Following on from part one of Paul Anderson's #MyJourneySoFar, our midfielder talks us through the rest of his career to this point.
Returning to Liverpool before a first taste of the Championship…
“Following my season at Swansea, there was always a two-year plan with me at Liverpool. I signed a new contract and they were pleased with my progress, they acknowledged that I did well and now wanted me to prove it again in the Championship. Then at the end of that season a decision would be made as to whether I’d be in and around the first team at Liverpool moving forwards or whether I’d be sold.
“I ended up signing for Forest which I was still delighted with because they’re a massive club and they’d also just been promoted along with Swansea. The move to Nottingham made me a better player because that year we had a couple of different managers in Colin Calderwood and Billy Davies, so I was learning about different styles of play and learning from different coaches which is what a loan spell is all about. So it actually turned out better for me and my development moving to Forest as it was a different experience for me as a young player compared to it possibly being more of the same with Swansea.
“We only just avoided relegation that season so that was my first year where football was genuinely hard and it was a big realisation in terms of how difficult the Championship is. I then signed permanently at the end of that season and it’s a club where I really felt at home. It’s not too far away from where I was based, and I was still very young, so I possibly didn’t appreciate quite how good we were over the next couple of seasons that went by. We got into the play-off semi-finals twice but ended up losing on both occasions to the eventual winners.
“We were such a good team under Billy Davies, and who knows what might have happened if we had a different 45 minutes against Blackpool that year in the play-offs as we were winning at half-time in the second leg. It just goes to show the fine margins in football but I look back on my time there with really fond memories, I learned a huge amount and I was proud to have spent four years at a club like Forest.”
A move to Bristol City which unfortunately didn’t quite go to plan…
“Due to the sad passing away of Nigel Doughty, Forest were in the process of being taken over by new owners. So, at the time, as they were under due diligence, they couldn’t offer new contracts to players until everything was resolved. So that summer, although I wanted to stay, they couldn’t offer me anything at the time, so I spoke to several clubs as I was out of contract. Derek McInnes, who’s now at Aberdeen, was the manager at Bristol City and he was ringing me three times a day wanting me to sign.
“I was hanging out for Forest because the issues were nearly resolved, but it was dragging along and Bristol City were showing good ambition, so I took that option and we were looking to have a really good season in the Championship. It’s a shame how it panned out though because although we had a talented squad, things just didn’t work out at all and we ended up getting relegated. I didn’t get to play much which was strange because they were so keen on signing me at the start of that season, but people have different opinions on what certain players can bring to the team and I didn’t fit their bill for one reason or another.”
Back in the Championship with Ipswich Town…
“We’d just been relegated to League One with Bristol, and they were really keen on signing Jay Emmanuel-Thomas from Ipswich. A few of the lads I was with at Bristol had already signed for Ipswich earlier that summer, and there was a couple of players I’d played with at Forest there, too. Those players were on the phone to me saying Mick McCarthy was thinking about signing me. Because it was a swap deal with Emmanuel-Thomas it was quite complicated so it took a bit of time, and although I had to take a pay-cut to leave Bristol I was desperate to get back into the Championship and play as high as possible.
“I had a good two years with Ipswich and we managed to get to the play-offs again and we arguably over-achieved during my time there. We had an amazing team spirit and ethic, which is what Mick McCarthy teams are known for. We didn’t play the most beautiful football, but we were winning games and getting the results we needed only to just fall short in the play-off semi-final. Ipswich offered me a new contract halfway through that second season, and just as it was almost agreed everything was suddenly put on hold until we knew the result of the play-offs which came as a surprise to me. At the time, I was sorting out contracts myself because I had some disagreements with my agent, so there were a number of other agents trying to get involved which actually prevented me from signing for Charlton later that summer because they all wanted a cut of the deal, so the contract was pulled away.
“There were offers from other Championship teams but they kept disappearing, and I hold my hands up because it was a huge mistake of my own to try and sort things myself and through other agents. Phil Parkinson was on the phone to me over the summer saying he’s interested at Bradford City if nothing else materialises, and the later it went on the more likely that deal was becoming.”
Signing for Bradford City and returning to League One…
“Bradford are a massive club and they were very ambitious that season, and although it wasn’t the level I wanted to be at I was still determined to do well. We were one of the favourites to go up but a few weeks after signing I broke my leg, and that was tough to deal with mentally particularly after such an unsettling summer. However, the team did well and managed to get into the play-offs but fell just short in the semis again.
“It was a strange time for me but I learned a lot about myself that year, I learned a lot about how much I did enjoy football because I was out for so long. When you’re injured, you’re away from the squad for a long time but it made me understand football more and I learned a lot. I’d been out injured for a long time but going in to the next pre-season I was feeling fit and ready to help the team push for promotion again, but then the new owner, who’s moved on now, said I wasn’t justifying my wage because I’d not played the previous season (due to my broken leg) and he didn’t want someone like that in the squad, so he gave me four days at the end of that summer transfer window to find a new club.
“We came to an agreement on deadline day to release me from my contract, and I had a choice between Colchester United and Northampton Town.”
Getting back to regular football with the Cobblers before a tough time with Mansfield…
“At the time Northampton were in League One, and it was a great chance for me to come in and get back to playing regularly again. It’s commutable from my home so it worked out well. I was just desperate to play football. I was pleased with my first season here and considering all of the changes from the previous season both in players and staff, staying in the division that season was a big achievement.
“I was pleased with my own contribution and managed to get a few goals and made a good number of appearances. At the time I was possibly thinking I’d done enough to get a decent move after my contract expired but I had Steve Evans from Mansfield Town in my ear, and they were showing huge ambition to get out of the division. I got on really well with Steve and he was desperate to get me to join, and they were signing some top players for League One let alone League Two, so although I didn’t want to drop down another division it was very ambitious and I wanted to give it a go.
“It ticked boxes because again it was close to home, I would’ve been going in as one of the more experienced players so had a leader role and I could start my coaching badges on the side, so I agreed to sign. Steve Evans ended up moving on and the manager that came in after him had completely different opinions on me. He came in and wanted to assert his authority on the dressing room, and Zander Diamond and I found ourselves out of favour.
“I then had over a year of training on my own with college kids and the under 18’s. It was tough to take because 3-4 years earlier I was playing in the Championship play-offs on the edge of going into the Premier League, whereas now I was miles away from being involved at a League 2 club through no real fault of my own.”
Dealing with some dark days and bouncing back…
“When you’re not playing and when you’re away from the first-team environment, you do miss it. I was in a very dark place because of how I was being treated, and I’m just very fortunate that my family and friends were so supportive. My Dad was there for me from day one, my wife was unbelievable when I was coming home devasted, it got to the point where I didn’t want to leave the house. It was a tough time and I know its only football, but it’s my life and it’s all I’ve known. I don’t mind people slagging me off about my football or ability, but when there’s false claims about your character and how you are as a person it makes you question yourself.
“Thankfully, I managed to get through that period and we finally agreed that I could leave the club. My mental health and my family’s happiness were far more important to me than anything I missed out on financially by taking their deal, so it was the right decision to move on. It was a risk because again it was on deadline day and I didn’t have any options and hadn’t played competitive football for a long time. I think at the time if I had something as a back-up career, I would’ve left football completely. But because I didn’t, and I was still only 30, I had to try and make something work and get my reputation back.
“I went down to Plymouth, and although things weren’t going too well there and I didn’t manage to start a game, it was just an unbelievable feeling to be back involved in a first team environment. It was a breath of fresh air and I was enjoying being back training. I’d got fit just towards the end of the season but the manager was under pressure and the club got relegated so it was possibly a risk to start me, but it was just nice to have a team of people believe in me again and have me in and around it. I met some good people, made some good friends and it made me realise I’m not prepared to give it up just yet.”
Getting in touch with Keith Curle and re-signing for Northampton…
“I had a firm offer on the table from a club last summer but it wasn’t quite the right move at the time, and I was being informed of a few other offers but nothing materialised. I’m based in Leicestershire, so I was looking at it and looking to sort my own deal having been let down again by agents. I contacted Keith Curle myself as I knew him from his Notts County days, so I messaged him and wondered whether I could come in and train.
“He’s a good guy like that, he helps players and was up for giving me a chance. I classed it as a trial and backed myself knowing I could offer something to the team. I’m very fortunate that he gave me that opportunity and we came to an agreement that was fair for everyone. I feel I’m paying that faith back and it’s genuinely been one of the most enjoyable spells in my career. We’ve had a good season so far, a good run in the FA Cup and it’s been a good time with a great set of lads.
“It’s just a shame that we’ve had to stop when we did because we were gearing up nicely for the run-in, and we’re hoping we get the opportunity to carry that on when the time is right. Hopefully we can at least get to the play-offs, but football isn’t important right now and there’s much more pressing issues, so we’ve got to do what’s right and follow the government’s guidance. All we can do is keep as fit as possible and be ready for our eventual return.”