Brits abroad - Mick Quinn
You'd think former Newcastle striker Mick Quinn would have known all about life in the goldfish bowl. But a season in Greece playing for PAOK Salonika still proved an eye-opening experience. Adam Bate spoke to Quinn to find out more.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 06/07/13 1:58pm
Mick Quinn scored more than 200 league goals in English football playing for clubs such as Wigan Athletic, Stockport County, Oldham Athletic and Portsmouth. He is perhaps best known for his time at Newcastle United where he scored 39 goals in a single season. Quinn later moved on to Coventry City, scoring 17 goals in the inaugural Premier League season.
But by 1995 he was looking for a new club and accepted an offer to play for PAOK Salonika in the Greek Super League. Despite scoring seven goals in 15 games, the experience had more downs than ups as managerial upheaval, unpaid wages and fan violence marred his Greek odyssey. Adam Bate caught up with Quinn to get the full story on his eight-month adventure...
So you moved to Greece quite late in your career. How did that come about?
I got free transferred from Coventry. I was on Premier League wages but it was before all the big money came in and I was 32. Basically I spent the summer sitting by the phone waiting for a call but nothing came of it.
We'd gone to Greece on a pre-season tour with Coventry a couple of seasons earlier. So I got a phone call from a club called PAOK Salonika. I spoke with their main man and they offered me twice as much money as I'd been earning for just one season in Greece.
So it wasn't so much that you fancied a move abroad, it was just a lack of options?
No, it was a case of necessity! The phone was quiet. So in the end I thought I'd give it a go and broaden my horizons, as they say.
What were your first impressions when you got out there?
It was a club steeped in Greek history. They were a big club in northern Greece in a region of 1.75 million people. They had three major - major - sports newspapers there. You were on the television and in the papers every day of the week. It was like a goldfish bowl. I wasn't used to that even in the Premier League over here.
They just loved their football and a Premier League player going over was a major deal to them. I was welcomed off the plane with garlands and there were a couple of hundred fans waiting there because of all the hype - they were very passionate fans. They were sort of the Newcastle United of Greece. They were from the north, played in black and white stripes and had fanatical fans.
And how did it go out there?
Well, that's where the enjoyment stopped! It started off very well. In October we were in the top three or four in the league. The Dutch legend Arie Hann was the manager but then he got offered the Feyenoord job and it was his home-town club so he left. He had spoken English and used an interpreter (to speak to the Greek players). There was only one other lad there, a Greek-Australian guy, who spoke English.
After that, we had two Serbian managers and a Croat manager. Three different managers between October and the middle of February! It turned into a nightmare. Players were owed bonuses from the season before and there was only the Australian lad who could tell me what the other lads were saying. It just went from bad to worse. Let me tell you, Greece wasn't the word!
You played with Theo Zagorakis, who later captained Greece to Euro 2004 glory...
Theo was there yeah. I actually met up with him when he came to England with Leicester. They had some reasonable players there. But as soon as Arie Haan left it all went wrong because he was the professionalism at that club.
What was the standard of football like?
The football was dire. There were 70 passes before you even crossed the halfway line. When you'd come from the Premier League with end-to-end football and knowing that you'd get seven or eight chances a game, this just felt slow and laborious. You'd get one chance and if you missed it you'd be slaughtered in the papers.
It was stronger than the Scottish league. You had Panathinaikos, Olympiakos and AEK Athens. Then we were the biggest club in northern Greece. So there were maybe five or six good teams in the league and you were expected to beat the rest. When you played them you'd get 8,000 but then when you played the big three there were 55,000.
Those games must stand out...
There was a cup game against AEK Athens. We were 2-1 down so they were ripping off the terracing and throwing it at the AEK players and the assistant referee so the game got abandoned. It was unbelievable.
There was another cup game where we played Crete in Crete. So you're thinking this will be lovely. But these big clubs all have little nursery clubs where they look after them and give them players. Well, Olympiakos looked after Crete so there were a lot of passionate Olympiakos fans at our game.
The ground only held about 6,000 people. We played the game and I scored so we were 1-0 up. Every time I went near the touchlines I was getting missiles thrown at me. Plastic bottles full of water being chucked at me and everything.
They had to call for extra police because the fans wouldn't let us off the pitch. In the dressing room they told us to leave our gear and just get out of there as we had to catch a plane out. We were told to lie down on the coach because they'd put all the windows in.
Not necessarily worth the extra money then?!
Well, that's it! It was just unbelievable and this was all part of the norm. I'd not seen anything like it before, not to that extent. And with things going from bad to worse I just decided to cut my losses and I left at the end of February.
It was like how clubs were run in the old days. Our wages weren't always paid either. Put it this way, if we weren't playing one of the big Athens clubs then they didn't have the revenue to pay us. It was all cash. So if there was a crowd we knew we'd get paid but if not there'd be lads crying because they had mortgages and that.
The chairman was driving round with guns in his car because of all the stick he was getting from the fans. One day he put a padlock on the training ground so we couldn't train there. It was absolutely all over the shop.
And there was nothing you could do really...
The problem was that the younger players daren't complain as they'd just get sacked there and then on the spot. So when I left I had a right go at them in the papers. I knew it meant I wouldn't get all my money but I just cut my losses because it was a farce.
So I criticised the chairman and the way the club was run when I left on behalf of the players. It was quite emotional when I left with lots of kisses and hugs from the players because I was the voice for them really. I was leaving so I'd said what they couldn't. I believe it's a well-run club now and they've probably learnt a lot from that time.
Did you learn anything from it? Any regrets about the move?
No regrets at all. I had offers to go to Hong Kong but nobody else was ringing. So I went out there and gave it a go. The actual club itself and the fans I loved. It's a shame it didn't work out but I enjoyed the experience of playing in a different country. I wouldn't put anyone off going abroad for a different culture or style of play because you can always learn things in football right to the end.
Sadly I retired when I came back. But my skill levels and my touch were helped enormously. I was a better player when I went back because they did a lot more work on technique over there. And it's a shame I never put that to good use when I came back as I'd learnt so much.
The problem was that I'd have had to drop down the divisions to continue. I'd worked so hard to get up to the top that my pride kicked in and I didn't have the stomach to go down the leagues so I just decided that was that. But I was actually a better player so there's a lot to be said for the experience.
You can catch Quinny on the Weekend Sports Breakfast every Saturday and Sunday from 8am on talkSPORT