Lyttle goes a long way... back to his roots

Career of former Forest hero turns full circle to give Worcester tie some added sauce
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The Independent Football

Des Lyttle arrives at the Three Hammers golf course in apologetic mood. "I'm sorry," he says. "I forget to tell you that I've got a local BBC television crew following me around this week."

It's good to see such an affable old pro back in the spotlight again - on Midlands Today on Friday night and also on FA Cup Match of the Day this afternoon. The right-back, who spent the bulk of his career at Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich Albion, wears the No 2 shirt for Worcester City against Huddersfield Town in the BBC's live tie of the second round.

In Lyttle's case, it is not the usual story of the ex-professional enjoying a swansong at some random non-League outpost. It was with Worcester that the veteran full-back launched his career. Or re-launched it, to be precise.

Lyttle started as a trainee with Leicester City before being told he was not up to the professional grade. "David Pleat was the manager," he recalls, a little sheepishly. "To be fair, there are a lot of footballers over the years who have been released and then gone on to better things in the game.

"I did one and a half years as a YTS at Leicester and he turned me pro early, but then he said I wasn't in his plans and that I wouldn't make the grade. So I went off to Worcester City and the rest is history."

Lyttle spent a season and a half at St George's Lane, scene of this afternoon's televised tie, rebuilding a reputation as a young full-back full of potential, before getting a second chance in the professional ranks, courtesy of Swansea City.

"It's a great feeling to be playing in such a big game for Worcester, the biggest since they played Liverpool 50-odd years ago," he reflects.

"It's great to play in any big FA Cup game, no matter which club you're with, but to have come full circle like this, with Worcester, is really special."

It would be even more special if Lyttle could help Worcester emulate their most famous hour-and-a-half. That was an FA Cup third-round tie at St George's on 15 January 1959. Liverpool, then of the old Second Division, were the visitors. It was 11 months before Bill Shankly's arrival at Anfield, with Phil Taylor in charge and with the great Billy Liddell dropped for the first time in his distinguished career.

Rather than indulge in a Cissé strop, Liddell volunteered for the job of "studding" the team's boots before kick-off. Not that it helped much. Worcester, then of the Southern League, won 2-1. At the final whistle, their captain, Roy Paul - who had skippered Manchester City in the FA Cup finals of 1955 and 1956 - was chaired from the field by the crowd.

If there are to be similar scenes at St George's Lane this afternoon, Worcester, now of the Conference North, will need to draw heavily on the experience of their three principal veterans - Lyttle at right-back, Graham Hyde in midfield, and Andy Preece, their player-manager, up front.

"It would be great if we could emulate the team of 1959," Lyttle ponders. "We have got a decent side. We've got a mixture of the old lads like myself, the gaffer and Graham Hyde, and some very good young lads. Let's hope we can show what we've got on Sunday, and that we can do ourselves justice."

In the 13 seasons he spent on the League side of the football fence, Lyttle was on the suffering end of one notable upset in the FA Cup. "It was when Stuart Pearce had just taken over as caretaker-manager at Forest," he recalls. "We went to Chesterfield, the year they reached the semi-finals. We got Mark Crossley sent off early doors and ended up losing 1-0. That was in the fifth round. I've never been any further in the FA Cup."

In his six roller-coaster seasons with Forest, though, Lyttle did get to the last eight of the Uefa Cup - just 12 months before that domestic upset at Chesterfield. Guided by Frank Clark, Forest beat Malmo, Auxerre and Lyon en route to the quarter-finals, and then returned to the City Ground with a precious away goal from a 2-1 defeat against Bayern Munich in the Olympiastadion.

"I know we ended up losing the second leg 5-1 but we didn't really disgrace ourselves," Lyttle reflects. "And Bayern had one hell of a team: Kahn, Babel, Matthaüs, Papin, Klinsmann. They were great times at Forest - playing in Europe against a great side like that, against great players like that.

"I was one of Frank Clark's first signings, after he took over from Brian Clough in 1993. We won promotion that first season and then finished third in the Premiership and qualified for the Uefa Cup. It all started to go a bit pear-shaped towards the end at Forest, but I wouldn't swap the time I had there for anything."

At 34, Lyttle is happy to be back where it all truly started for him - and where this afternoon he will enjoy the support of wife Liz, son Tyler and daughter Lia. "Tyler plays for the under-nines at the Wolves academy, but he's a big Arsenal fan," the Forest old boy says. "He's mad about Thierry Henry. We even stayed up to watch him on Parkinson the other week."

This afternoon, though, when it comes to the big BBC match on the small screen, it will be Tyler's dad who will be in the spotlight.