Tag Archives: Stevenage Borough

Lionel Perez: From the Mediterranean to Stevenage Borough

Lionel-Perez-wikmedia

The lower leagues have never been blessed with too much Mediterranean flamboyance over the years, however Scunthorpe United, Stevenage Borough and Cambridge United do share a connection with one particular Frenchman, writes Simon Bourne.

Lionel Perez is perhaps remembered for his long blonde locks during an eccentric, yet productive two year stint with Sunderland in the late 90s. His story began in the beautifully named Bagnols-sur-Cèze back in 1967. “I was a young football player who always wanted to become a professional,” Perez admitted. “I was a Marseille supporter. I am from the south of France and the passion is a little bit like it is in England.”

Perez’s career kicked off with arguably France’s biggest club, Bordeaux, but following loan spells with Nîmes and Stade Lavallois respectively, Perez found himself joining Peter Reid’s rising Sunderland side.  The Frenchman passionately recalled: “I can remember my first game. It was at Roker Park. It was fantastic; the wood stadium; it was very special to me. So beautiful.”

Perez’s Sunderland career is tainted with scarring memories however. Following an extraordinary play-off final at Wembley in 1998, when Sunderland lost out to Charlton on penalties after a 4-4 draw, Perez’s Sunderland career was over. “I was unhappy,”  recalled Perez. “I didn’t want to leave Sunderland. I loved it there and the fans loved me. As soon as he [Peter Reid] told me he didn’t want to keep me, Kenny Dalglish called me and asked me to join Newcastle.

“It wasn’t difficult for me to join Newcastle. I was happy in the North-East and when they [Sunderland] said they didn’t want to keep me, it was easy. I was happy, my girls were happy. I didn’t want to leave.

“I wasn’t good at Newcastle, though. When Kenny Dalglish was sacked, that didn’t help. But I can’t say anything else because I wasn’t good. I was really, really, really bad. I lost all my football. I just didn’t know why Peter Reid didn’t want to keep me. I was thinking: ‘why, why, why?’ all of the time.”

It was during Perez’s time with Newcastle that he found new opportunities, first with Scunthorpe United. The goalkeeper joined The Iron in October 1999, on loan, and Brian Laws thrust him straight in for a debut against Burnley. “I remember we had a manager who had been there a long time. I was playing very well. I had a good time. I came back to Newcastle three times a week to train, but I had a very good time with Scunthorpe United. The club wanted to keep me, but they didn’t have very good finances then and I was on quite a lot of money at Newcastle. At Scunthorpe, I got back to my football. The people liked me and I was very happy.”

A somewhat humorous memory is recalled from his next club, Cambridge United, where Lionel eventually singed permanently following another spell on loan. In his final game for The U’s, against Tranmere Rovers, Perez took a penalty which was saved by another former Iron, Joe Murphy. “Ha-ha. It was my last game and we decided that if we got a penalty I would take it – but I missed. It was a great time though with Cambridge. It’s a magnificent town. My family were very happy there.”

It was at Stevenage Borough where Lionel’s playing career ended following a horrific leg break. “It was like family at Stevenage. Everywhere I went in my career I played with my heart and at Scunthorpe, Cambridge and Stevenage, I was happy again. In Cambridge, Ali Uzunhasanoglu was the goalkeeping coach and we both went to Stevenage together. Ali is like a very good spirit, a very good coach and a very good friend. He is like a brother to me. Both Ali and the manager, Graham Westley were magnificent. In my whole career, Graham brought the best out of me physically; I was 35-years-old at Stevenage! He was always behind me, even if I made a silly mistake. He’s a great manager and a great friend. If you are part of Graham’s circle, you are never alone.”

Following a spell as the goalkeeping coach at Stevenage, working alongside Westley, Perez and his family moved back to France where he had coaching spells with FC PHA Chusclan Laudun and the now defunct SO-Cassis Carnoux. Now, after two years out of the game and 44-years-old, Perez is looking to make a comeback. Ambitiously, Perez said: “I have just passed my UEFA B license and want to get back into football, but it’s hard when you’ve had a spell away. I would like to get into management, so we’ll see where life takes me.”

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Simon Bourne

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