Pat Heard started his career at Everton before earning a European Cup winners' medal with Aston Villa in 1982 and going on to enjoy a successful career with Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough as well as home-town club Hull City. But it was a move to Brunei at the age of 32 that really opened Heard's eyes to life beyond British shores. Adam Bate caught up with him to find out more...
How did the move to Brunei come about?
Mick Lyons was out there as manager and I knew him from our time at Everton and Sheffield Wednesday when we'd been team-mates together. I just got a phone-call out the blue asking if I'd fancy a season out in the Malaysian league playing for Brunei - it was a country but they still played in the Malaysian league.
I didn't have a clue where Brunei was in the world or anything about it. But at that time in my life I wasn't doing anything. I'd retired or should I say football had retired me. Nobody wanted me anymore. So they sorted my tickets out and that was it, I was on my way. No agents involved!
What were your first impressions?
When I arrived it was Ramadan. I'm not a religious person and had never come across things like that before. It was very religious out there. You even had religious police and everything else. It was a very strict Muslim country and the rules were not to be broken.
That was a culture shock because it affected the way we trained, what we could eat and what we couldn't eat... And what we could drink and what we couldn't drink! It was a dry state so there were no bars or nightclubs. It was a big change!
How did you get around that one?!
On our days off we could actually jump in our car and go into Malaysia. Brunei is on the island of Borneo but there are two states of Malaysia also on the island and they were normal rules. You could get beer there.
So we used to travel. It took us maybe an hour of driving through the jungle before you got to the border. It was like something out of World War II. You checked your car out of Brunei and then you'd have 100 yards of no-man's land before you drove to the Malaysian border.
After half an hour you came to the first town which was a small fishing village where you could buy beer and spirits. We used to spend the day there rather than be bored in Brunei sat twiddling our thumbs.
Some interesting trips then?
Oh yeah. The first away trip we went on was catching the plane which was unbelievable to us at that time. We got to the hotel which was fantastic - all paid for by the Sultan of Brunei. And then we played the game, got beat four or five to nil, that was our usual score, and on the way back they were six seats short on the plane to get back to Brunei.
So six of us had to catch a plane to an island off the coast of Brunei and then catch a catamaran that took us through the jungle back to Brunei via the rivers and tributaries. That was an eye-opener. My first experience of an away trip and I just thought it was incredible. Very different to crossing the Pennines via the M62 on a late night!
And what was the actual football like out there?
It was the first time they'd gone full-time and we actually trained at the stadium. It was so hot and humid you could only run for 10 minutes before you were sweating and everything else. I don't want to sound naïve but the Muslim faith that I saw in Brunei - having to stop training to pray - it was all new to me.
I didn't know that the Muslim person couldn't eat during daylight hours during Ramadan. We were expecting them to train and the local lads were literally passing out on us. They were physically collapsing as it was 40 degrees in the summer.
I'd say the standard was a mixture of Championship and League One level. But what did strike me was that we used to think of football back then as just being in England. I really was cocooned to the idea that football was just an English thing. This is where you stayed, this is where you played your football. Aside from one or two guys going to Italy, all this moving abroad didn't happen. Nobody was going to Malaysia.
So when I went there I just couldn't believe that this part of the world was actually football barmy. It was incredible. I thought to myself, why did I not come here years ago? Why have I left it so long to visit this place where you were getting 12,000 to 20,000 in tiny little villages? Why was I messing about in the third and fourth division in front of crowds of 3,000 to 4,000 when I could have been here?
It just opened my eyes to football being a massive global thing. And I've never looked at it any differently since. It was a fantastic experience. You do think that English football is the be-all and end-all. You're taught that England is the place to stay and sometimes maybe it isn't.
Did you see much of the famous Sultan of Brunei?
The Sultan didn't come to any of the games but his son was massively into his football. He loved it. Every home game that we played at the stadium he would be there so it would be a massive occasion a bit like Wembley.
We'd come onto the pitch and he'd come down from the royal box. Of course, for the local players on both teams this was their royalty. It was a big thing for them. The national anthem was played at every home game and it was a real royal occasion. You couldn't move until he'd got all the way back to his throne and bowed his head!
It was funny because the team was rubbish. I don't think there were half-a-million people who lived there. If you think that half of them were women and then half the men were too old, the other too young... We were literally picking from maybe 500 who were a decent standard.
Then you needed to find guys who were willing to play. We used to have to go on four-day road trips. Well that's a big commitment if you've got a family and you have to be away for four days. So even the ones we wanted to play could say no.
We really did struggle. We didn't win a game until 15 games into the season and we were getting beaten threes, fours and fives. But the lifestyle was fantastic so I didn't mind that side of it too much.
Speaking of the results, did you experience any problems with match-fixing?
Haha. Right. It was '94 and I think that was the year Bruce Grobbelaar and Hans Segers had gone up in court [on match-fixing charges]. If I hadn't gone to Brunei I wouldn't have believed there was ever such thing as match-fixing because I'd never come across it in football in Britain. I'd never been approached, never heard anything and never did anything.
But then when I went to Brunei, it was rife. It was absolutely everywhere. When we used to go to the away games, in the days before mobile phones, myself and Mick Lyons used to take all the telephones out of the hotel rooms. We had to physically go round and remove them so that none of the local players were bribed by the bookmakers.
We were playing for the richest country in the world but we weren't getting fantastic wages. The temptation was there for the players because even if they weren't found out then they were only suspended briefly as a 'non-trying player'. You'd effectively be let off after a couple of games with no real punishment.
After a run of 15 defeats we beat this team 2-0. What used to happen was that the coach of the other team would take our trainer out before the game and this guy told us that they'd lost four players that week for taking bribes. I asked them how much money they were talking and it was 50,000 ringgit - that was the equivalent to about £12,000 at the time. Serious money!
I remember going to Singapore and they needed to win the match to more or less win the league. We had two men sent off, two penalties given against us in the first-half and the game ended 5-1 because the referee gave us a penalty in the 85th minute which wasn't a penalty. As we all know now, it's not about who wins but about the score. The referees would influence the score massively.
I was totally naïve. I didn't think that went on but obviously it did go on and I'm sure it is still going on. But that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I still love that part of the world. I've got such happy memories. When I meet up with Mick Lyons now, it's all we talk about - the times in Brunei and the things we got up to.
So with a lot of players drifting out of the game, you'd recommend a move abroad?
Definitely. If you cannot make the grade here or even if you just fancy a change, have a go at it. It opens your eyes to so many things, you meet different people and experience different cultures.