My own goal - Graham Rix

The former Arsenal and England player recalls leaving the big time to join the small French club Caen, where things were very different. Now 37 and coaching at Chelsea, he is preparing for their European Cup- Winners' Cup tie with Club Bruges this week

I WAS 30 and married with three kids and my career at Arsenal was obviously coming to an end. Because of injuries I'd played only about 23 games in two seasons under George Graham, who said I'd done well. But he knew that Arsenal weren't getting much return for the wages I was on so they offered me a free transfer.

I knew Sheffield Wednesday, Queen's Park Rangers and a few others were interested. I decided to go on holiday to Portugal with my family to think things over. I thought about the pull of going back home to Sheffield or staying where we were and joining QPR. Four days into my holiday I heard from an agent that a French club was interested. I was told it was Caen, who I'd not heard of, but I discovered they had reached the French first division for the first time. I didn't even know where Caen was.

So we came home. I met someone from the French club, who said they wanted a bit of experience to help them out. After half an hour I agreed to go there. So did Brian Stein. I'd always fancied playing in Europe, in fact it had always been a burning ambition. I'd had chances, but they'd always fallen through and I thought my chance had gone.

When I got there with Steiny, it was like a non-League ground.Everybody brought their own kit, which they had to buy themselves. I didn't have any kit because Arsenal was one of the biggest clubs in the world- you didn't have to think of things like that. They'd always provided me with everything I needed. I suppose it was refreshing, but I didn't appreciate it at the time.

For the first three months, Brian and myself stayed in a hotel. My wife and kids stayed in England because we couldn't find a house and I really wondered what I had done. We turned up for the first team talk not able to speak French - there hadn't been time for lessons. The French coach spoke at his normal speed and went on for 25 minutes. He was drawing diagram after diagram. Then, when he finished, he turned to me and Brian and said his only word of English, "umberstand?". He even got that wrong.

It got worse. Our first game was a pre-season friendly on tour against a Czech team. Afterwards, Brian and me changed and went into the bar and had a beer, as you would in England. All the others came in and drank water. They were saying things like "You not drink beer". Me and Steiny said: "Look we've been doing it for 15 years and we're not going to change now."

The coach pulled us to one side and said he appreciated how we influenced the others on the pitch but drinking beer was not good. Then he said that if we wanted we could carry on. After that he saw how we played and how hard we trained and by Christmas after every match he was bringing in crates of beer. "Be like the British," he said.

The beginning of the season had been dreadful. For the first time in French history, a club lost their first six games - ours. But it got better.

I'd say now that my three years in France were the best of my career, but in that first season we had to win our last three games to stay up. In the last match we were playing Bordeaux, with Cantona and Clive Allen, and at half-time we were 2-0 down. There was crying in the dressing-room but we won 3-2.

I grew to love that club and the people. They gave me the No 10 shirt, which is the real prize in French football. They really made me feel wanted. In the end it turned out to be the best decision I'd ever made.

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