David Preece: No regrets in Sunderland football career - apart from pre-match pint and letting down Peter Reid!

Former Sunderland manager Peter Reid.
Former Sunderland manager Peter Reid.
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I’ve always found people who say they don’t have any regrets a strange type of folk.

To me, it smacks of someone who is in denial, desperate to hide some dark secret from their past. A soon as they utter the words, I have visions of them looking through their kitchen window at the paving covering their patio, with a dark, distant look in their eye, recollecting the horrors that led to the body that lies there, being buried beneath.

It’s kind of the same feeling I get when I see or meet somebody who is too good to be true. You know the sort. The kind of person who everybody loves and has a smile permanently plastered across their face. Immediately, I think “Surely nobody can be that happy?”. I get the impression that they aren’t being themselves and they’re just acting, faking happiness to make the rest of us who aren’t the same feel even worse. The likes of Roger Federer or Beyonce. I can’t help think evil lies beneath their perfect exteriors.

Of course, I know this says much more about me than them. They probably are impossibly nice people but I guess it makes me feel better to think that they might not be.

Another reason someone may be regretless, is that they have made safe decisions their whole life and never did anything that would contain great risks. If that’s what makes you happy then good for you, but you can hardly say you don’t have any regrets if you didn’t do anything to regret. There is a difference.

As a teenager, I remember reading the maxim “It’s better to regret something you did, than regret something you didn’t” and I took that and lived it to the extreme. If there was a flip-of-the-coin choice to be made, the little devil on my shoulder would recite the saying back to me as a mantra and nudge me towards the part I might regret doing.

Most of those decisions were coin-flip, so over the course of the last 27 or something years, half of my life has been filled with amazing experiences and the other half with things I mostly regretted immediately.

Living for the moment isn’t the same as living in the moment, as we’re all told to do these days. I just got confused between the two.

So now, at 40, there are many things in my life that I regret, particularly in my football career. A couple of them stick out and the fact that I didn’t learn from my mistakes is the regret. That one is for another time though.

The first was on 13th of April 1996 at Bramall Lane. We were five games from the end of the season and up against Howard Kendall’s Sheffield United side who still had faint hopes of a play-off place whilst we were in pole position for the First Division title.

Quite often in those days, because there were only three substitutes allowed, Peter Reid would go with three outfield players to give him the most options rather than carry a goalkeeper who was highly unlikely to be used. This was one of those games.

So along with David Kelly and Martin Smith who had also ben left out of the squad, we left the rest of the players to prepare and made our way up to the players lounge. As we stood at the bar, David Kelly ordered three pints of lager and we all started laughing. But he was serious and I continued giggling because a) I instantly became very nervous and b) I knew that we should be doing anything but having a pint.

As a 19-year-old, I could excuse myself for being led astray by an older pro but I was old enough to know better and I knew how to say “No”. But I went along with it. So the three pints were lined up on the bar and just as they were, the doors swing open and in strides the gaffer, Peter Reid. He’d been upstairs talking to Kendall and cut through the lounge on his way back down to the dressing room.

I’d be surprised if he could see me at all because the blood had drained from my face so much I must have looked like a ghost. He took one look at the drinks and said: “I love that. But make sure it’s your last one and come downstairs.”

We couldn’t tell whether he was angry or not but as soon as I walked in the dressing room I didn’t need a thermometer to gauge his temperature.

The lads were still out warming up and when I looked at him, he told me to go in the shower area.

As I turned the corner into the showers, a hand grabbed a handful of my t-shirt and pinned me against the wall. It was Bobby Saxton.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? WHAT IF ALEC CHAMBERLAIN GETS INJURED IN THE WARM-UP? WHAT THEN, EH? ARE YOU STUPID?”.

There was a simple answer to that question. In a high-pitched squeak and the lamest response possible, I protested that I’d only had a mouthful and that was met with a “Well, that’s a week’s wages fine for every mouthful then.”

We drew the game 0-0 and those 36 hours from getting off the coach that night to Monday morning were the longest of my life. I felt like I’d let myself down by not being strong enough to just say no and I’d let the gaffer down too. Like I’d lost some of his trust.

When Monday morning came, Paul Bracewell took me aside and we went for a walk around the training ground, asking me why I’d been so stupid, especially since the manager liked me so much. I had no answers for him.

Him saying that only made me feel worse. I wasn’t bothered about the fine. I just worried I’d ruined my relationship with Peter Reid.

Even though when the time came to leave the club, I knew the decision had been made for football reasons, not for that incident earlier, but still, it plays on my mind from time to time. It’s stored in the bank of ‘What ifs’.