Almost 14 years after his debut, the early stages of 2013 have heralded the conclusion of defender Danny Senda’s on-pitch career, but as the popular former Wycombe Wanderers and Millwall man looks ahead with vigour he also casts a glance back at those who made an impression on him during his playing days, with an Adams Park favourite heading the list.
A dislocated kneecap suffered in January 2012 while playing for Barnet would ultimately signal the end of Danny’s career despite a lengthy and committed fight to return to action. The 31-year-old can however take immense heart from the connections and friendships he made with players, staff and supporters during his time as a player with five Football League clubs. A one-time Southampton youth, his emergence in the game arrived with Wycombe Wanderers, a club he is fondly remembered at to this day with Blues fans one of the sets of supporters to send him heartfelt messages of support during his last injury and subsequent retirement.
Danny’s debut for the Adams Park side came as a late substitute for long-serving midfielder Dave Carroll on March 27th 1999 in a 3-0 home win over Oldham Athletic in the third tier. His eight-season stay with the Chairboys was his longest spell at a club and provided him with memories he will never forget, including the team’s unprecedented run to the FA Cup semi-final in 2001. On the day of his debut, manager Lawrie Sanchez made a double-substitution by introducing Danny for the aforementioned Scotsman Dave Carroll, and bringing Jermaine McSporran on in place of young forward Andy Baird. While he may have replaced a Wycombe stalwart in Carroll that day, there was another firm Blues favourite who was suspended for the match but someone who Danny would learn a great deal from on and off the pitch.
“Steve Brown was a big help for me early on in my career,’’ Danny said. “He really took me under his wing at that time.’’
‘Brownie’ was a Martin O’Neill signing for the club from Northampton Town back in 1994 and in a decade at Adams Park the fans really took him to heart, turning out in numbers for his testimonial with Premier League Aston Villa in 2005. Danny also named the former Chairboys assistant manager as one of the big music fans he shared a changing room with over the years, as well as a past interviewee on this site, a frontman he worked with at Barnet.
“Steve Brown definitely knew his music and would play the kind of stuff that you wouldn’t know unless you were 78 years old! Lloyd Owusu was also one of the better ones and was big into his music and did a lot of DJing.’’
Although he featured as a wing-back, in midfield and even as a striker at one time, Danny operated primarily as a right-back and he linked up with a number of players down this side of the pitch. When discussing the Wycombe teammates he enjoyed working with the most there were a couple that immediately came into the conversation, both of whom were familiar with the right flank.
“Obviously Kevin Betsy, I think that was probably the best season (2005/06) for both of us when we got into the PFA Team of the Year (League Two). Darren Currie was one of my partners down the right just before Kev and we had an incredible understanding with each other too.’’
Before his departure for Millwall in August 2006, Danny had spent over seven years in and around the Wycombe first team and in the 2000/2001 campaign he had begun to establish himself under Lawrie Sanchez. He featured 41 times that season including in the FA Cup third round as the Second Division Blues defeated Grimsby Town after a replay. Although Danny’s participation was then kept to league action the team beat Wolves and Wimbledon to reach the quarter-finals.
Against Premier League opposition in Leicester City at Filbert Street, Wycombe triumphed as Roy Essandoh’s famous injury-time header secured a 2-1 victory and a place in the semi-final against Liverpool, who would win the competition as well as the League Cup and UEFA Cup that season. Danny recalls this amongst his most memorable games at the club and gives an insight into the managerial team talk that stuck with him from this time.
“I had some great games at Wycombe but the ones that I remember most we didn’t actually win. There was the game against Aston Villa (September 2005) in the Carling Cup where we lost 8-3 but were 3-1 up at half-time.
“Even though we went on to get battered the first-half was incredible for us and we were all sat there in the dressing room at half-time shocked. There was also one against Macclesfield (January 2006) – we were 3-0 down before pulling it back and going 4-3 ahead, and then losing it 5-4.
“The best team talk I had was when we played Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final. Lawrie Sanchez is a man of few words generally but he had a speech prepared for this one.
“It was quite moving and I think that was reflected in the performance we put in against them. They won three trophies that year and we matched them for the majority of the game before they beat us 2-1.’’
Danny’s list of former managers includes the Championship’s longest-serving boss, Millwall’s Kenny Jackett, but he names the Wycombe gaffer from November 2004 to June 2006 as the one he enjoyed working with the most.
“Probably the best I had was John Gorman. I think he just summed up how I wanted to play, he played the right way with the passing game and it fit perfectly for me.
“If it wasn’t going well he wasn’t the type who needed to be shouting or hollering in the dressing room. He was more like a Grandad figure and it was like you’d let him down and you didn’t want to feel like that.’’
In any team it is common to find a mix of personalities and in many cases a blend of cultures too. This can lead to some intriguing music and dance moves and can inadvertently have a galvanising effect on the players, as Danny recalls with a laugh.
“Sergio Torres is obviously from Argentina and he brought some dodgy Latin music with him to Wycombe. There were some crazy dance moves as well and it would get us laughing.’’
Although his extended stay with Wycombe meant he could slip under the radar for a while with this, Danny’s moves to Millwall, Torquay United, Bristol Rovers and Barnet led to him having to eventually face up to the challenge of singing for his teammates.
“I’ve done it a few times and I went with ‘Stand By Me’ (Ben E. King). The first time I did it was when I went to Millwall and you have to do it the night before a game, after dinner.
“You sit there nervous and you can’t concentrate on your food! The most memorable I’ve seen was probably Ali Fuseini (at Millwall) – he’s an African boy so he did a song in this thick Ghanaian accent.’’
Danny’s own tune choices are perhaps slightly removed from his ex-Lions colleague Fuseini’s, but a Jamaican duo fixed in 90s musical folklore make a cameo appearance!
“The first CD I bought was I think Chaka Demus and Pliers ‘Tease Me’. I must have been 11 or 12 and it was one from the school discos!
“I don’t really have a genre, I just like good music. I’m a fan of house, alternative like Ben Howard, right down to Kings of Leon.
“I dislike stuff like the eurotechno music, which my missus actually likes. Cascada and all those – that’s not for me!’’
Gigs and festivals are largely the settings in which you can find the dedicated music lovers, and holiday destinations can also provide the backdrop for such a scenario. Brighton striker Craig Mackail-Smith talked on here about how he was able to blend in at Download Festival but it is not always a viable option for players to get to these events, as Danny explains.
“I’ve been to a few, Wireless, Lovebox in Victoria Park, and now I’m not playing I’ll try to get to a few more. They’re usually when you’re in pre-season as a player so it’s hard to go along but hopefully I’ll be able to go to ones like Reading and V (Festival).
“I was big into garage music but I found the scene a bit aggressive at the time. I have been to Ibiza six or seven times though.’’
Career-wise, August 2006 signalled a move up from League Two to League One for Danny, a division he had experienced before, as he made the switch from Wycombe to Millwall. On his 87th appearance for the Lions he grabbed his first goal as he netted against Swindon Town at The County Ground in May 2008. A dislocated knee would sadly follow that afternoon before history would repeat itself for Barnet in January 2012. Danny had a series of operations before his departure from the club in 2009 but representing the South Londoners was something he thoroughly enjoyed.
“I had a few options before I signed but for one reason or another the talks with Luton didn’t lead anywhere, that’s just how football is. In hindsight I’m glad because I went on to have a really good time at Millwall and it was incredible for me.’’
Injury is arguably the saddest part of football for those who play the game but Danny’s persistence and will to work his way back to full fitness was eventually rewarded when Paul Buckle signed him in September 2010 for Torquay United. It was to be a brief association with the Gulls and in February 2011 he joined Bristol Rovers of League One, playing 15 games in their ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation. After impressing his former Wycombe manager Lawrie Sanchez in pre-season he signed at Barnet for the 2011/12 campaign. In the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area final with Swindon he sustained a recurrence of the knee injury that eventually brought the curtain down on his career, despite rehabilitating at the club’s impressive training ground, The Hive, after his contract expired.
On February 26th this year, Danny announced his retirement from football at the age of 31, publicly thanking teammates, managers, club staff and supporters, as well as his family and friends. After such a huge part of his life spent out on the field, I wanted to get his thoughts on what he believes his time as a professional player taught him.
“I think it’s what it teaches you about yourself and it does shape you. It’s a ruthless game and as much as you meet some fantastic people you also meet some difficult ones.
“You learn how to deal with situations, to grow up and not to get drawn into things. As you approach 30 as a footballer you’re always told that you’re too old but in the real world you’re still young.
“Hopefully my career has shaped me to be a good guy.’’
The positive impact that Danny had on people at the clubs he represented was shown in the well-wishes he received last month and he is focusing his efforts on working with those in the game in the future. This is also the chance for him to enjoy the other side of life after so long dedicating everything to his sport.
“I’m going to start my coaching badges this summer and if I do want to go down that route it will be with the view of becoming a manager more than a coach, so it’s the first step on that ladder. I’m also a qualified movement specialist which I’ve been training for the last two years and I’m working with a company that helps players to avoid injury and keep their body in the best condition.
“There are a lot of sacrifices that you make as a footballer and I’ve got a chance to do the small things like going to a festival as we mentioned earlier. I’ll also probably be going away on holiday in a few weeks to somewhere with a beach, which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do previously, so I’m looking forward to that.’’
For the memories he enjoyed at Wycombe it seems right to have a final word on the club from Danny and it is most definitely a case of ‘home is where the heart is’ when he talks about the place and the people.
“I was there a very long time and I met some fantastic people, some of which will be friends for life. I played for some great clubs but I always say Wycombe is my club.
“I made my debut there, I scored my first goal there and I grew up in the area. It’s a special club and the fans are friends to me as well.’’
Having paid tribute to the colleagues who helped him along in his career, Danny had plenty to choose from when taking on this question. I asked him to put together a 5-a-side team (including himself) of the best players he has ever worked alongside and with memorable moments and teammates fresh in his mind it was likely to be difficult for him to narrow it down to four individuals. He managed it though and Wycombe fans will enjoy the sight of four of their former players in the team (Danny included), with Millwall’s all-time leading goalscorer leading the charge up front.
“I’ll probably upset a few people here with leaving them out! In goal, Martin Taylor from Wycombe – he was incredible and he won Player of the Season three years on the bounce.
“Roger Johnson (defence) – he would probably head a brick wall. He’s all or nothing, he refuses to even lose at cards and I’d like him in my team.
“Darren Currie (midfield) – technically you need a bit of flavour in your team and he’s got that in abundance. Finally, up front, Neil Harris – a legend, to put it bluntly.
“He pops up with important goals at important times and he’s not affected by pressure. To score so many for one club in Millwall is incredible.’’