Football: Euro 2000 Play-Off: Froggatt enjoying good fortune

Surprise England recruit benefits from greater perspective after a blighted career
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The Independent Online
ACCORDING TO Eliot - TS, not Leicester's Matt - there is "birth, and copulation, and death". In the cavernous reinforced marquee at England's Buckinghamshire hotel yesterday, Coventry City's Steve Froggatt was mercifully spared questions about the middle part of that sequence but was able to talk about the two great certainties from a better perspective than most footballers.

As he spoke, ostensibly about what Sky Sport is now calling, with typical understatement, the Match of the Millennium, his wife, Julie, was waiting to give birth to a baby due on Monday. Far from fretting ("why, is there anything to be nervous about?") Froggatt, the most unexpected name pulled out of Kevin Keegan's hat last week, already has his apologies worked out: "I am sure if I tell my daughter in 20 years' time why I could not make the birth she will understand. As long as they are both healthy, that is the only thing we can wish for."

A chirpy chappy, originally from Lincoln, he appreciates these things all the more because of the experience four years ago which might have cost his life.

"Looking back now I count myself very very fortunate that I am even here to be involved with the squad.

"When I was at Wolves, I had an ankle reconstruction after a tackle that kept me out for virtually the whole season. I came back from that, did pre-season training and was losing an awful lot of weight. Nobody could understand why I was feeling fatigued.

"I had just had my meal at home and gone upstairs and I collapsed, fell down the stairs. My wife got me in to see the local doctor and I went for tests. The oxygen level was really really low. When they examined me I had a huge blood clot in my thigh and it had trapped in the heart and lungs. When they saved me I had a clot two or three inches away from one of my heart valves. The doctor said to me if I had played on the Saturday I could well have died."

He had been signed for Wolves by Graham Taylor, the manager who originally took him to his previous club, Aston Villa. Shortly after Froggatt made the move across the Midlands, Taylor was sacked and he went through the disappointments of the Mark McGhee years, eventually coming to believe that the Premiership, let alone international recognition was someway distant. "I was stuck in the First Division. The last two or three years have been quite a nice surprise."

Chirpy or not, he is better at understatement than Sky. The surprise was total when Coventry's manager, Gordon Strachan, summoned him to the manager's office last week.

"He said: `What is the best news I could give you?' I shook my head and had no idea. He said: `You've been called into the England squad'. To be honest at first I thought the players had got together for a wind-up.

"When Kevin Keegan actually rang me I still thought it was two of my team-mates, Paul Williams and Paul Telfer, pulling my leg. They've been well known for impersonating people's voices. It wasn't until I pulled the car over and heard the gaffer on the phone I actually realised it was him and could take it seriously."

Strachan and Coventry's captain, Gary McAllister, were not the only Scots delighted that the news was genuine. Froggatt's Scottish uncle Ross had been badgering him for tickets, to the extent that the player wasted as much time as the rest of us fruitlessly dialling Wembley's ticket line.

Uncle Ross is now sorted. He will doubtless have mixed feelings if his nephew appears at any stage of the two matches. Which may be a greater possibility than some imagined. If Froggatt cannot expect to start ahead of Leicester's Steve Guppy or the more defensive Phil Neville, he would be a useful substitute for his adaptability alone.

"Over the last five years I've had a season and a half at left-back and a season and a half at wing-back. I spent the best part of my career as a left-winger. The managers I've played for played different systems and I've played in the various positions. I'm adaptable, I can shift around depending on the situation.

"I suppose my strength is my pace. I can cross a decent ball and I can score goals. My weakness is probably that I haven't got the best right foot in the world. But it's better for you to tell me what my weaknesses are. I am sure I will not let anyone down if I get the chance."

And if it is Keegan rather than Craig Brown who has to console his players next Wednesday night with the words "life goes on", Steve Froggatt will appreciate the sentiment more than most.