I really enjoyed that. To me it was a ‘me against the world’ kind of thing. I enjoyed being in that kind of situation. Sometimes you have to play at the crowd but I was never with the crowd, if the crowd go against you have had it. At the end of my career I went a bit bitter as it didn’t work out. I ended up coming out of football and not enjoying it. But the first part, which was City and Sunderland, I would never change. I’d do everything exactly the same.
Did a night out in London with Melanie Sykes really cost you your Sunderland career?
I think it might have done yes (laughs). It was Chris Makin, Michael Gray and I who had been invited out in London by a friend we knew in Manchester when we played Arsenal away. Melanie was friends with our friend, so we started ironing our gear on the Tuesday before the game we were that excited. We were jack-the-lads, we didn’t know any better. But that day we got beat 5-0 by Arsenal, went on the night out then at the end of the night came out of a nightclub with Melanie to be met by flashbulbs of paparazzi everywhere. Obviously they were there for her not us.
If we would have won, maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad. But it was a disaster. It was a stupid and naive thing to do. Chris and I got dropped for the next game, against Leeds, and a big rollicking. Looking back it really wasn’t a good idea. If we got beat we should have just gone home really. The paparazzi attention was all for her, but after a few drinks when we stepped out, we thought it was for us. We thought we were massive. It’s funny now, but looking back it was ridiculous.
Who was the biggest role model during your career?
I think I’d have to say dad (Mike Summerbee, City legend). When you go around with dad, even now, he’s respected wherever he goes. With getting this ambassador role at City, everybody comes up to me saying that they should have done it a long time ago. He deserves it, I’m so proud of him. It’s got to be dad.
Do you see Martin Petrov and Shaun Wright-Phillips as the modern-day Beagrie and you?
Yes. Beagrie had all his tricks, spinning one way then another. I was just direct, which probably to the eye wasn’t that attractive, but it was effective. I don’t think people realised that until I left. Any club I played for I always wore big shorts, always looked a bit scruffy, and ran in a lazy swagger. But I was working hard. I worked just as hard as anybody else in that team. Wright-Phillips has lots of tricks up his sleeve, but I was more direct, I’d whip the balls in for Quinny to get his head onto.
I like Petrov, I really do. I don’t think people know what kind of a quality player he really is. If City tried selling him, I think people would be surprised at what clubs would come in for him. He’s a very, very good player. I think United would be interested. But Shauny is great too, a fantastic player. I used to just stay out on the wing but he defends and gets everywhere.
Do you think City now have got what it takes to win trophies?
Yes I do. I don’t think it will happen as quickly as people are saying but they are definitely going in the right direction. I see them as an attacking force now, going forward they are a different thing altogether. One minute they can be under the hammer then turn it round and dangerously counter-attack. I think Mark Hughes is doing it perfectly; you don’t just get the winning mentality straight away. It’s a hard thing to get. I know City have drawn the last five games, but the important thing is they have only lost once. Once you get that belief and the fans know it’s there, it will come.
I definitely fancy them for Wembley this season, but I think it’s too soon for the Premier League. But that will come in time. It’s exciting times.
How do you feel about City’s takeover baring in mind you are a United fan?
I’m not a United fan, who told you that? No chance. I’m a City fan. 100%. Hand on my heart I’m a City fan. The takeover is good for the game as they need somebody to break into the Top Four. It’s exciting to see how they do it, it’s not just instant, it’s about how they build a team and what’s he going to do next. Who will be signed in the transfer window, it’s exciting to see. I’ve been to quite a few games this season and when you go into the ground it’s just a totally different thing altogether. The way the club do everything now is just fantastic. It’s just all there, waiting for something to happen. City are constantly in the papers and under this intense microscope.
I think, deep down, I don’t think United are happy at all, are they? That’s why Ferguson’s always having these rants. I think something will happen in the Carling Cup, I’ve got this feeling that we will meet our neighbours somewhere along the way. We’ve got a bit of a score to settle now after what happened at Old Trafford; they have got to come to City in the league and that will be something special. But as for the takeover, it’s great. I like it a lot.
OPTA stats say that you had a better accuracy rate with your crosses than David Beckham. How does that make you feel?
Very good! I used to really think before I put crosses in. I used to go for a percentage of crosses into a selection of different areas. The way I saw it, the more balls that went into the area, the more chance that somebody gets on the end of them and scores. That’s it really. But to get that statistic against Beckham is absolutely fantastic. That’s another claim to fame for me!
Nicky now runs Specialist Motors, to find out more visit http://www.specialist-motors.co.uk