When 18-year-old Andy Impey caught the eye of First Division side Queens Park Rangers in 1990, it was his shot at the big time. Recommended by the late scout Bobby Ross because of his raw pace and pinpoint crossing ability, QPR offered Impey a chance to impress on trial.
“I remember playing at the training ground,” recalls the former right-sided player, “and only getting two decent crosses in during the entire match.
“I thought I’d blown my chance. If I was watching myself play that day, I wouldn’t have signed me. But thank the Lord that they saw something.”
Impey’s career had actually started with Wimbledon as an apprentice but, after a disagreement regarding holiday entitlement, he left Plough Lane to head out into the real world.
“I found a job as a double glazing window fitter and it meant that I was on £71.50 a week, which at the time felt like a million dollars because I was earning £29.50 as an apprentice [at Wimbledon],” says Impey.
He hadn’t completely given up on football though and combined his new occupation with turning out for non-league side Yeading FC. Inspired by the stories of his childhood hero, the Jamaican Alan ‘Skill’ Cole, he worked his way into the first team and became a vital component of the side that led the Ding to a league and FA Vase double in 1990.
It was his performances in that excellent Yeading season that caught the eye of Queens Park Rangers. And, despite his apparently abysmal performance in the aforementioned training match, manager Don Howe signed Impey.
“In the first year of training every day [at QPR], it was hard and it took me the whole season to adapt,” says Impey.
“The second season was hard too but I felt like I was playing some half-decent [reserve] games so I asked to go out on loan to get some experience.”
By that time, Gerry Francis had took over at Loftus Road and he wasn’t keen on Impey leaving the club on a temporary basis. He called him into the first team instead.
And so began a meteoric rise for the Hammersmith-born youngster. Able to play at full-back or on the wing, he was a fixture in the QPR first team for many seasons.
Featuring alongside the likes of Les Ferdinand and Ray Wilkins, QPR finished 5th in the inaugural Premier League season.
The following seasons were even more successful for Impey, on a personal level. By then a regular in the first team, he won the club’s Player of the Year award in 1993, 1994 and 1995 and was quickly establishing himself as a fans’ favourite.
His popularity has been enduring –there is even a Facebook group, ‘Andy Impey for a knighthood’, which promises to push for Impey to become Sir Andy. Would he ever accept such an accolade?
“I can’t say Buckingham Palace has been in touch yet,” laughs Andy, “but there’s no way I would accept it as there’s way too much bad history behind the whole empire.”
Impey’s talents may have been recognised in another way had his solitary England under-21 cap ever progressed to full honours. England weren’t short of options on the right hand side, though, with the likes of Darren Anderton, Steve McManaman and, later, David Beckham, occupying the right flank.
“I got called into a ‘B’ squad get together but that’s as far as it went. I wasn’t good enough – it was as simple as that in my eyes,” states a philosophical Impey.
He left QPR in 1997 after seven years at the club, signing for West Ham United for £1.2million. However after just a season he was on the move again – this time to Leicester City.
“I was due to play for West Ham against Derby when I got a call to say I couldn’t play as the club had done a deal with Nottingham Forest,” recalls Impey.
“I was given permission to go talk to them but Harry Redknapp didn’t know anything about that and went mad because I was in the team for the game.
“In the end I was left out and was due to meet with Nottingham Forest, but on my way there I had a call from Frank Sinclair saying Leicester were interested so before I knew it I’d met with Martin O’Neill and signed for Leicester.
“It was obvious they [West Ham] didn’t want me, so I was off! It was a shame because we had some very good players like Rio [Ferdinand], [Frank] Lamps and Shaka [Hislop] to name a few.”
In six years at Leicester City he played over 150 times and won the first League Cup of the century, coming on as a substitute in a 2-1 win over Tranmere Rovers. Surely Impey is full of praise for his boss at the time, Martin O’Neill?
“I found him slightly weird,” says Impey, “but he’s very good at what he does.”
“In my opinion not enough credit is given to Steve Walford [first team coach at Leicester, and now Sunderland]. He was the main reason that the lads’ dressing room banter was so good. You worked hard but with a smile on your face.”
“Every manager I’ve worked with I have enjoyed learning from but the stand out ones were Don Howe for his attention to detail and coaching skills, and Gerry Francis. But then he went to the dark side!”
The ‘dark side’ Impey is referring to reveals his colours. A fanatical Arsenal fan, Impey is dismissive of all things Tottenham Hotspur-related. One of the things that may perhaps irk him is the fact he never got to pull on the red jersey of his beloved Gunners. But that dream nearly became a reality.
“When Stuart Houston and Bruce Rioch were in charge at QPR, Bruce Rioch told me he had enquired about me while he was managing Arsenal. That would have been a dream come true.
“But, being a West London lad, playing for West London’s number one club fulfilled most of my dreams.”
Impey signed for Nottingham Forest in 2004 for a brief spell, and after a similarly short-lived period at Coventry City, he hung up his boots in 2006.
Since then, he divides his time between looking after his family and watching his beloved Arsenal – unless they are playing ‘up north’. If they are, he instead ventures back to his old stomping ground, Loftus Road, and dreams of the two decent crosses that won him a contract all those years ago.
ANDY IMPEY’S FAVOURITE CLASSIC FOOTBALLER
“I’d say anyone that played for that mob down the road in N17! They’ve been obscure for years! I think it would have to be Roy Wegerle, AKA ‘The Trickster’!”