YOU never forget your first break up, as Zat Knight will attest, heading back to the club that launched his professional football career.
At the turn of the millennium, the in-form defender was a fresh-faced 20-year-old looking to make his debut in the senior ranks at Fulham.
He was farmed out on loan to Peterborough, where then-boss Barry Fry plunged him straight into the action at Cheltenham Town... as a right-back.
Two months later, Knight had helped Posh into the play-offs and was looking forward to a potential game at Wembley when Fry pulled him to one side and said he was unlikely to feature in the semi-final against Barnet.
Peterborough won 1-0 against Darlington at Wembley, and 12 years, 372 appearances, more than £8million of transfer fees and two England caps later, Knight can still recall how his pride was stung on his return to Craven Cottage.
“I thank Barry Fry for the opportunity but in the end, when we did get to the play-offs, I felt a little bit more used than anything,” he told The Bolton News.
“I stayed for a month, and then the loan got extended. I didn’t play a single game at centre-half – I was a right-back taking long throws and everything.
“I had played every game until the manager pulled me aside to say I wasn’t guaranteed to play again.
“I helped them get to the play-offs but he wanted to use his own players so I thought ‘fine, I’ll go back to Fulham and go on holiday to Tenerife.'
“They got promoted in the end, so fair play. It would have been nice for them to phone me or give me a medal, but they didn't.
“That's football though, isn't it? I knew from an early age how fickle it can be. “You do a job for someone, get used and abused, then life goes on.”
In fairness, the early blow did not exactly knock Knight's career off course. A couple of years later he was commanding a place in Jean Tigana's excellent Cottagers team that romped the First Divison title ahead of Wanderers A quick glance around the web tells you that Posh fans still hold him in some regard, despite only eight appearances in all.
A Zat Knight fridge magnet is still puzzlingly available on one site.
“I went back to play for the under-21s at Fulham, then into the first team and played for the national team; they were all stepping stones,” the big man recalls.
“When you are that age, I think the loan system is really, really important. “I was training with all these big names in the Fulham first team, so Peterborough was a great experience.
“They have a good support and it's a nice little ground. I've been back once since, when we played a friendly there at Aston Villa.
“But I'm not really someone who looks back or takes notice when I play against a former club. It's more about the job at hand.
“For us it's a big game because I want us to stay in touch. There are a lot of teams on the same amount of points, so from here we can go north or south.
“We've lost one in nine now, although we've drawn a lot, but I think we've been playing okay.”
After seeing Peterborough topple Cardiff City last week, Knight is well aware that Peterborough's lowly league position is no guarantee of three points.
But after hearing grumbles from his own fans last weekend after the 2-0 win over Charlton Athletic, the former Villa man hopes those travelling down to London Road will show a bit more festive spirit.
“They will be on a high after the Cardiff win,” he said. “That result must have broken a few bets.
“Everyone wrote them off. They might be doing against us as well.
“But we will go there confident. We got a good win last weekend ourselves and if we play anything like we did last Saturday I think we can win.
“I know from the fans' point of view they were on our back a bit, but we got the result we wanted.
“As players, we have to forget that at the moment and do it for ourselves. It's frustrating that we have to win them over.
“I don't know if people think we're still a Premier League team, because we're not. We're in the Championship, so let's just deal with it and stick together.
“As players we've got to do that and the fans can help us as well, so if there's a message I can give them, it's just stick with us.”