I’ve followed horseracing and greyhound racing all my life and I’ve always enjoyed a punt. It was inevitable really because I was picking out horses in the paper before I could read and write with my nan Maggie Brown, who used to collect all the bets from our road in London’s East End and then slip them to the bookies’ runner, ‘Cyril the Paper Boy’. It was illegal of course in those days, and I’d quite often see her being taken away by the police in a Black Maria for a slap on the wrist, but that’s how it was. That’s how it started for me, and then when I went to West Ham the team was full of punters, and so it went on.

Racing is nowhere near as popular among the modern-day footballers as it once was. In the old days most players had similar working-class backgrounds, and we’d go to the dogs on a Friday night, whether we were playing at home or away, and then there would be bets on the horses or football coupons on the morning of a match. These days our top footballers come from all over the world and the big clubs usually only have one or two British players.

When I was managing Bournemouth, the club was skint but there were some great lads there and a few of us decided to get a racehorse. We called her Slick Cherry, as Bournemouth were the Cherries and the dam was Slick Chick, and we had her with David Elsworth, who at that time was just up the road at Whitsbury and had all those great jumpers like Desert Orchid, Barnbrook Again and Cavvies Clown, as well as top Flat horses. Slick Chick ran at a much lower level, but Elsie is a fantastic character as well as a great trainer, so they were great days. I remember one day he called me and told me Slick Chick had worked all over one of his good horses and was ready to win wherever he went. So, with my wife Sandra, her sister Pat and Frank Lampard senior, we schlepped all the way down to Chepstow for the last race on a Saturday, and he bolted up at around 9-1. I’d told all of my pals, so that was a very good day.

I’m told I’ve had more than 20 trainers over the years, but that’s probably because I’m a bit of an easy touch, and not because I fall out with them. Sometimes people I don’t even know ring me up with a horse, and I’ll listen to their story and maybe get involved. That’s how it happened with Brian Toomey, although in his case I knew the story of how he was keen to embark on a new career after pretty much coming back from the dead following that horrible fall at Perth. Brian wasn’t in a very good place when he rang me and so I said that if I could help him then of course I would. When a yard came up, I went along to look at it with him, along with James Reveley, who flew over from France. It’s a lovely yard, and I was keen to find a horse for him. It meant more to Brian than it did to me when Wake Up Harry won at Kempton just before Christmas, and I was thrilled for him.

I’ve never had a problem with any of my trainers. I just want it to be fun and for them not to be too busy to talk to me. I don’t have a racing manager, so I deal with them directly, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I’ve currently probably got about ten horses in my own name, plus shares in a few others. I’m very lucky as I’ve got three good horses with Ben Pauling in Shakem Up’Harry, The Jukebox Man, who I think is a proper horse, and Bowtogreatness, who we also think the world of. I’ve also got another nice one called Recoup with Fergal O’Brien.

I’ve had some good horses on the Flat too, including Moviesta, who won the King George at Goodwood and another Group race in Ireland, but I probably enjoy jumping more nowadays. I worry about injury more than on the Flat, and the prize-money for winning sometimes won’t even cover a month’s bills, but I’m just as happy getting wrapped up for a winter afternoon out with the old farmer boys at Wincanton as I am going to Royal Ascot, where 90 per cent of the people attending aren’t interested in the racing.

Racing people are my kind of people and I’ve got to know quite a few who are prominent in the sport. I’m lucky enough therefore to get invited up to the Royal Box at Cheltenham and that sort of thing now and again, but to be honest I probably enjoy the other meetings there more than the Festival itself. I expect I’ll go at least one day, but it’s so big now and I find myself getting pulled about a bit as I give everyone my time. I don’t like to be rude to people, but I sometimes get asked for a photo even when I’m watching a race. It can get a bit too much and so it’s very tempting nowadays to watch racing at home on TV with the Racing Post and a cup of tea, betting on the phone.