Sidwell to show value of Arsenal education

Reading's midfield marauder left Highbury at 20, but is looking forward to facing his mentors tonight. Glenn Moore reports

There is a neat symmetry to Steve Sidwell's return to Highbury for tonight's Carling Cup fourth-round tie for it was an Arsenal defeat in the competition which persuaded him to leave the marble halls and heated floors and seek his fortune in the wider world.

Sidwell now commands the midfield for the Championship leaders, Reading, but, in November 2002, he was on the bench when Arsenal played Sunderland in the third round. Then, as now, the competition was the most likely source of first-team action for Arsenal youngsters.

"They are the games you pass an eye over thinking you may make an appearance," he said when we met at Reading's expansive Berkshire training ground yesterday. "I got the shout to warm up, but never to strip off. We lost and I thought, 'That's my season done'."

With his 20th birthday approaching Sidwell knew it was time to progress his career. "I went out on loan, had a dozen games at Brighton, and the next thing I know I had signed for Reading. I loved Arsenal and still do. I was there for 11 years, from nine to 20. I was part of the side that won back-to-back Youth Cups. I scored in the Highbury legs of both finals. I have great friends there. But I never played for the first team. That's my one regret. So to play there now, in their last season at Highbury, is a dream come true."

Sidwell will return with positive intent. "People say this is about going back and proving points but to me it's about going back and soaking up an atmosphere. And to show people I am still improving as a player. I left on good terms. I went to see Mr [Arsène] Wenger and Mr [Pat] Rice about my future. Mr Wenger said he didn't want me to leave, there was a new contract for me, but he couldn't guarantee first-team football. I had Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva, two World Cup winners, to displace. He said, 'I know you are a good player. It is in your best interests to go out and show people your worth', and he said, and I'll never forget this, 'One day we might buy you back'. I might remind him of that. It happened with Martin Keown.

"A lot of youngsters leave Arsenal with bitterness because of a lack of first-team opportunities but the education I got in those 10 years - from coaches like Liam Brady, Don Howe, Don Givens and Neil Banfield - I wouldn't have got anywhere else in the country. I have a lot to thank that club for."

So have Reading. Since signing, for £250,000, in January 2003 Sidwell has been an automatic choice for the prospering Royals, first under Alan Pardew, and now Steve Coppell. Reading, with another Arsenal graduate, James Harper, partnering Sidwell in midfield, stand 13 points clear of the play-off places and are 23 games unbeaten. They are not, though, planning a celebration party just yet.

"We were in a similar position last year," said Sidwell. "We were second on Boxing Day, then we had a couple of months when we couldn't win a game and didn't even make the play-offs. So we are only looking one game ahead."

Sidwell, an intelligent level-headed Londoner, is not one to get carried away. He knows the line between success and failure is slim and capricious. His brother, Lee, was a promising schoolboy at Crystal Palace but suffered broken leg and cruciate injuries and now combines playing for Whyteleafe, in the Ryman League, with working as a scaffolder in the family firm, an occupation Steve also had a taste of. "My parents always kept my feet on the ground. During breaks from school Dad would take us down the yard at 6am and have us sweeping floors to four in the afternoon."

That experience, and loan spells in the lower divisions - "to go to places like Bury and Chesterfield as a 17-year-old, no disrespect, was an eye-opener to someone used to London Colney with its heated floors, swimming pool and chef" - left Sidwell well equipped to handle the move away from Arsenal. And maybe, one day, earn a move back.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory