The Ex-Files

Thursday 22 November 2012 16:30
Much has changed in English football over the past 20 years.

From stadia to training facilities and pre-match routines, the difference between the beautiful game now and then is stark.

Few people are better placed to assess those differences than former Fulham hitman Paul Peschisolido.

After beginning his career the other side of the pond in his native Canada, the striker put his Italian passport to good use by joining the Juventus youth setup as a teenager.

It was not as successful as Peschisolido had hoped, though, and he cut his spell short due to homesickness - a decision that devastated his Father and one he too soon regretted.

"Fortunately I had the opportunity to go back to Europe and go to Birmingham City," Peschisolido told fulhamfc.com. "The national team manager, Tony Taylor, took up a job at Birmingham and called me, saying 'if you still have your Italian passport, with a new EC ruling you can come and play in England with no problem'.

"So I took the trial up, played a couple of reserves games in which I scored in both and signed a contract. The rest is history."

As you can imagine, life at a provincial side in the Midlands was a bit different to that at Italian giants Juventus during their Serie A pomp.

"At Juventus the professionalism they had even back then was ridiculous," Peschisolido said. "I would watch the first team and every player had their own little mats placed out for them. You would spend 30 minutes doing your own warm-up stretches and they had an artificial hill they would run up. They had seats either side of the training pitch that could hold 5,000 people, full gym, the whole lot.

"Going to Birmingham was a bit of a culture shock. The ground was decrepit. People forget about those times. We didn't have a training ground so we used to train anywhere the heck we could. At one place we had to clean up dog poo before we could train.

"Training kit? God, it was all mix and match. It was quite different and the gym was a little cubbyhole underneath the stand. It was a culture shock but once I got in the first team there I absolutely loved it."

Those feelings showed on the pitch, with Peschisolido becoming one of the key players in the City side.

The striker also became one of Birmingham's most valuable assets as a consequence and had his first spell at the club cut short by financial issues following their relegation to the third tier.

As a result, Peschisolido moved to a Stoke City side much different to the one that will host Fulham in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday.

"I spoke to a couple of clubs and met with Joe Jordan, who was the Stoke manager," he said. "I wanted to stay in the division and he convinced me that Stoke was the right club for me.

"I scored quite a few goals for Stoke and Joe Jordan got sacked, with Lou Macari coming in. We were at the old Victoria Ground, which was not the most glamorous of places, but it was a cauldron.

"Behind the goal when they used to sing 'Delilah', the hairs on the back of your neck used to stand up. They were a fantastic support and I really enjoyed my time there but, as it happens in football, you've got to go where people want you and at that time Birmingham wanted me back and it suited both parties. Stoke were in a bit of money trouble themselves and capitalised on selling me."

His second spell at Birmingham lasted a matter of months, before a £600,000 move to Black Country rivals West Bromwich Albion at the end of the 1995/96 season.

Peschisolido, like at all his previous clubs, scored goals for fun at The Hawthorns and impressed enough for ambitious Fulham to make a £1.1m move.

The switch saw the 26-year-old drop down a division but it was a well-thought out decision.

"Great times were starting to happen at Fulham," he said. "Ray Wilkins was in charge and he was one of the nicest blokes you'll ever come across. He was superb and he obviously had the job of getting Fulham to the Premier League in four years.

"After a bit, Kevin Keegan took over from Ray, which was unfortunate, but I thought he was fantastic. In terms of motivation and what he brought the Club in terms of a name was huge and he brought us success. He got us the promotion into what is now the Championship and then he moved onto England.

"I enjoyed my time at Fulham and over my three years I think I was Player of the Year on two occasions. Getting promoted was fabulous and we had a party to celebrate that on the top floor of Harrods.

"Mohamed Al Fayed did out the whole place, with a buffet down the middle and little canapés down the side from across the world. It was the most incredible party ever and, just like my time at Fulham, I absolutely loved it."

But like all good parties, they eventually come to an end and, after falling out of favour with Jean Tigana and embarking on several loan spells, Peschisolido eventually left for pastures new in 2001.

He continued to ply his trade in the Football League up until the age of 36 and soon moved into management, taking the helm at fourth tier Burton Albion for three years up until this summer.

"At the minute I’m just taking a break," he said. "When you go from football straight into management, there’s not a lot of time for family.

"When you're managing in the lower leagues you’re chief scout, manager, coach, psychiatrist, you're everything so it’s very time consuming. We’ll see what happens in the near future.

"The Canada job has come up and I have shown a little bit of interest in that and they've shown a bit of interest. That would be fantastic but at the minute I’m just taking a little bit of sabbatical."

That time off will allow Peschisolido to watch two of his former clubs do battle this weekend at the Britannia Stadium in what he predicts will be a hard-fought encounter.

"Stoke at home is tough," he said. "They’re a tough team and it's a hard place to go and play. Fulham have had a couple of decent results. I watched Stoke against West Ham United and I thought they were big and strong, very hard to break down so I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw."