After the recent Lord of Milan premiere at Broadway cinema, we sat down with one of the film's talking heads, Luther Blissett, to talk about playing for Milan, career highlights and cold nights at Meadow Lane.
Gav: Putting on that red and black Milan shirt for the first time and stepping out in front of 90,000 fans, what was that feeling like?
Luther: The first time proper was in a league game, I'd played in a cup tie before that, but playing in a league game on that Saturday making my debut, against Verona, because Joe Jordan had gone to Verona from Milan after I'd arrived, so they were who we played. That was the craziest thing. You've got a few nerves anyway before the game but thankfully, for me, when you're walking onto the pitch they all tend to go because you've got your focus on what you're going to do. That was just incredible because, it's one of those things, you don't really hear the noise as you're walking down the tunnel and then as you start to walk up the steps, that's where the light is coming from outside, you just slowly start to hear this muffled noise getting louder and louder and louder. Then you cross the threshold and it hits you. In the film, Mark Hately talks about the hairs on the back of your neck standing up and it is one of those amazing moments, electricity seems to be just all over your body, it's incredible. That's something that I will never, ever forget that first time that I walked out. And then, to do it in the derby as well, goodness me, it just triples it when you walk out in the derby.
Gav: What was the style of football like in Italy then? Was it difficult settling in, coming from English football?
Luther: I'd been watching Italian football and I thought that the man-to-man marking would be good for me to develop my game so I was really looking forward to the challenge. Pre-season was great - I scored 9 goals in the 5 games we played so I was really looking forward to the season starting. But that first game of the season, away at Ascoli, the mentality of the players was completely different, I never saw that coming at all when we walked out on the pitch and started playing. Rather than doing what we'd been doing, players making runs and playing the ball in, it just became a possession game. It was one of the most boring games that I've ever played in, it really was. I thought to myself, "I hope it's not going to be like this every week." I do not enjoy playing football that way, for me, football is about trying to score goals and we weren't doing that. That was the biggest thing that struck me once the league season had started. One or two games we showed a bit more endeavour to actually go and win the game but generally the games were very difficult because we didn't go out with the right sort of attitude. When we played the likes of Juventus and they just came at you again and again and the likes of Sampdoria and teams like that and that was what we needed to do. But, for whatever reason, we didn't do that. I would have loved to have gone to Milan two years later, after they changed and Nils Lindholm arrived. I think that would have been a really good time to go because they were more attacking, more forward thinking. That would probably have been better for me.
Gav: What was it like off the pitch? You made your Rice Krispies joke when you first signed but what was it like moving to a different country?
Luther: The biggest thing about going somewhere new is settling in - find somewhere you're going to live and then you need to get used to the surroundings of where you are. For me, that was the only thing because I went there to play football, nothing was more important than training and playing football. So, as long as I had somewhere to live, and I did that, I went to Barlassina, which is outside Milan, lived there. It was nice, a bit countryfied like where I live now and it was really, really good. I like that, I don't like living in the big cities so that was all perfect for me. It was just the fact that the attitude and the mental approach to the football was not what I had hoped it would be. If it had been we would definitely have finished better than we did. The team that we had finished mid-table but we never really got going in that season, which was a shame. My thing is scoring goals and if I'm not getting chances and making chances and scoring goals then I might as well not be there, I might as well be at home, sat watching the TV. That was my only thing about Italy but I loved living there and the lifestyle was good. There was sunshine, well, far more than there was here and I like going out to restaurants to eat and I like going out to do a bit of shopping. You'd go to the shop to buy a suit or a pair of trousers, you don't have to ask them to make adjustments, they put it on you and say, "yes, we'll have it ready for you tomorrow sir" and you'd go back and the thing's right. You don't have to say to them it has to be fitted, they measure it up for you and adjust it for you - it was fantastic. It was a really nice place, you've got a cultural side of it as well so it was a great place to live.
Gav: You played for AC Milan, scored a hat-trick for England and played in cup-finals for Watford, could you pick a career highlight?
Luther: It's got to be representing your country for the first time. There's not many things that can beat that. When you're playing football as a kid, one of the things that you always pretend is that you're going to play for your country and score a hat-trick at Wembley. Goodness me, that came true for me and even now, good grief, it actually happened, it wasn't a dream. That has got to be the special moment, to walk out of the tunnel at Wembley and all of those things like walking out of the tunnel at AC Milan, it was just like that and more because you're doing this for your country. You know that most of the people out there are supporting you and a lot of those people that are supporting you on that day are normally people giving you loads of abuse because you play for somebody else. It was very special because it was people coming together to watch you do something that you love doing.
Gav: And finally, do you have any memories about being an away player, playing in Nottingham?
Luther: Yeah, we've had a few. One of the games that we played at Notts County one day and we all remember it because it was one of the coldest days I can remember. I could not believe how cold it was, I remember Jim Halliwell had to go back inside because it was that cold and he was wrapped up and he was a war veteran but he went back inside. You could feel how cold it was. I remember playing for Watford at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, Brian Clough was manager at that time and we got beat 7-3. It was the most unbelievable game of football ever, it was end to end. The difference was that everything that Forest hit that day flew in the back of the net. I remember Brian Clough coming into the dressing room at the end of the game and he said, "that was the most amazing game of football ever. The only difference was that everything that we hit went in and yours, the goalkeeper saved them, baring that it could have finished 10 apiece!" It was just one of those games.
Lord of Milan will be shown at the FICTS Festival for sport movies & TV in Milan in November.