Daniel Smith chats to former left-back turned pie and mash shop owner, Paul Konchesky. Konch saw it all during his time at the club, from being minutes away from relegation to a highest-placed Premier League finish to a European final, all in the space of 3 years and 122 appearances for the club.
DS – How did you get your first opportunity in football?
PK – I started training for a local team at 8 years old. I then moved to another team called Senrab based in Forest Gate, who have coached several players that went onto become professionals like Ray Lewington & Bobby Zamora. When I was 9, I managed to get picked up by West Ham, then it just went from there.
DS – What is it like to play & score for the club you support (West Ham) in an FA Cup Final?
PK – Firstly just to play for the team I grew up supporting was surreal, but to get to an FA Cup Final and score in the game was another dream come true. I didn’t score many goals in my career, I only scored 2 for the Hammers, so for one of them to be on an occasion like that was very special.
DS – Which goal hurt more in the last few seconds. Gerrard’s equaliser in the FA Cup final or Diego Forlan’s winner for Atletico?
PK – Both goals hurt just as much and still hurt so bad now. But looking back, I’d probably have to say Diego Forlan’s goal because it was a horrible goal unlike Gerrard’s where it was a unbelievable strike. There’s nothing you can do if someone pulls out a worldy, but to lose in the manner we did, just haunts you.
DS – How did the move to Fulham happen and what appealed to you about the move?
PK – It came about as I fell out with the manager at West Ham at the time. So the chance to move across London was perfect for me and the family. The tradition of the club also interested me!
DS – What was your relationship like with Lawrie Sanchez?
PK – To be fair, before I came to this great football club, I rarely came across Sanchez in football, so we were starting from scratch really. But when I joined him at Fulham and we worked on a day to day basis, I got on well with him.
DS – You were the first player to hug Dio Kamara after his famous winning goal up at Man City. What was going through your mind at the time?
PK – I remember the game like it was yesterday! I remember running up to him thinking “This is it! We are staying up!” From 2-0 down & being basically relegated at half time, to beating them like we did, you just start believing.
DS – Who gave the inspirational speeches in the dressing room during the great escape final run in? Who were the leaders?
PK – To be fair, Roy was quite calm, but all the lads were great and we had people like Danny Murphy, Brian McBride, Kasey Keller, Erik Nevland etc… Big characters & leaders in their own ways but we were a good bunch and knew that we needed to stick together.
DS – You had such a powerful shot from distance & you proved that with your goal at Upton Park. Why didn’t you shoot more often? Were managers not keen on you shooting?
PK – To be fair, I used to get told to shoot more but for some reason I never did. (I would rather the assist to get a bonus haha, only joking).
DS – You played for 5 London clubs during your career. How did Fulham compare in comparison to the others in regards to the way it was run and the overall atmosphere on a day to day basis?
PK – To be honest, it was probably the best run football club, it was so professionally run in every department from the playing staff to the people behind the scenes. The atmosphere was very good because most of the people used to work at the training ground, so you always got to see and speak to everyone and it had a family vibe to it.
DS – You played in many special games for the Whites, do you have a personal favourite?
PK – Obviously, I would have to say the Europa final, but I always talk about the game at the Cottage against Juventus. Knowing we had to win. The fans that night were electric and Dempsey’s goal… wow.
DS – What was your relationship like with Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington?
PK – My relationship was very good with both of them and I think everyone in the squad would probably say the same as both were very nice genuine people. Having said that, they were both serious, authorative figures at the same time and always professional.
DS – People will always talk about the Great Escape and the Europa League journey. Do you consider finishing 7th and holding the record for our highest league finish, just as important?
PK – Of course I do! Mainly because that season was an unbelievable run, and if it wasn’t for that season we wouldn’t have been playing in Europe and against all the teams we did anyway. It was a sequence of events that were all as important as eachother resulting in the opportunity of a life time, to play in a European final.
DS – Who were your closest friends at Fulham and do you keep in touch with anyone?
PK – I’d say that we were a very close knit group of boys but you obviously have a few closer ones in there. Mine were Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Bobby Zamora & Simon Davies. I speak to them now and again but probably not as much as we should.
DS – I’ve met you several times, particularly at away games and your parents were always there to support you. Did it mean a lot to you to have them there and how much do you put your career down to them?
PK – I loved having my parents at all the games for sure and they have always supported me. If it wasn’t for them taking me here, there and everywhere when I was younger, especially before I could drive, then I wouldn’t have got to where I did in my career! So I owe them so much!
DS – What was going through your mind when you were sent off in Rome and did you think it was harsh?
PK – As soon as I see the ref coming over whilst reaching for his pocket, I knew what was coming! I hated every minute of the next part thinking that I’d ruined this for everyone & that it was all going to be my fault! But thankfully it didn’t harm us & the lads did the job against Sofia and then in Basel to get us out of the group.
DS – Who was the best player that you played with at Fulham?
PK – I’ve got to say that I played with some fantastic players at the club and to pick one player would be too hard. The season we got to the Europa final was such a great bunch of players so I’d have to say the quality there was unbelievable and impossible to single anyone out. We were a team.
DS – Were you happy with your spell at Liverpool or with hindsight would you have preferred to have stayed at Fulham?
PK – I just couldn’t have turned it down. Being one of the most historic clubs in the world and what they have achieved was a great chance for me. Looking back now in hindsight(!) Should I, would I have liked to stay at Fulham instead? No brainer, of course I wish I had stayed.
DS – You have 2 caps for England, where were you when you got the first call-up? What was it like to play for your country?
PK – I had just played a game for Charlton at the Valley and after the match, the manager pulled me into his office and told me. I couldn’t believe it! It’s every little boys dream and I’ve been lucky enough to fulfil that, so I’m incredibly proud.
DS – What was the Argentina ‘friendly’ like to play in?
PK – It was an unbelievable game to be involved in for obvious reasons, and getting the opportunity to play against such a big footballing nation with the players they had was unreal. Then to win it dramatically with Michael Owen scoring two late goals is something I’ll never forget!
DS – Was it weird being on the books of Leicester City, whilst out on loan watching them win the Premier League?
PK – At first, it was just good to look at the team and see them doing well. But the closer it got to the end of the season, the more real it became and it felt funny knowing I was still contracted to them. However, it was such a fantastic achievement for every person associated to the football club and it is a wonderful club to work for, so I was very happy for them.
DS – Throughout your career, I always knew you as having a perfectly polished head. Then one day, I turned on the TV when you were playing for Leicester City and you had a full head of hair! Did you shave it that close all this time or have you gone and done a Rooney on us?
PK – Ha ha! I used to shave it like that!
1) Because I’ve got a cows lick, so when I tried to grow it, it would grow funny & in all sorts of ways which was a mare.
2) It started coming through grey at a young age, so I couldn’t be seen having grey hair, ha ha. It doesn’t really matter now that I’m older!
DS – I know that you’ve got a pie & mash shop in Essex. I’m sure that any Essex-based Fulham fans or those passing through would like to pop down.
PK – Yep, all Fulham fans are more than welcome to pay a visit to ‘Konch’s Kafe’. I would love to see some of you in there as I’m in there from time to time. So if you’re in Essex at any time, please pay us a visit. We are just off of Brentwood High Street.
DS – Finally Paul, daft question but we ask everyone this… pie or pasty, which filling?
PK – Has to be a PIE ha ha! Just mince beef filling please.