Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Steve Sidwell.
Sidwell is remembered fondly by Brighton & Hove Albion fans following two spells at the club which came at the beginning and at the end of an impressive career.
He remains a popular figure at the Amex to this day and took up a coaching role within Brighton’s academy following his retirement from the game.
Returning Players – Steve Sidwell
First Spell at Brighton
Steve Sidwell first joined the Seagulls on a loan deal from Arsenal in November 2002 with the club looking to avoid relegation from Division One (now Championship) following back-to-back promotions in the previous two seasons.
He arrived at the Withdean Stadium with plenty of experience, despite being aged just 19, after playing 35 times for a Brentford side that reached the Division Two play-off final in 2002.
A temporary switch to Belgian side Beveren followed but a lack of game time meant a return to England and a subsequent first move to Brighton.
The midfielder made the best possible start for the Seagulls after scoring on his debut in a 2-2 draw away at Preston North End, netting the equaliser as Steve Coppell’s side recovered from 2-0 down to take a point from Deepdale.
He was on target again in a 3-2 defeat away at Nottingham Forest four days later, but Coppell’s men couldn’t quite manage to overturn a 3-0 deficit at the City Ground and left the East Midlands empty-handed.
Sidwell scored five goals in 12 appearances for Brighton that season and despite trying to tie him down to a permanent deal, he left to join Reading on a permanent deal in January 2003.
Teams Sidwell Played for in Between
The midfielder would go onto stay in Berkshire for four-and-a-half seasons in what turned out to be a successful spell at the Madejski Stadium.
Like at Brighton, he made a quick impression with the Royals and scored a brace in just his second appearance in a 5-2 win away at Burnley.
But the season was to end in play-off agony for Sidwell and Reading after they were beaten 1-0 by Wolves in the final to deny them a place in the Premier League for the first time.
He was a mainstay for Reading in his first full season at the club and made 48 appearances across all competitions, scoring nine goals, but the campaign was an underwhelming one as the club finished ninth.
A further 47 appearances followed in 2004/05, but Reading missed out on the playoffs once again and finished seventh – three adrift of eventual winners West Ham United in sixth.
But the following 2005/06 season was an unforgettable one as Reading romped to promotion to the Premier League with 106 points to secure the Championship title, and Sidwell scored ten goals in 37 outings.
At the age of 23, Sidwell found the net on his Premier League debut in a 3-2 opening day victory for the Royals over Middlesbrough and went on to score in a 3-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur before netting a brace in a 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa.
The young midfielder made 37 appearances and scored four goals in his first season at the top level, before he made a high-profile move to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side in July 2007.
But a lack of game time under Mourinho, and latterly Avram Grant, saw him make just 25 appearances across all competitions, scoring just once as the Blues finished second in the Premier League and lost to Manchester United in the Champions League final.
A move to Aston Villa followed in July 2008 for a fee believed to be in the region of £5 million, but Sidwell made a slow start to life in England’s second city.
He made his debut in a UEFA Intertoto Cup tie against Odense BK, but picked up a calf injury before a knee problem on his return in a reserve match in September.
Sidwell registered 25 appearances and scored four goals in his first season at Villa Park, with his momentum halted by a separate hamstring injury which saw him ruled out from January through to May, as Martin O’Neill’s men secured an impressive sixth-place finish in the Premier League.
Injuries blighted Sidwell’s time in the West Midlands, and despite making 33 appearances in the 2009/10 campaign, an Achilles problem stopped him in his tracks the following season and he returned to London to join Fulham in January 2011, linking up with Mark Hughes for the first time.
Sidwell made his debut in a 2-0 win over Stoke City and subsequently scored in the Cottagers’ games against Liverpool and Arsenal that season.
The 2012/13 season was largely uneventful for Sidwell and Fulham as the West Londoners secured a respectable 12th-place finish and the former scored four goals in 33 appearances that campaign.
But 2013/14 was a forgettable campaign for Fulham who were relegated to the Championship following a 13-year stay in the top flight.
Sidwell left at the end of that season to be reunited with former Fulham boss Hughes at Stoke City, with the Potters riding a crest of a wave after securing a ninth-place the previous season – their highest-ever Premier League position.
A lack of game time and a knee ligament injury denied the experienced midfielder from making a significant impact in Staffordshire. He featured just four times for the Potters in the 2015/16 season, before making a January loan move to Brighton.
Return to Brighton
Sidwell became Brighton’s fourth signing of that 2016 January transfer window to add to an already strong midfield that included the likes of Beram Kayal, Dale Stephens and Andrew Crofts.
The midfielder made a total of 18 appearances across all competitions in the second half of the season, scoring in a 2-1 win away at Nottingham Forest.
The season would end in heartache for the club after narrowly missing out on automatic promotion to the Premier League on goal difference and subsequently losing 3-1 over two legs to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals.
But the following season would go down as one of the greatest in Brighton’s history, with promotion to the Premier League secured.
A further 37 appearances across all competitions came for Sidwell and he netted once. That came in the form of a fantastic long-range effort from the halfway line in a 2-0 win away at Bristol City, prompting an emotional team celebration paying tribute to the absent Anthony Knockaert following the death of his father.
Sidwell stayed at the club, but a troublesome back injury saw him miss the entirety of Brighton’s first season in the Premier League, prompting his retirement from the game.
But he remained at the club in that aforementioned coaching role and combined this alongside his various media commitments.