Integrity and football are all too often strangers these days but Nick Barmby has built a career on remaining true to his principles. "I was brought up the Tottenham way so, for me, the ball is round and it rolls along the ground," explained Hull City's captain as he sat in a corner of the players' lounge at the club's Cottingham training ground yesterday and listened to team-mate after team-mate inquire: "Have you told her how much you love Hull yet?"
One of a handful of players to have featured in England's 4-1 demolition of Holland during Euro 96 and the 5-1 deconstruction of Germany in Munich five years later, Barmby seemed an unlikely inhabitant of a Championship lounge filled with animated chatter about Aston Villa's FA Cup visit tomorrow.
Only 31, this natural heir to Peter Beardsley has the touch and vision to still be plying his trade in the Premiership but was lured to Humberside by a combination of Peter Taylor's footballing beliefs and what can only be described as unconditional love for his home-town club.
"I went to watch Liverpool a few times as a boy, though," confessed Barmby. "Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley were my heroes and Hull were going through the Billy Whitehurst era, so I had excuses.
"I've never liked either watching or having long, high balls coming at me but I'd played for Peter when he managed an England B team and then when he was in charge of the full side just before Sven-Goran Eriksson took over, so I knew we have similar ideas. His tactical bravery played a big part in my coming here."
That was 19 months ago and the intervening promotion from League One is described by Barmby as "right up with anything I've ever done in the game. It was fantastic to see our fans so happy".
Considering that as a teenager at Tottenham he played alongside Jürgen Klinsmann, before going on to represent Middlesbrough, Everton, Liverpool and Leeds while collecting 23 international caps and scoring the first goal of Eriksson's England tenure, that sounds suspiciously like a platitude.
Barmby, though, is being utterly sincere. This, after all, is a man so unconcerned with the trappings of fame that he cannot recall where in his house he has stored the DVD the FA gave him of that glorious night in Munich. "Anyway, I can remember the Germany and Holland matches like yesterday," he said.
Cynics might say Barmby has only returned to Hull to enjoy the wealth accrued during a sporadically glittering career which has seen his various transfers fees total £20m, but Taylor scoffs at suggestions he is merely a contented big fish in an ultra-comfortable pond.
"You should try resting him, he doesn't like it at all," said Hull's manager. "If things are not going 100% right in training, Nick is the player who gets the hump more than anyone else. He cares about doing well for this club so badly that I sometimes have to tell him he's working too hard. Nick has raised the bar here, he's a great example.
"He also really surprised me by agreeing to join us because coming here meant he took a massive pay cut [reputedly from £30,000 a week at Leeds to £2,000] which I hadn't believed anyone would accept. But Nick had already achieved financial security and he just wanted to play for the club he supported."
For someone boasting Barmby's technical ability and penchant for positional inter-changing, dropping down a level can be fraught with pitfalls and Hull team-mates regularly apologise after failing to spot his runs or read his passes. "I can't let myself get frustrated," he admitted. "I've got to have a bit of patience but this is a young side and hopefully my experience will rub off.
"Anyway I didn't want to wait until I was 35 and fading until I got here. My problems at Leeds were well documented but those people who said I was comfortable being out of the team and counting my money had it all wrong because I just want to play football.
"It'll be nice to face Premiership opposition again on Saturday though and, yes, I do miss going to places like Old Trafford but I've never lost the dream that I could play there with Hull. I honestly think the day this city has a Premiership team might not be too far away."
According to Barmby it also merits a better press. "Hull has a lot of adverse publicity which is nonsense because it's a fantastic place to live," he insisted. "Like everywhere it's got good bits and bad bits but the cheap shots frustrate you. They come from types who don't know the area and are a little bit ignorant.
"I've gone through good times and bad times in my career but I've just seen it all as a big adventure," he reflected. "I'm in a fantastic job and, for all the talk about selfishness and greed, there are a lot of good people in football." It could still do with a few more Nick Barmbys.
From Hull and back
Born Hull February 11 1974
England caps 23
April 1991- August 95 Tottenham Hotspur
Appearances 110 Goals 28
August 1995- October 96 Middlesbrough 5,250,000
App 49 Goals 10
October 1996- July 2000 Everton 5,750,000
App 133 Goals 24
July 2000- August 02 Liverpool 6,000,000
App 58 Goals 8
August 2002- July 04 Leeds United 2,750,000
App 31 Goals 5
February 2004 - March 2004 Nottingham Forest (on loan)
App 6 Goals 1
July 2004- Hull City Free
App 66 Goals 14
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