HARTLEPOOL-BORN footballer Steve Fletcher returned to his hometown recently to throw his support behind plans for the Millhouse Masterplan.
The 39-year-old described plans to transform Victoria Park and the surrounding area as “tremendous”.
He also took time to look back on his 22-year career with Mail reporter Dominic Shaw
WHEN 17-year-old Steve Fletcher was called into Cyril Knowles’ office he feared the worst.
Twelve minutes of game time in a youth match was all the big striker had to impress the gaffer before he came out of an innocuous 50/50 challenge with a serious knee injury.
He had no reason to believe the boss was going to going to give him his first professional contract - so little belief in fact that he had lined up a place at college as he prepared to pursue his second career choice as a PE teacher.
“I’m going to take a gamble on you,” beamed the boss from behind his desk at Victoria Park.
Twenty two years later and with more than 700 league games under his belt with play-off victories and Wembley appearances, Steve knows he owes it all to Cyril.
Sat in Hartlepool’s Princess Helena pub, owned by his parents, Peter, 67, and Pat, 64, Steve still speaks with extreme passion about football. At 39 years old, it’s the game he still loves.
Although he’s quick to admit it’s a completely different game to the one which seemingly accepted him with open arms in 1990.
“I was brought up in the old school,” said Steve, who recalls playing alongside club heroes Paul Baker and Joe Allon.
“As a kid playing alongside these lads who you had been used to watching, you knew your place.
“A lot of kids come through now and they think they know it all, but they will say it’s more confidence than being cocky.”
When Steve was a kid he was influenced by his granddad, Jack Howe.
Jack was the first footballer from Hartlepool to play for England, earning three caps in the late 1940s.
That wasn’t the only first.
Jack, whose career included spells at Hartlepool, Derby County and Huddersfield Town, was also the first player in the world to play in contact lenses.
He sadly died in 1987 aged 71, but his wife Eileen still lives in Lindisfarne Care Home, in the town, aged 94.
Cyril’s side, including Fletcher, made history, going from bottom of the table with nine points after 19 matches of the 1989/90 season to promotion the following year – a campaign Steve still remembers well.
“I played quite a lot of games that season, but a lot of them were away games,” he said. I started about a dozen games and scored a few goals.
“It was fabulous for me really, a local lad playing for my hometown team and we were playing well.”
But things change very quickly in football.
Tragedy struck when Cyril Knowles was diagnosed with brain cancer, a disease which tragically cost him his life in August 1991, aged just 47.
Alan Murray took charge and shortly afterwards Steve was subject to a bid from Bournemouth, a club and town which the big targetman was first to admit he knew very little about.
“It was mid-July and I got called into the boss’s office and was told Bournemouth wanted me.
“The first thing I said was ‘where’s Bournemouth?’,” laughed Steve, who now lives in the Dorset seaside town with his wife, Lynne, 39, and their two children, Danni, 14, and 11-year-old Emily. And so started a relationship with the club known as The Cherries which would see him move from centre forward to centre back to centre forward again, then to captain to assistant manager, and back to centre forward.
In the modern football world it is rare to see a player spend 20 years at one club. Steve is currently in his 20th year.
It’s even rarer to see a current player have a stand named after him but that’s what happened in 2010 when Bournemouth renamed Dean Court’s North Stand the Steve Fletcher Stand.
As his football career draws to a close, Steve Fletcher is now hoping to make an impression on the big screen having been involved in a movie poised for the Cannes Film Festival.
Steve has filmed a short film – The Boxer - which is now heading its way to the prestigious show in France, and is also set to start filming for a feature film in September, expected to be released next year.
Steve plays the role of a trendy barman in Doorways, a film about a week in the life of two doormen, and admits he is excited by the prospect of a new career.
“I got a message from a supporter on Twitter and he asked me if I wanted to play a part in a film,” Steve said.
“It was just a short film and I played the role of a heavyweight boxer.
“Somebody saw it, was impressed and it went from there. Now it’s on its way to Cannes.”
Whether Steve’s 20th year will be his last as a player remains unclear. But whatever the outcome the hitman with 808 professional appearances and 134 goals so far will always be grateful to Cyril Knowles.
“If it wasn’t for Cyril I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you,” he said.
“I owe my career to Cyril, he took a gamble on me. When he passed away, it was like a part of me had gone.”