“The season I joined, Boro’ had won back to back Championships in what was then the Diadora League,” explains Nick Edgar. “They were, therefore, playing the Premier for the first time (before the days of Conference North/South). I had joined Reading after leaving school the season before but spent nine months of the 12 I was there injured with knee ligament and tendon problems. It was no surprise they were looking to let me go the following pre-season.
“As a local lad, I arrived back to North Herts disillusioned with the pro-game and to be honest football in general. However, after a couple of weeks my old Sunday youth team manager suggested I call Paul Fairclough at Boro’. Reluctantly, I did and he invited me down for a look.
“What impressed me about him was what I perceived to be an immense enthusiasm for the game. It was infectious; an honesty that I had found lacking in the pro coaches and clubs I had spent my teenage years with. This was already early August, so I had a lot of catching up to do with fitness. I did feature in a pre-season game against Barnet, though; coming on as a second half substitute and scoring.
Nick Edgar: Signing for Boro’
“Fairclough took me on on a non-contract basis as I was in full time education. First choice strikers were the legend that is Martin Gittings, the newly signed Neil Trebble and Mark Smith, and Shaun Marshall, so I was fifth in line. Smithy scored an amazing four goals on his debut against Bognor Regis in a 4-1 win to extend the two season unbeaten home league record. Early games saw mixed results, however, and the eventual loss of that home record. I think it extended to 44 games!
“Coming into October, Smithy’s goals had dried up and Gitts was struggling a bit with injuries. I was beginning to be included in a few first team squads too as I was knocking in goals for the reserves. Boro’ were drawn against St Albans in the 3rd Qualifying round of the FA Cup at home and for the first time close up I saw the desire in Cloughie as a manager to win. Not only that, but also his management skills; treating the squad for the game to a night at Henlow Grange after training on the Thursday and a pre-game brunch at the clock hotel.
“Each player looked an inch taller arriving at the ground and there was also a buzz going around the ground in anticipation. Although I didn’t make it onto the bench, to be there was fantastic with a crowd of something like 1,500 witnessing a to-and-fro match. With not long left and Boro 3-2 up, I came across Bradley Anderson for the first time. He blatantly dived in the box to earn a penalty; the match ending 3-3 and meaning a replay the following Tuesday.
“Tuesday came and after a day at school, I joined the squad for the match. Smithy didn’t play and I was on the bench. The only other enforced change was Hugh Kirke (who happened to teach at my school which was weird!) in goal for Richard Wilmot. I think the crowd was even bigger than on the Saturday, but St Albans took a first half lead and then doubled it not long into the second half. Cloughie called me over with about five or six mins left and told me to get stripped. It was the dream debut; scoring after a couple of minutes, and leading to a frantic end to the game. We battered them, pressing for an equaliser. Although Trebble almost got one, we ended up losing.
“I featured as a playing sub in the next game the following Saturday in the FA Trophy and was in the squad the next week against Hendon away and seemed set for possibly my starting debut. However, it had been my 18th that week and a big night out was planned on the Friday. Although I didn’t drink, on the way home from the club I was involved in a near fatal car crash. Although I thought I came out of it unscathed, it proved not to be the case.
“Unbeknown to me, Cloughie had called me the night before at home (this being an age before mobiles!), possibly to tell me I was starting tomorrow. I still to this day don’t know why he called. He was really off with me (understandably!) the next day and I was an unused sub. At training the following Monday I became dizzy and went to hospital for a check up. It proved that I had whiplash and the smallest of possible fractures in the base of my skull. Worst of all, it meant a month of no exercise or playing football. All the hard work I had put in the previous two months left me out in the cold at the club and too right!
Nick Edgar: International recognition
“I began training again with the reserves in early December. I lost any momentum gained during that time out, however, and the other strikers were all fit. There was a sub appearance in the 6-1 thrashing of Grays and in a couple of other games. In January, completely out of the blue, I was one of 60 18-year-olds that would form the basis of the 16-strong England U18 Schools squad for five internationals that season. Cloughie was delighted for me as he had represented the country at that level and let me know in no uncertain terms that I was representing Boro’ as well as myself.
“Amazingly, I made it into the squad and between February and May I started four of the games; scoring against Switzerland and playing against a Holland side that included Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf! The downside of course was that it meant I was unable for a lot of Boro’ games. Cloughie was great, telling me that the club had big plans and I was a part of that if I continued to work hard. The club even presented me with an inscribed silver plate recognising my international call up. I still have and treasure it.
“As we entered April, there was a break in the international programme. I found myself on the coach to Marlow when I spotted Bradley Anderson. Cloughie called me down to the front of the coach, which he often did with players. You were either starting or not playing at all! As I hadn’t made my full debut, I was nervous and – true enough – he gave me the nod that I would be playing. It was on the left side of midfield, though; a position I had never played in my life. We went on to win 3-2; Anderson was on the bench and I made a reasonable debut.
“I kept my place and position the next week against Windsor and Eton. It was a match we came out on top 4-2, with Anderson making his debut up front and scoring. But I also bagged what would prove to be my only other first team goal. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. After being 3-0 up at half time, we coasted in the second half. As punishment for a lack of professionalism, Cloughie had us all out doing sprint work. It’s another insight into his mentality and the standards he expected from his players.
“Again, I kept my place for a home debut against Enfield on the Easter Monday. But we played poorly, losing 3-0. Although I was taken off, Anderson played the whole match and was even worse that I was. I challenged him at training the following week, telling him I was a striker. With a week on England duty coming up, I asked would he consider what I said and maybe put me out on loan somewhere to get first team experience up front?
“I think that really pissed him off. If only I had simply told him the truth; that I was gutted he had signed Anderson and put him straight in the team and how he was holding me back for good reasons. All of this thinking of course was through the emotions and mind of an 18 year old – what did I know, I now realise. That was my last appearance for the club in a first team shirt.
“I attended the end of season awards and not getting young player of the year also pissed me off. Cloughie had a brief word with me saying to come down the following pre-season and to work hard. After growing up with the promises of pro-football and being continually let down, I needed to a club to want me. He wouldn’t say he definitely wanted me next season, which hurt given the things he had said earlier in the season.
“I know now that psychologically, however, I wasn’t strong enough to deal with what was really a non-situation. I truly regret not being honest myself with Cloughie about what was really bothering me. Things could have been so different; not only because I could have been part of the successful Boro team of the next three or four years, but because it scarred me emotionally somewhat. Or rather I scarred myself!
Nick Edgar: After Boro’
“Due to the England call up and my Boro’ appearances, I became known a bit on the local football scene. The Baldock Town manager, Bob Eagles approached me offering to sign me there and then. Kevin Phillips was there at the time and he wanted me to partner him up front, so I signed. I felt I needed that and the offer on the table was £25 a week with bonuses. It felt like a fortune at the time!
“We played a Boro XI pre-season and beat them 5-1. I scored and created two and felt I had proved a point. He actually called me the following day asking me to go back to Boro’ and have a chat with him. This was something I eventually said yes to; the man was persuasive! On the way there, however, I crashed another car and never made the meeting. I’d only speak to him again once two or three years later.
“I went to university and drifted down the leagues. That said, I did enjoy a brief spell in Italy while teaching English there after graduating, before retiring for two years at the grand old age of 25. I temporarily came back for a two year spell in amateur football before retiring again. I had the same love/hate relationship with music as I did with football and spent my late twenties drifting in bands until settling in Nottingham with band Ardency. An album, Dear Human came out in 2006.
“That ambition achieved, I have recently returned to my first love, playing locally, for fun and player-managing last season. I have a few offers for next season but we’ll see. I may retire again and buy a season ticket a Stevenage for the forthcoming season! I’m thinking of taking my badges with a view to coaching at 16-18 year old level; hoping that I can come to it from the point of view of helping some kid with ability not waste it.”
With thanks to: Nick Edgar