Apologies if previously posted... delete or move.. Belfast bombs and owing Harry Redknapp interesting read, walk a step in my shoes before you make an assumption. It is 24 years since Grant McCann first boarded a flight out of Belfast to begin his career in English football but even now the memories are still painfully clear. “It was horrible,” he says with a wry smile. “I cried all the way on the flight to Stansted and it was a while before I stopped. I must’ve cried from 16 to 17. One whole year.” Sat behind his office desk at Hull City’s training ground, McCann is recalling how it all began for him as a self-doubting teenager consumed by homesickness. His precocious talent as a central midfielder had first been spotted at the age of 14 by Harry Redknapp and two years later, once his school days were over, came the start of his apprenticeship with West Ham United. The Belfast boy suddenly found himself a long way from family and friends. “I was in a dark place,” he added. “I was staying in digs and for the first year I probably wanted to go home every week. “At 16 I was thinking I was nowhere near good enough. I had no real belief in myself as a footballer. I just wanted to go home. I’m not sure how I stuck it out but I did.” That bleak year spent living in Barking – in a house he shared with future Manchester United and England star Michael Carrick – turned out to be the making of a young McCann. The pull of home gradually began to wane as progress was made up through the Hammers’ fabled academy and within three years McCann had the made the first of what turned out to be 582 career appearances with West Ham, Livingston, Notts County, Cheltenham, Barnsley, Scunthorpe, Peterborough and Linfield. Another life in coaching is now underway with ambitions of getting back to the Premier League, but City’s head coach is well aware that he could have strayed down a very different path. “I owe my parents a lot because they forced me to stay there,” said McCann. “You have to remember there was no mobile phones when I was 16. There was no Facebook or Twitter. I think we were allowed one or two phone calls a week. “Even though my mum would ring every night, we weren’t allowed to phone them. That was all part of growing up and moving away from home. It was very tough. “I was getting £42 a week. We got everything paid for but even still I was asking my mum every week for money. “I think to this day they’ve kept the receipts for what they gave me during my two years of the apprenticeship. The bill was thousands.” Belfast, the city of his birth, was where McCann yearned to be for those 12 months. Raised in Sandy Row, a staunchly Protestant area, he had spent his upbringing playing football in the streets with friends and younger brother Ryan. “If I hit the top corner of the church gates in my mum’s street then I knew it was a good goal but I also had to get a new ball,” he laughs. “That cost my mum a few quid.” Yet Belfast was a city badly pockmarked by conflict throughout McCann’s formative years. “It was all I knew,” he said. “I grew up all through the Troubles. That was probably one of the big reasons my mum and dad wanted me to move away. “I remember a thousand pound bomb at the Europa Hotel, missing that by a few seconds having been at a Glentoran v Linfield game. “We lived right in the centre of Belfast and the Europa Hotel was the most bombed hotel in all the world at one point. We’d been at the Oval, Glentoran’s home ground, coming back over the Boyne Bridge turning into our street and bang, we missed it by seconds.” London, says McCann, felt quiet in comparison. “There’s the Falls Road and there’s Sandy Row,” he explained. “I lived in Sandy Row, very much a Protestant area. The Falls Road more Catholic. “There was animosity all the time. You had to be careful where you went, even in the city centre. “You were just never quite sure what was going on. It wasn’t a nice place to grow up in but you ended up getting used to it. You knew where you could go and where you couldn’t go. “It was the way of the world back then where we lived. The amount of times we’d come into close contact with something, whether it was the Army or a bomb going off. “Police and Army would walk about with guns and we’d be walking around the street playing football. Thankfully it’s very different now.” McCann’s roots inevitably pushed him in a clear direction when it came to his first football loves. Glasgow Rangers and Linfield – two clubs with a strong Protestant following – were who a young McCann followed. “I loved Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup, people like that,” he said. “I bleached my hair once to be like Gazza.” McCann, though, did not need peroxide to stand out from the crowd. As part of an all-conquering Lisburn Youth side that also included future international team-mates David Healy and Aaron Hughes, the midfielder with a sweet left-foot was attracting increasing interest by the advent of his teenage years. “We ended up being the best team in Northern Ireland, right the way through to under-16s,” said McCann. “In my opinion I was only average. But for whatever reason I got watched and scouted by Harry Redknapp at 14. I never thought I was good enough but ended up signing for West Ham at 14 on a four-year deal.” Had he known Redknapp was watching? “I had no idea. He took four of us over. Myself, Aaron Hughes, David Healy and another lad called Alan Parker, who went on to sign for Tottenham at the time. “I was the one that signed for West Ham. David went to Man United and Aaron went to Newcastle. It was a big culture shock. At the time I didn’t really know too much about West Ham. It was all Liverpool or Man United growing up in Belfast.” West Ham’s heralded “Academy of Football” run by Tony Carr shouldn’t have needed any introductions. Few clubs have produced so many of their own and McCann found himself in the youth ranks alongside eventual Premier League winners Carrick and Joe Cole, as well as future City stars Richard Garcia and Gary Alexander. “The grounding I had there was fantastic,” he said. “People like Julian Dicks, Tim Breacker, John Hartson, Neil Ruddock. Big characters. Paolo Di Canio as well. “I had a really good upbringing and had a greater understanding of the game, but I always felt inferior to them. “I was walking past them in the corridors wondering how I’m ever going to break past these guys. “Neil Ruddock, John Hartson and Iain Dowie were great with me. I’d probably come from a similar background, a similar journey. “There was some in there who looked down at you but that’s all part of the upbringing. You can’t do it nowadays. I remember the physio wouldn’t let me leave until every single bit of tape in the physio room was parallel and set to where he wanted it. It’d be classed as bullying now.” McCann chooses his words carefully when he looks back on those days. He might not do regrets but he would do certain things differently if he had his time over. “When I signed my first professional contract and they wanted to keep me, that’s when I started to think I might be good enough,” he said. “But I still wasn’t doing the right things. I was still messing around in nightclubs. I’d better not go into too much detail in case my wife reads this. It was just gallivanting really, like any teenager. “I don’t have regrets because it’s made me who I am today but maybe I could have stayed in the Premier League longer than I did. I didn’t live my life right off the pitch.” McCann had loan spells with Livingston, Notts County and Cheltenham before a Premier League debut came in May 2001 as a sub in West Ham’s 2-1 loss away to Middlesbrough. Another three appearances came early the next season but a disastrous 7-1 defeat at Blackburn, including an own goal, proved to be McCann’s final game for the Hammers.