Liam George: My confidence was completely ruined after Luton exit

Former Town striker Liam George in action during his playing days for the Hatters
Former Town striker Liam George in action during his playing days for the Hatters

Former Town attacker Liam George admitted that he suffered a huge loss of confidence when, aged just 23, he was released by the Hatters in March 2002.

The forward came through the ranks at Kenilworth Road, given his league debut as an 18-year-old by Lennie Lawrence in the 3-0 defeat at Bristol City in September 1997.

He went on to play 124 games in total, scoring 25 goals, finishing as Town’s top scorer in both the 1999/2000 and 2000/01 seasons.

However, when Joe Kinnear took over in February 2001, George ended that campaign in the first team, but only played six times the following season, before being let go.

He went on to play for near enough 20 clubs after his Town departure, for sides such as York City, Clydebank, Stevenage, Chesham United and St Patricks, even spending a spell in the USA with the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Speaking about that time in his career to the Luton News, George he said: “I got injured and was carrying a niggle, Joe had other plans and I didn’t really know where I fitted in.

“I didn’t feel I fitted into his plan, then he just let me go then and by then, my confidence was completely gone.

“All of those age old adages of ‘dust yourself down, prove everyone wrong,’ all of those kinds of silly things, you don’t realise for a young footballer, I just needed to probably stop at that time, gather my senses, but I didn’t know.

“Luton was such a big part of my life, it was like my family and to have a manager come in like Joe Kinnear who was completely cut throat, I just didn’t know how to deal with that.

“It absolutely ruined my self confidence and my self esteem and I didn’t even know it was happening until about four years later when I looked back at it.

“Because I was always happy to do the work, I had some very good managers and coaches, I had Paul Lowe, Terry Westley, then on to John Moore, Ricky Hill and Lennie Lawrence, who’d always supported me, always mentored me and tried to get the best out of me.

“Then along comes a guy who’s just not having you. You don’t know why, and all of a sudden you’re left out in the dark, you’re playing with the reserves.

“I’d been top scorer that season we got relegated, even though seven goals isn’t a great return, I’d still done okay for a 20-year-old.

“It completely just wiped me out and that’s why if you look at my list of clubs after that, it’s two months here, three months there.

“I kind of went on this nomadic six year journey trying to find myself again in a football sense and just never, ever recovered.

“I recovered from injury as I had quite a lot of injuries early on and people think it was that that ended me, but I would probably say it was more I just never recovered my confidence.

“That was what my game lived and died on, being quick, taking risks.

“I started trying to do things that I wasn’t even very good at, started trying to keep the ball and not flick things on.

“Most Luton fans would tell you how frustrating I could be at times as I hadn’t quite mastered them.

"They came off sometimes and I’d score some quite good goals, but I just never got back to doing that as my confidence just wasn’t there.”

When George first properly first through on to the scene at Kenilworth Road, he scored 10 goals in his first 15 league appearances of the 1999-2000 season and looked odds on for big haul.

However, just four strikes followed in his next 27 outings, as he finished on 14 for the campaign.

Looking back, had George had the kind of support, recovery and analysis available to players these days, he could have reached the 20-mark he had hoped for.

The forward continued: "I started on such a high and set such a high standard, when I went through a bit of a bad spell, I didn’t know how to come out of it as it had all happened so quickly and it was going so well.

“I never really got the chance to consolidate and understand what was going well and what wasn’t.

"So when I did stop scoring after Christmas, I wasn’t quite sure why all of a sudden something had changed so quickly.

“In the youth team and reserves I’d been putting up numbers like that (20 goals).

"On reflection, it was quite fatiguing and if you look at my back end to the season, I hardly scored.

“I think that was more to do with I wanted to play every minute of every game but I got quite tired and I wasn’t the type of player that could play very well tired.

"Which is why even a lot of Luton supporters would tell you they got quite frustrated that one week I would be an eight or nine out of 10, then all of a sudden, the next week I was a four out of 10.

“I was trying to adapt to men’s football at the time, but I didn’t really know what I was doing, from a well rested or recovery point, which is obviously massive right now in football.

“That’s probably one of the things, that, I wouldn’t say upsets me, but now they get so much input, there’s data to suggest they’re tired, where I just thought, I’ve just to keep working hard.

“Then you keep banging your head against a wall and getting more and more fatigued, and nothing’s really going your way.

“Whereas if I’d have understood rest and recovery a little bit more back then, who knows how I would have managed myself differently.”

Another factor that George felt played a part in his downturn in form at Kenilworth Road was a lack of experienced pros to learn from.

He said: “Looking back, I was 19, 20, we got relegated that season (2000-01) and I still did okay, but the team as a whole hadn’t done great.

“I was still quite early in my development and if you look back at the club there were no real older pros, certainly from a striker's point of view.

“We had Mark Stein in for a little while, we had Phil Gray but no disrespect to Phil, he was at the back end of his career and worrying more about his injuries than he was about helping players develop.

“Mark was a lot better, but we didn’t get long enough together.

“The season after I was still scoring in little patches and was just starting to understand what football was, in the men’s game, because we were all thrust in at the same time.

“We had eight, nine youth players in there, so the first season was almost on adrenaline, and the second season we started to get caught out a little bit.

"We were a bit naive and didn’t have any very good older players at the club that could shape and mould us and get just into a culture and habits.

“I think that’s why it ended up in a bad situation, because we just didn’t have the experience when time got a bit tough, or a cool head.

“I remember being 3-0 up against Wrexham (October 2000) and we ended up losing 4-3 as there was no-one to calm us down and once it started to lose momentum, it’s how to stop that?

“We were in administration around that time with Lennie Lawrence, so he couldn’t bring in everybody.

"But I think some of us suffered a lot more than others as I didn’t know enough on how to get better at football, as there was no mentor-ship in that sense.

“The season after that, seven goals, a bit of injury, lack of confidence, I lost my way significantly and just didn’t know how to come back from that.

"The first two seasons before showed it wasn’t about ability and about not being able to score goals, I just didn’t know how to pick myself back up and to get back into those positions and situations.”

George, who played four times for the Ireland U21s, also scoring the penalty to win the U18 European Championships for his country in 1998, admits he would have loved to come through the ranks in the modern era, especially when his best position at the time was a relatively new one to the game.

He said: “Every old pro has got his story to tell, but I think I’m one of the guys who would have benefited playing in today’s day and age.

“If you looked at the players who came through at Luton and did well, they were quite big and robust, Gary Doherty, six foot two centre half, Emmerson Boyce, quick and strong, Matty Taylor, he’s got an engine for fun.

“I was more of a tricky player that sat in pockets.

“I remember Lennie Lawrence saying to me I was playing in the hole, which is a number 10 now and everybody said that was a luxury.

“That wasn’t even in a position back then, but Lennie said ‘I’m not going to push you up top as you’re not physical enough, I’m going to play you off somebody in that little pocket.’

“Everybody kind of frowned and was like ‘free role? You don’t get that in football.’

“Now it’s a position, but I didn’t really at the time have anybody to look around and say ‘okay, who else plays in this sort of position and how can I master it and how can i learn from it?’

“The little man big man, worked quite well with me and Dozza (Gary Doherty) obviously, we played internationals together, but today there’s so much, there’s everything.

“Football you can look at it from all different angles, you can sit and learn about it all day on YouTtube and Facebook, and that’s one thing that probably I would have benefited from.

“Just understanding my body a bit better too, knowing that at five foot ten and 70 kilograms in League One, playing against players like Steve Davis and the Mitchell Thomas’s of the world, it was a bit unforgiving at times.

“I just didn’t really know how to learn and cope with that, while I just didn’t have the opportunity and enough time to solve that problem.”

Since hanging up his boots though, George has flourished, retraining as a physiotherapist in 2006, setting up the Liam George Physiotherapy clinic in 2013, which is clearly where his passion lies nowadays.

He added: “It’s absolutely brilliant.

"I didn’t ever think I could replace loving football with anything, but finding physiotherapy, obviously having a very close link with injury myself, my motivated factors are probably different to most physiotherapists.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that they’d lost an opportunity to work or have a career due to injury, so I love it, I absolutely love helping people.

“I have had offers to go into professional sport, but it’s not really what I want to do, I want to help everyday people and amateur athletes.

“They’ve been mind-blowing, they’ve really changed my mind as us professionals strut round and feel a bit entitled and get everything done for us.

“Whereas the amateur athlete, I’ve met some unbelievable iron men, marathon runners and they’ve completely changed my mindset about what people do for their sports.

“It’s been refreshing and they’re the people I want to impact and help.

“I know self confidence was a massive part for me, but I think the injuries didn’t help, and the injuries at the back end of my career, were all over-training injuries.

“So fundamentally it was because I was trying to work too hard to put something in place that I was breaking down all the time.

"That’s made it a journey even more important for me as I’d never ever want someone to lose an opportunity because they weren’t managing an injury right or their body had let them down.

“I still play a little bit of vets football and football is the best game in the world for me.

“I walked away from it four about four or five years, but coming back to it, I should have never done that.

“I just fell out of love with it a little bit, but I still absolutely love the game.

"I love talking about it, watching it and I loved playing it, physio comes a close second, but football will always be number one.”