While Liam Ridgewell first made a name for himself at Aston Villa, the London-born defender’s football education actually began much closer to home with the team Remi Garde's men will be facing tonight, West Ham United.
The Bexleyheath native spent two years in West Ham’s academy but eventually opted to leave his local club to join the Villa setup in 2001 at the age of 16, when he was yet to make the transition from midfield to the backline.
Explaining his decision to make the move to the Midlands while appearing as a guest on Sky Sports' Fantasy Football Club last week, the now Portland Timbers centre-back said: “It was a tough thing to do. At the time, I was playing central midfield and I saw the likes of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Richard Garcia all ahead of me breaking into the first-team.
“I just looked at it and thought that by the time I come through they’re still going to be there and I’ve got to try to dismantle one of them, so I thought I’ll have a change, go to a different city and try my luck. Thankfully it panned out.”
Ridgewell’s decision ultimately worked out well in the end, as the 31-year-old went on to skipper Villa’s 2002 FA Youth Cup-winning side and earned his first-team debut for the club eight months later following a loan stint at Bournemouth.
In total, the former England Under-21 international made 93 senior appearances for the claret and blues between 2003 and 2007, scoring seven goals, before taking in successful spells with Midlands rivals Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, respectively.
He has since been playing in the US with the Timbers for the past year-and-a-half and proved instrumental in helping the Oregon-based team win their first-ever MLS Cup title last season, captaining the side in the absence of the oft-injured Will Johnson.
“I think everyone looking at the start of the season didn’t expect it to happen,” added Ridgewell, who is currently playing on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion until 21 February, when he will return to Portland ahead of the 2016 MLS season.
“We knew we had a good group of players but the main thing was for us to get in the playoffs and see what happens. But it was an unbelievable feeling to win it and we deserved it in the end.”