Tomasz Kuszczak on his time at West Brom
In an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes, Tomasz Kuszczak looks back on his two years at West Brom.
The former goalkeeper reflects on his time at The Hawthorns, reveals he still has the MOTM champagne bottle from the Great Escape season, talks about THAT save versus Wigan and says he shouldn’t have left West Brom.
I’ve still got my MOTM bottle of champagne from that draw at Old Trafford
The game against Manchester United was one of the best moments in my career. Getting a move to the Premier League was a very special thing for me as a young player – it was an incredible feeling to visit some of those stadiums, especially Old Trafford because I always grew up supporting Man United.
To play at Old Trafford was a massive achievement for me, so early in my career. I was reserve goalkeeper behind Russell Hoult in that season, and I was just starting to get to know more about the Premier League and the pressure and pace of the game. I actually made my debut against Fulham a couple of weeks before. I had a good game, and then I went back to the bench.
And then came the game against United, which I was on the bench for. We were in a difficult position in the table with two games to go, bottom of the table with a slim chance of staying in the division. And we had to go to Old Trafford, where United needed to win to keep their hopes of finishing in the top two alive. We were two completely different teams; one fighting for survival without any real hope and the other in a completely different position.
After 20 minutes, Russell Hoult got injured and I was called for action. I can still remember my body at the time, and how I felt. I didn’t know what to do, I was just focused on my job and I tried not to think about the occasion. Then all of a sudden I made one big save, then two, then another and another and before you know it the game was over and we’d drawn 1-1. I won man of the match and had my first interview on Sky Sports. Can you imagine how that was for me? Nobody knew who I was; I was a young Polish kid just coming to the Premier League and suddenly I’m getting millions of calls from all around the world.
I’ve still got the man-of-the-match champagne bottle from that game. I’ve kept it. It was such a huge day for me. Then, a couple of days later we were back in training in West Bromwich, playing box to box and I was flicking the ball all over the place, backheeling it and trying all of these fancy tricks, and all of the lads were laughing at me. I was so confident and comfortable; I had so much positive energy because of that game, and luckily I could carry that into the biggest game of the season, on the final day against Portsmouth.
That final day of the season was crazy, just the whole atmosphere inside the stadium from start to finish. You always hear that phrase about supporters being the 12th man but I never really believed it until that day. The atmosphere around the place was so positive, it didn’t matter what else happened in the Premier League that day, we knew we were going to win our game.
The West Bromwich Albion fans are among the best supporters I’ve played for. I remember a couple of years after leaving the club, I played against them for Manchester United and when I walked onto the pitch for the warm-up, the whole stadium was singing my song. I felt so good. I think I had a special connection with the fans at the time. So even when I moved to United, I’ve still always said West Brom fans are up there with some of the best in football. In those few years I was there, it was tough. We were losing game after game, but they always backed us. Every game was a full house, and we could really feel the support. The Great Escape, for me, was for the fans – they fully deserved a memory like that.
THAT save versus Wigan Athletic
I’ve obviously watched that save against Wigan a few times over the years, and fans always remind me of it. But it was a long time ago, so you can’t find it anywhere in 4K, it’s like these old cameras so it’s really blurry to watch! It tells you how old I am now.
Happy birthday to our former goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak 🎉
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) March 20, 2017
Footballers finish their careers and leave the sport with a collection of memories from over the years; some good, some bad. You remember the good stuff, but you remember the mistakes just as much. This one, for me, stays with me as one of my best memories. It was a moment in my career where everything went perfect. I felt like Superman. I felt like I could do anything. It gave me so much confidence.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have left West Brom when I did
When I first moved to West Brom from Hertha Berlin, it was Thomas Gaardsoe who I was probably closest to; he was actually my neighbour when I moved to the city. My English wasn’t very good at the time – it’s a lot better now – and Thomas helped me, as did Zoltan Gera. Jonathan Greening was a fantastic player who helped me settle in as well, and Steve Watson – those two especially looked after me.
I was a young kid, but they were all fantastic with me. Kevin Campbell and Darren Moore also spring to my mind. It’s such a funny story with Moore, the centre-half, when I met him for the first time. He’s the biggest man I’d ever seen in my life. When I first walked into the dressing room after signing my contract for the club – I got to the dressing room a little bit early just so I could prepare. I start to get changed and this big guy comes in – bigger than anyone I’d ever met. I was like ‘who is this man?’ I didn’t know him at the time; it was all so new for me.
I was thinking ‘if this is one of my defenders, I’m in big trouble’ because I always had a big mouth on the pitch; I would always shout at players. And I just thought there was no way I could shout at this guy without him ripping my head off.
Anyway, he introduced himself to me and he was the loveliest guy I’ve ever met. He shook my hand and looked after me from that point. He’s such a good guy – he’s a legend.
I was still so young when I left the club for Manchester United, and it was hard for me to leave because of the memories I’d already made in my short time at the club. But it was such a big move for me, especially as a Manchester United fan, and I really thought I could make it as their number one. I knew if turned down the opportunity to sign for United, I’d never get the chance again. We know how Sir Alex Ferguson is; if you say no to him, you’re never going to get that opportunity again.
It was heart-breaking for me to leave West Brom. I’d been performing so well for the club and I really felt like the fans were behind me. I believe we could’ve gone on to even bigger and better things. But I had the chance to join the best team in the world; I just had to take it. I think, in hindsight, I could’ve stayed another two or three seasons and that might’ve actually helped me to push on and challenge Edwin van der Sar at United, because when I arrived at Old Trafford I was still so inexperienced. If I’d have stayed at West Brom, I’d have experienced some time in the Championship and more Premier League game-time.
I used to think about it quite a lot; if I’d have just stayed at West Brom for a couple of seasons instead of moving when I did, I really think I could’ve challenged Edwin and convinced Sir Alex I was good enough to start week-in, week-out.
I’ve not been back to the club for years, but I promise as soon as I can, I’ll be there. When I was a Birmingham City player, it was difficult for me to go and watch West Brom, but I was supporting and watching them. Now that I’m old and retired, I’ll definitely go and see them again soon. I love the stadium – I always did.
I’m so proud of Sam Johnstone… I text him all the time
Sam Johnstone is doing a fantastic job in goal for West Brom. I keep in contact with him; I text him all the time. We’re good friends and he’s a fantastic keeper. I’m proud of him, because he was at United with me as a kid, and now he’s doing what he’s doing for my old team and for his country.
I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a great character; he’s such a lovely man, always down to earth and he’s just a pleasure to speak to. He’s exactly the kind of player West Brom need to keep hold of.