Thursday 22 March 2018

Longford bound - Stuart Pearce (53) dusts down football boots and joins 'worst team' in the country

Stuart Pearce is unveiled by Longford AFC manager Nick Dawe after Direct Line stepped in to help fix the fortunes of the team dubbed the worst football club in England
Stuart Pearce is unveiled by Longford AFC manager Nick Dawe after Direct Line stepped in to help fix the fortunes of the team dubbed the worst football club in England
Former Nottingham Forest captain and manager Stuart Pearce

Former England left-back Stuart Pearce is dusting off his boots to help a non-league side dubbed "the worst in England" - but he does not fancy Longford AFC's chances of retaining their Gloucestershire Northern Senior League Division Two status.

The 53-year-old, who was capped 78 times by his country after starting out at Wealdstone, will have to roll back the years to reverse the fortunes of a team sat rock-bottom of the league having lost 19 out of 19 with a goal difference of minus 180.

Results may have picked up in recent weeks - with back-to-back 2-1 defeats signifying a major improvement - but Pearce has dampened expectations of a great escape.

"Direct Line are running the Direct Fix campaign and they asked me if I'd help a team christened the worst in England, from a playing point of view and helping with morale around the place," Pearce told Press Association Sport.

"I've not played a competitive game since I left Manchester City 14 years ago so it'll be quite interesting to see how it goes. I think the adrenaline will get me through it.

"The manager is fairly upbeat. He thinks he can get out of the relegation problem they're in, bearing in mind they've got no points and the average goals they ship per game is 10. The results have improved slightly in recent weeks but they're still working to an average of 10 goals over a season, which isn't great.

"They've got the second-from-bottom team twice and are six points adrift of them so they fancy their chances of avoiding relegation. I didn't want to burst his bubble to suggest that, in my opinion, that probably wouldn't be the case."

Pearce is set to make his debut against Smiths Athletic at Longford Playing Field on February 6 and he revealed he will have to fight the butterflies that were a feature throughout his 20-year career.

"People ask me if I get nervous playing football and the answer is yes, I've always got nervous," said Pearce, who made over 500 appearances for Nottingham Forest.

"They'll be expecting me to do things I probably can't do anymore. I'll have to manage the expectations of the manager and the rest of the boys."

When asked if he would put his hand up to take a penalty, he added: "The bottom line is, I'm on 99 career goals and still looking for my 100th. It'd be a wonderful place to score it."

The move sees Pearce's career come full circle, and he admitted he owes a lot to grassroots football.

"I played 250 non-league games before I got the opportunity to be a pro footballer," he said.

"It was great to me and I'm glad I took the journey I did rather than be associated with a pro club and come through as a starlet.

"I find that I'm probably a lot more grounded than some of the individuals I've had to play alongside over my career. I was an electrician by trade and worked in a warehouse for years prior to that so I did it the hard way, but the better way I think.

"I remember playing at Scarborough as a young left-back and we had three players sent off and our goalie carried off unconscious. I went in goal and we got beat 4-0, although to be fair it was 2-0 at half-time so I only let in two.

"I played against Barry Fry when he was the Barnet manager and our big local derby was Wealdstone versus Barnet. He chased the linesman after a bad decision and threw a bucket of water over him.

"So non-league football is an interesting place."

Longford manager Nick Dawe has told Pearce he will need to pay his £5 subs like everybody else.

"We needed a decent left-back so Stuart Pearce is perfect," Dawe said.

"It'll be a huge boost to the players' morale. They've been through the mill this season so if nothing else, it'll make their day."

Press Association

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