‘Perchinho’ tells all: Rows with Pardew, drinks with Colo and Reina’s ‘headbutt’ (2022)

James Perch did not want to leave Newcastle United. If it had been up to him, he would have been returning to Tyneside for pre-season training in July 2013.

Instead, he was at Wigan Athletic’s Christopher Park training ground finalising a £750,000 transfer. As he was undergoing the medical, Newcastle’s manager Alan Pardew tried to call.

“Pardew left me a message saying, ‘Look, I wish things would have turned out better for you at Newcastle but I wish you all the best. You were great for me, give me a ring back’,” Perch says. “But I never called him back. I couldn’t be bothered talking to him because of how angry I was with how I’d left. I didn’t want to speak with him.”

Almost seven years on, Perch still hasn’t returned that call.

“No (I haven’t spoken to Pardew). I didn’t see why I should bother picking up the phone to call him back, I was just so angry,” he says. “I felt let down by the Newcastle board. I never wanted to leave and I felt I’d been forced out.”

During the first half of the 2012-13 campaign, Perch had arguably been Newcastle’s most consistent performer, playing so well he was often keeping Cheick Tiote, their much-coveted midfielder, out of the team. A contract extension beckoned.

“Pardew pulled me into his office before January 2013 and said, ‘Look, we’re going to offer you a new contract but just hang fire because I’ll be busy sorting out signings in January, then we’ll give you a new deal’,” Perch says. “I was cool with that, got my head down and kept playing. Then January passed, Pardew called me back into his office and said, ‘The club aren’t going to offer you a new contract’. I was stunned. I felt so let down.”

As that season wore on, Perch found himself selected to train in team shape before matches — which usually signified Pardew had chosen you for the starting XI — only to get a phone call later to inform him he would not be playing.

“When it came to the end of the season and Wigan came in for me, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got a year left at Newcastle, I could maybe stay here and fight for a place in the team at a club I’m not sure actually want me any more, or I could leave and play regularly rather than risk being dumped out the side and spending the final year of my contract on the sidelines’,” he says. “So going to Wigan was the best option in that sense.

“Looking back now, I kind of regret it because I didn’t want to leave. But, equally, I didn’t feel wanted. I can remember going to get my shin pads off Tommo (Ray Thompson), the kitman, on my last day and it was just sad because I felt like I was loved by all the staff, and the fans had come to love me as well.

“I wanted to stay but I felt the club’s board made me leave. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Rewind three years and Perch’s introduction to life at Newcastle was as turbulent as his exit would be, albeit in a markedly different way.

It would be almost 18 months into his time on Tyneside before the affectionate “Perchinho” nickname would arrive. Before that, there were plenty of tribulations.

Having joined from Nottingham Forest for £1 million in summer 2010, Perch accumulated what many would view as an unwanted record. In his first five top-flight matches, he picked up five bookings — a Premier League first.

“It still stands!” Perch tellsThe Athletic enthusiastically during an hour-long phone interview. The 34-year-old has been furloughed by his current club, Scunthorpe United of League Two, since mid-April. With his contract up this summer, he faces an uncertain future. But he is still happy to reminisce. “At the start of every season, I watch out to make sure I keep that record! I want to keep it. I’m quite proud of it. It’s unique.”

At the time, however, it was not an achievement he wanted highlighting.

“I didn’t mean to do it, obviously,” Perch says. “I’d come from the Championship and, I’ll be honest with you, that step up to the Premier League was a shock to me. I was a yard off it when I first joined Newcastle and that’s why I kept getting booked. It was because I was not up to the standard yet.”

Perch’s problems only snowballed. On his return following suspension, he scored the late own goal that condemned Newcastle to a 2-1 home defeat against Stoke City. As he walked off the pitch, some of the St James’ Park crowd booed.

“That was a terrible day for me,” Perch says. “It’s never nice to get jeered and that hit me hard. For the rest of the season, I was in and out of the team and, if I’m honest, I didn’t think there was any way back.”

So low was Perch’s self-confidence, he suspected even his team-mates did not “trust” him.

“We had strong personalities at the club.Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, Alan Smith,” he says. “These are Premier League-seasoned players and, for my first six months, I’d kind of failed them.

“The hardest thing was going into training thinking, ‘These lads probably don’t even trust me, they probably don’t think I’m good enough’. I had to look at myself and work even harder to try and win them over.”

For Perch, that 2010-11 season was psychologically difficult. Although he describes himself as “mentally strong”, he accepts that his initial struggles affected his self-belief.

“When a club the size of Newcastle came in for me, I just couldn’t turn that down,” Perch says. “But the dream didn’t match the reality at first.”

Born in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, Perch progressed through Nottingham Forest’s academy and made his professional debut as an 18-year-old. Across the next six seasons, he made almost 200 appearances in the second and third tiers.

“I could probably have left Forest sooner if I’d wanted to, but it was my club, where I grew up and came through,” Perch says. “When Newcastle came in for me, I was shocked but delighted.”

The first approach was in January 2010 when Newcastle were marching towards the Championship title. But as a rival for automatic promotion, Forest manager Billy Davies would not sanction a deal mid-season.

“I used to go into Billy Davies’ office every day and say, ‘Newcastle want to sign me and I want to go’. But he just wouldn’t let me,” Perch says. “He said, ‘If they’re still interested in the summer, I’ll let you go’. Six months is a long time in football and Newcastle could easily have said, ‘We don’t want Perchy any more’. I was worried the chance had gone. I was gutted.”

Colin Calderwood, Newcastle’s assistant manager, had coached the versatile midfielder/defender at Forest and kept in contact. The transfer materialised that summer but, within six months, both Calderwood and manager Chris Hughton had left St James’ Park.

“It was kind of bittersweet really, because Chris had brought me to the club, and I love him, but he’d also taken me out of the team,” Perch says. “Chris going and Pardew coming in, I just thought, ‘I’ll get my head down and try to impress the new manager’.”

Despite hoping for a fresh start, Perch’s relationship with Pardew “wasn’t great” early on. Having barely featured under the new manager, Perch was given a run-out for the under-23s against Manchester United in the March to regain match fitness.

“Derek Llambias (the managing director) and Pardew were there because I was supposed to be playing left-back in the first team the following weekend,” Perch says. “Ravel Morrison spun and tried to get around me and I caught him with my arm trying to block him. It wasn’t malicious but he’s turned around and booted me, so I’ve grabbed him by the throat. It was handbags, really.

“We went for each other and we had to be separated, then the referee sent us off. I had to walk past Llambias and Pardew as I’m heading to the changing rooms. It didn’t go down well.”

Perch played just twice more that campaign for a total of 34 minutes.

“Pardew had me in running on a Saturday,” he says. “He ran the legs off me as a punishment and I didn’t like the way he did it. One Saturday, I was running with the fitness coach and there are cones on the opposite pitch. I said to the fitness coach, ‘That better not be for me running because I’ve run non-stop. I’m not doing it’.

“So training finishes and Pardew says, ‘That’s everyone done, get inside. People staying out are Perchy, Stephen Ireland, etc’. I said, ‘Gaffer, I’m not doing it’. He said, ‘You are!’ I said, ‘I’m not. I’ve told you I’m not running any more. I’ve run about 10 marathons in three weeks’. And I walked off.

“He came into the dressing room and pulled me into his office. We had a right argument where I stormed out and slammed the door. I didn’t play much for a long time.”

By the summer, Perch’s Newcastle stay appeared destined to be over after a solitary season. Pardew took the first-team squad to the United States for pre-season but sent Perch to the Netherlands with the under-23s.

“It was hard,” Perch says. “For the manager not to take me on that tour, I thought, ‘I haven’t got a future here’.”

Newcastle made tentative attempts to offload Perch but nothing came up — aside from his agent floating a loan move to Derby County. “I’m a Forest boy so I shut the door on that one. I wouldn’t want to join my bitter rivals”.

Fortunately, over time, Perch believes Pardew came to respect his previous insubordination.

“He was pissed off but I think he thought, ‘He’s got a bit of fight in him, I like that’,” Perch says. “I can remember an away game at Stoke (in October 2011), which is when it kind of started to turn for me with him.

“I was on the bench and we were under the cosh. He said, ‘Go on, run around and tackle everything that moves’. I did, we won 3-1 and from then on I think he thought of me in a different light.”

If that was the moment Perch sensed a shift in Pardew’s perception of him, it was five months later, during a 3-1 victory at West Bromwich Albion, that his bond with supporters was forged and the “Perchinho” nickname was born.

“We came off at the break with Fabricio Coloccini injured and it was like, ‘Shit, who’s going to go centre-half?’” Perch, who was playing left-back that afternoon, says. “The manager said, ‘Right. Perchy, you play centre-half’. I played really well and I just remember hearing a new chant from the crowd. At first I didn’t know what it was but it got louder and louder. They were singing, ‘We’ve got Perchinho!’”

It was the first time the nickname had ever been bestowed upon him and he has embraced his cult-hero status ever since.

“I love it,” Perch says. “Obviously it is a bit tongue-in-cheek but I’ve taken it as part of my identity. People still call me it now and, when they do, it reminds me of Newcastle and that makes me smile.”

That 2011-12 season was the making of Perch at Newcastle and was also the club’s most successful campaign of a wearisome decade.

“We had a team with players who were largely unknown in the Premier League, like Tiote and Yohan Cabaye, but they had so much quality,” he says. “And Hatem Ben Arfa was unbelievable. He is the best player I’ve ever played with, just because of what he could do and how he could win a game for you.

‘Perchinho’ tells all: Rows with Pardew, drinks with Colo and Reina’s ‘headbutt’ (1)

Perch said Ben Arfa (far left) could have been among the world’s best players (Photo: Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

“If he had the right mentality and the right guidance, he could have been classed in the tier below Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres. He was that good. But you never knew which Hatem you’d get. I’d go into games thinking, ‘Please Hatem, be on it today. We really need you’. If he was, we’d usually win; if he wasn’t, it was like having 10 men.”

Perch saw action at right-back, centre-half, left-back and in central midfield throughout the season, with his adaptability crucial in helping Newcastle secure a fifth-placed finish.

But this begs the question, what is Perch’s actual position?

“I was a centre-half,” he says. “When I got to the Forest first team, they probably thought because of my build and energy I’d be better as a right-back or in midfield. They maybe thought, ‘If he comes up against a big Adebayo Akinfenwa-type of bruiser centre-forward, he might not be able to deal with it’.

“Now? I do think I could still play centre-half at a higher level where there’s less long-ball and it’s more about using your brain. In the lower leagues, I’d be more suited to playing right-back or midfield because of that size element. But I’m still versatile.”

Being the “utility man” has benefits and drawbacks. So how does Perch feel his flexibility has affected his career?

“It might have prevented me staying at a higher level for longer,” he says. “If I just played in one position, I could work on it week to week and get better. But when you’re chopping and changing, it’s hard to get consistency.

“But, on the other hand, I’ve always said I might not have played as many games had I not been so versatile. I’ve loved playing different positions. My understanding of the game is so much more than other players because I’ve been in those roles. If a manager said, ‘The left-back’s injured, will you play left-back?’ I’d just say, ‘Yeah, of course’. Newcastle fans clearly appreciated that.”

It was while covering at centre-half against Liverpool in April 2012, in a match that saw Newcastle old boys Jose Enrique and Andy Carroll both returning to St James’ Park, that Perch drew controversy nationally.

“Going into the game, it was all about Big Andy coming back,” Perch says. “Craig Bellamy was on the right wing for them and a couple of times he got past Jonas Gutierrez and I covered across and smashed him. He didn’t like it. I didn’t like Bellamy anyway because you see him — I don’t know him — but he’s always moaning and crying, so I intentionally served him up some hard tackles.

“Then, later, Pepe Reina caught the ball. We’d said before the game that he likes to catch then boot it really fast, so whoever was near him should stand in his way. So I did. He pushed me and then ‘headbutted’ me. I fell to the floor and it all kicked off. He was sent off. Looking back now, I regret going down like I did but… who cares?

“The fans saw the funny side and hammered Jose when he got the gloves and went in goal. But my memory is of Reina as he got sent off. He said, ‘Me and you, in the tunnel afterwards’.

“Then he took his top off as he walked off the pitch and he was absolutely massive! I remember thinking after the game, ‘Ah, no. I’ve got to go down the tunnel and fight him now’. Luckily, he wasn’t waiting for me.”

‘Perchinho’ tells all: Rows with Pardew, drinks with Colo and Reina’s ‘headbutt’ (2)

Reina “headbutts” Perch at St James’ Park (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Perch and Newcastle’s reward for their success in 2011-12 was an “unbelievable” Europa League campaign that took them to destinations including Bruges, Kharkiv in Ukraine and Madeira, the island off Africa that Cristiano Ronaldo hails from.

“Those European away trips were my best times in football,” Perch says. “We used to travel on the Tuesday, train at the stadium the night before and then play. A couple of years before, I’d watch Chelsea and Liverpool in the Champions League, seeing them training on the pitch and thinking, ‘Wow, that’d be cool’. Then I was doing it… incredible.

“The manager used to say, ‘No drinking on the flight home’, but then I’d be playing cards at the back with Coloccini and Jonas, who had sneaked drink on and would be swigging away. The atmosphere was unbelievable.”

Perch made 81 appearances across three seasons, but that campaign brought his solitary Newcastle goal — and it came at Old Trafford.

“My brother was a Liverpool fan so as a kid I chose to support their biggest rivals,” he says. “I loved Manchester United growing up but, at Newcastle, I hated them because of how they acted. I used to love Ryan Giggs but I couldn’t stand him after we played them. I grew to hate Man United purely because they were like cry-babies when they lost.

“Before that game, we’d done our research. I was playing in midfield and John Carver, Pardew’s assistant, said to us, ‘If we get the chance, shoot across David de Gea and he’ll parry it’. Demba Ba ran down the right and I sprinted past Rio Ferdinand, Demba shot, De Gea parried it and it landed to me, on my left foot. Everything just went to plan, even if they got a jammy goal like they always do to win it (4-3).

“But there’s no better place to score your only goal than Old Trafford. I still show my kids it now. I bet they’re sick of seeing it because I play it to them all the time!”

‘Perchinho’ tells all: Rows with Pardew, drinks with Colo and Reina’s ‘headbutt’ (3)

Perch celebrates scoring past De Gea after a tip from Carver (Photo: Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Although they struggled domestically, being dragged into a relegation battle, Newcastle advanced to the quarter-finals in Europe, where they faced unbeaten Benfica in Lisbon in April.

“The night before the game, me, Ryan Taylor and Dan Gosling were playing FIFA on Xbox in the hotel,” Perch says. “The three of us always used to play and Tayls was the worst, he’d always get so angry.

“I scored against him and he got so mad he flying-kicked the telly. Completely smashed it up. The next day when we checked out, we had a £700 bill and obviously we made Tayls pay it. He’d kicked it off the table!

“To make matters worse, Steven Taylor, the big dope, kneed me in training. I couldn’t cough, I couldn’t laugh, and it didn’t seem like I was going to be able to play. They had to give me an injection and eventually I managed to play for an hour but I wasn’t right for the rest of the season.”

Despite losing that first leg 3-1, Perch insists the squad still believed they could advance and even go on to win the tournament. But their failure to strengthen the previous summer meant Pardew had to balance both competitions.

“I was fuming when the gaffer didn’t pick me for either of those games, given that I’d played with an injection,” Perch says, reflecting on the 1-1 second-leg draw with Benfica and an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat to arch-rivals and fellow strugglers Sunderland three days later. “We were so stretched that it cost us in both competitions, there’s no hiding from it.

“The gaffer would rest a few star players but still send me, Mike Williamson and Danny Simpson to Europa League games and then we’d play on a Sunday because he didn’t have a choice. Playing Thursday-Sunday is tough and you don’t realise it until you do it.

“It comes down to the fact we only bought Vurnon Anita in the summer after finishing fifth. All the players had been thinking, ‘Come on then, let’s bring some good players in and kick on’. We’d been at our absolute maximum to get fifth and needed some help.

“We were really disappointed because we felt we didn’t get any backing. We felt how the fans felt. We understood the fans’ frustrations because we were feeling exactly the same.”

Perch’s exasperation at the Newcastle hierarchy only increased as that 2012-13 season progressed. Not only did his promised contract offer never appear, he also grew suspicious of why he would be named in the side at training and then dropped.

“It happened at a few times,” he says. “I don’t think the club viewed me as being as big of an asset as maybe Cheick, Vurnon or Cabaye and so there was a desire to get them in the team, even though I was playing better than them.

“In January, when we were playing Villa away, and Pardew had me in the team in training. Then he said to me, ‘Perchy, everyone wants Cheick to play but I’m going to put you in instead, so make sure you play well’. It sounded like he was under pressure to play Cheick and Vurnon. Then, in Kharkiv (a month later), when Cheick was ill, Steve Stone, the first-team coach, told me I was playing that night so I went to sleep in the afternoon.

“Then I got woken up by a call from Stoney, ‘Perchy, you’re not playing. Vurnon is’. Immediately, alarm bells started ringing for me because that was the second time it’d happened.”

Come the summer, Perch travelled to Las Vegas for his stag do with team-mates Shola Ameobi, Williamson, Ryan Taylor, Gosling and Rob Elliot, determined to enjoy himself, despite the uncertain situation over his future.

“Jonas was going back to Argentina and I told him, ‘I’m having my stag do in Vegas and if you want to come, there’s an invitation there’,” he says. “But I didn’t necessarily expect him to. Then one morning I woke up and Jonas was there. He just turned up. It was weird but it was a great effort from him to come over. What a bloke.

“We got up to some things on that trip. They had outfits for me every day. I was Apollo Creed, Mr Motivator, I had a joker’s hat. There was a bad-shirt night and a pool party with matching speedos. It was good to blow off some steam and forget about the situation.”

After returning from Vegas, Perch made the reluctant decision to leave Newcastle.

He joined Wigan in the Championship, “a wonderful family club where I had a great time”, and he has enjoyed a similar experience at Scunthorpe.

“Playing regular football has been a breath of fresh air,” says Perch, whose contract is up next month. “The chairman has been great and, while he can’t offer me anything now because of the coronavirus situation, he’s not ruling anything out. He’s told me I can look elsewhere and I do want to keep playing but, with how everything is, I haven’t really pushed because clubs don’t know their budgets yet.”

In between his Wigan and Scunthorpe spells, Perch spent three years at Queens Park Rangers, despite admitting “I’d always choose a club in the north ahead of one in the south because I just don’t fancy the London lifestyle”. And, although he did not settle in the capital, QPR offered him his sole opportunity to return to Tyneside as a player in 2016-17.

“I never thought I’d get the chance to go back and play against Newcastle,” Perch says. “But they’d been relegated and I was so excited to get the chance to say goodbye properly. I’d left under a bit of a cloud and I wanted fans to hear my story, about how much I appreciated them and how I didn’t want to leave. After the game, the fans sang, ‘We’ve got Perchinho’. It was so good to see those supporters still appreciate me, like I do them.”

He has vowed that 2-2 draw in February 2017 will not be his final visit to St James’ Park. Post-retirement, Perchinho will return as an adopted Geordie.

“Me and my wife have always said if we could move Newcastle, as a city, down to Nottingham — because that’s where our families live — we’d live in Newcastle,” Perch says. “We loved it. Everyone was so friendly. That’s how much love we’ve got for Newcastle and, when I retire, I’ll definitely come up to watch games.

“I’ve still got all my Newcastle shirts in my garage and pictures with ‘we’ve got Perchinho’ on that fans painted for me. I just loved it and I’ll never, ever forget playing there. I never wanted to leave. It’s still quite raw now.”

(Top photo: Ian Horrocks/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Horacio Brakus JD

Last Updated: 08/22/2022

Views: 5446

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Horacio Brakus JD

Birthday: 1999-08-21

Address: Apt. 524 43384 Minnie Prairie, South Edda, MA 62804

Phone: +5931039998219

Job: Sales Strategist

Hobby: Sculling, Kitesurfing, Orienteering, Painting, Computer programming, Creative writing, Scuba diving

Introduction: My name is Horacio Brakus JD, I am a lively, splendid, jolly, vivacious, vast, cheerful, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.