Richard Sneekes was a shining light for West Bromwich Albion in what were pretty dark days for the club.
He helped the club survive the drop to the old Second Division in 2000, before they went on to the riches of the Premier League.
25 years later he still resides in the West Midlands and he is arguably more ingrained in life as an Albion fan as he has ever been.
Still friends with Baggies fans who used to watch him from the terraces, Sneekes is in regular contact with them and he is still adored by the Albion faithful who used to admire his silky skills and outstanding goals.
But the current situation at The Hawthorns has upset the Albion legend, and Sneekes believes the current owners have let the fans down badly.
A handful of prospective bidders are interested in buying the club from Gouchain Lai, who purchased the club four years ago from Jeremy Peace.
But after no significant investment and with Albion threatening to bounce between the Premier League and Championship again under Lai’s ownership, the fans have had enough, including Sneekes.
He said: “The takeover talk is good to hear. The group chat I’m in with fans has been going on about it over the last few days.
“When Lai took over there was high hopes. Under Jeremy Peace it was run well but there wasn’t massive investment.
“That was what fans hoped for under Lai, but it has never happened.
“Fans don’t see him, he has no involvement with the club, there has been no investment in the playing staff.
“And that is the type of thing that is needed to stay up.
“The fans are always excited going into the transfer market, but then it is never a big signing.
“It is just three loan signings right at the last minute.
“The fans have been let down by the owners. Football has changed and the way owners appreciate fans has changed.
“It is a drop in the ocean compared to the money in the game.
“There needs to be investments but it is being done on the cheap at Albion, and it is going to be another long hard slog this season.”
Sneekes’ name will never be forgotten in the Black Country for the huge part he played for Albion in the 90s and early 2000s.
There is no doubt he played a part in Albion’s revival at the turn of the millennium, despite not going on to represent the club in the Premier League.
He has admitted he finds it hard to take all the plaudits from Baggies fans to this day, and says it wasn’t just about individuals but a team that dragged the side to the verge of the big time.
“It is nice but you don’t do things on your own, that is the most embarrassing part of it probably,” added Sneekes.
“You talk about Maradona and he won titles and the World Cup on his own, but in our side we had the likes of Tony Butler mopping up behind me.
“Without him I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did, but he doesn’t get the credit.
“It is nice to be remembered like I am. It is better than being remembered for being a s**t player!
“But it is a bit embarrassing for me at times, but these people adore and love you.
“But as many Dad used to say, be normal because that is crazy enough, and be humble and respectful.”
Despite scoring the vital goal in a 2-0 win over Charlton Athletic to keep Albion from dropping down to the Second Division, Sneekes was deemed surplus to requirements just before Gary Megson’s side won promotion to the top flight against all the odds.
Sneekes is still disappointed about it until this day and admits he fell out of love with the game for a while.
He explained: “I was disappointed because I played 50 odd games that season, but I knew it was going to happen as I’d had a few run ins.
“I went to see John Wile and he said I was his player of the year but the club had decided to clear the decks.
“It was really disappointing, and I lost the love for football after that.
“My heart wasn’t really in it anymore, and after a couple of clubs I didn’t do anything in football again until I was 39.”
As well as being well known in the Black Country for is exploits in the blue and white stripes, Sneekes is now also a big name on the non-league scene.
He’s been at clubs such as Rushall Olympic and Dudley Town, and is now assistant manager at Redditch United.
He is driven on by the thought of helping potential talent make it higher up the ladder.
But has admitted the current situation with Covid and no fans is making it impossible for the club, and others at that level to resume playing.
He added: “It is really tough at the moment, where are clubs going to get the revenue to survive?
“A few weeks ago we had 600 fans in for a game that usually gets about 110.
“But now we can’t have any and can’t make money from serving food ad drink.
“But we still have a wage bill, and for these players the money is additional income for rent and mortgages.
“So how will clubs manage with no income, that is the big issue.
“But for me it is great helping young players who still have a dream of playing higher, to move up the ladder.
“It is great to give a helping hand to that.”
For now Sneekes will be prepping his charges for a return to action, and in the future will hopefully be able to visit The Hawthorns when restrictions allow.
But for now he gets his Albion chat in his fans Whatsapp, something that has brought him closer to the club he used to play for.
And the Dutchman feels that there isn’t enough of fan interaction in the game anymore, something that he believes has made him a better person in the long run.
He added: “The club is everything to the people around here, honestly it boggles your mind.
“They love football in Holland, but here it is something else.
“The passion for this club is amazing.
“I had that interaction when I played and the people I met then, I class them as my friends now.
“The current crop don’t get that, it isn’t there fault because they are protected by the cubs.
“But it certainly helped me being exposed to all of it when I played, and it made me more of a confident and well rounded person.”