Ron Springett In The Net - Sheffield Wednesday

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Reesh1867

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Sheffield Wednesday
#46 12/09/2019 at 09:15

Following on from the first instalment of our two-part interview in which Brunt reflected on his many managers, the veteran midfielder now talks us through a career that has seen rejection, promotion and sharing a hotel room with Darren Fletcher…

Chris Brunt is realistic enough to know he is in the autumn of his career.

If this 17th season is to be the last in the career of the current West Brom club captain, it will mark the end of a remarkable journey that almost ended before it began.

Had Brunt’s father Colin not talked him around as a homesick teenager on Teesside pining for the familiar comforts of Belfast, Albion fans may have been denied one of the most momentous careers of the club’s Premier League era — and Brunt might have missed out on a hell of an adventure.

There were many potential diversions on the road from Newtownbreda in the southern suburbs of Belfast to legendary status in the West Midlands, including overtures from Alex Ferguson, a shock rejection by Rangers and getting released by Middlesbrough.

Aged 16, Brunt moved from his family home to the north east of England just a few weeks after completing his GCSEs.

“I moved with another lad from Belfast and by the end of pre-season, he’d got a pretty bad ankle injury and gone home, ” recalls the Baggies’ skipper during a two-hour chat with The Athletic.

“My mum and dad actually went and registered me back into school (in Belfast) to do my A-levels because I was so homesick. But my dad flew over to see me. I think he phoned in sick for a couple of days to fly over and talk me round. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, was still at home and that made it a lot harder.”

Brunt’s better half, Cathy, has been part of his life for almost as long as he can remember. He met her as a schoolboy growing up in a city still dealing with its troubled past.

“I’ve known her and her family from when we were 10,” says Brunt. “We went to the same school. She ended up coming over to university in Middlesbrough, then I got released and moved to Sheffield and she just transferred her course. I’ve pretty much been dragging her around the country ever since.”

When Brunt was seven, a huge IRA bomb destroyed a forensic science laboratory and damaged around 1,000 houses just around the corner from his family home. But he remembers being shielded from the harsh realities of politics and violence, with football dominating his childhood.

“Politics doesn’t really interest me now and it definitely didn’t interest me then,” he says. “I was pretty oblivious to it and it didn’t make a big difference to me because the area I grew up in was pretty mixed. Protestants and Catholics were pretty integrated and I was brought up believing nobody was any different. You treated people how you found them, which is obviously the way it should be.

“A lot of people from Belfast, generation after generation, have seen far worse stuff than I have. It’s something you need to try to get away from but you can see why people can’t let things go after stuff that’s happened in the past. I was very lucky and we were kept away from it.

“The football team I played for when I was a kid was based in West Belfast near the Shankill Road. The team was based in a Protestant area but we had players from all over Northern Ireland — Protestant and Catholics. We were just a good football team.

“It makes me sound old but I’ve got two kids now, aged 11 and eight, and they’ve got so many other things to keep them entertained. Back then, you just went out on your bike. You got on your bike at 10 o’clock in the morning and you didn’t go home until six o’clock at night — when you were told to.”

Football appeared to be the young Brunt’s most likely career path from the moment he was spotted at a soccer school and invited to join St Andrew’s, one of Belfast’s most successful boys’ clubs.

An established link between St Andrew’s and Scottish giants Rangers saw Brunt and Steven Davis, a childhood friend who would go on to be a Northern Ireland team-mate, travel to Glasgow frequently to pursue their dream careers.

Brunt even rejected the advice of Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of his boyhood heroes Manchester United, so keen was he to make it at Ibrox. And things appeared set to work out until, at the last, the rug was pulled from beneath the pair of hopefuls.

“The boys’ club had a good connection with Rangers and the two of us went over there until we were 16 in school holidays or at weekends and in the end, they ended up taking neither of us,” says Brunt. “It looked like they were going to take us both, then Dick Advocaat came in and brought a lot of Dutch players and things changed.

“For a lot of lads from Belfast, Rangers or Celtic would have been the dream. I was a Protestant growing up in Belfast, so we did support Rangers — it was a generalised thing — but my parents never pushed it on me.

“When we went over [to Glasgow], the club used to take us to the games. They had a good team at the time with Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and Ally McCoist. They were class. I always look out for their results but I would never say I was a die-hard Rangers fan.

“I went to Manchester United a couple of times when I was 10 or 11. I loved United and my dad and my brother did, too – definitely a lot more than Rangers. I actually ended up staying in a hotel room with Darren Fletcher for a week when we were kids.

“But I never enjoyed United as much as I did Rangers, even though the set-up was a lot better back then.

“Alex Ferguson was the manager at the time and I got to meet him a couple of times. They told him I was going to Rangers and I remember him quite often saying I should stay at United but I just never got the same feeling there, so I ended up going back to Rangers for a few years, which didn’t really work because they binned me anyway!”

Middlesbrough stepped in to offer Brunt a trial, which resulted in a contract after just three days on Teesside.

Having overcome that initial homesickness, more disappointment was to come when, after a positive start to his three-year apprenticeship, a knee injury wrecked year two and he was told in year three that he would not be kept on.

James Morrison, a future Baggies team-mate who was in the year below Brunt at Middlesbrough, and Stewart Downing, a future England international from the year above, got professional deals instead.

Brunt was left hunting for employment, and an enjoyable week at Darlington and frustrating few days at Cardiff were followed by a trip to Sheffield Wednesday for a trial organised by Mark Proctor, Boro’s under-18s manager.


Brunt bends in a free-kick as Wednesday win 2-1 against Brentford in May 2005 (Photo: Rebecca Naden – PA Images via Getty Images)
He smiles as he recalls his first day at Hillsborough.

“I went on the Monday and didn’t know who I was supposed to be training with, so I went out with the first team,” he says. “I think I was supposed to be with the youth team but I said, ‘I’ve been sent from Middlesbrough for the week’ and the first team said, ‘OK, just join in!’.

“They took my contract over for the rest of the season and I did alright, played a few games and got into the first team, and we stayed up by the skin of our teeth. I scored a free-kick on my debut [against Brighton] and scored another when we got battered by Blackpool.

“I loved it. I was walking out at Hillsborough with 25,000 people watching us in Division Two [now League One].

“But the club was in turmoil and had a big clear-out in the summer. They brought in a lot of young lads like me, Glenn Whelan and Steven MacLean. I loved my three years there. We were all young lads in the same boat, all wanting to do well and progress our careers.

“I moved down with Cathy and got a flat – we all lived pretty close to the training ground and all got on really well. We’re all still in touch now and the girls are still in touch too.”

Eventually, though, Wednesday’s financial issues led to the break-up of the team and Brunt found himself subject to a successful bid from Tony Mowbray, the ambitious young West Brom boss.

“I just knew it was near Birmingham!” he admits with a chuckle. “But I remember coming to The Hawthorns the previous year and thinking, ‘They’ve got a good squad.’

“West Brom were offering me better money than Sheffield Wednesday and whatever anybody tells you, that makes a big difference, especially at that stage of your career.

“And I knew West Brom were going to be one of the favourites to go up and Sheffield Wednesday weren’t.”

Brunt’s instincts proved correct and, after playing his part in one of the most thrilling seasons in recent Baggies history, he scored the goal against Southampton that would effectively seal promotion to the Premier League.

It was the start of a momentous week.

“That’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my days,” he says. “That goal picture is always cropping up. I’ve struck better ones but it went in and that’s all that matters.

“Then I scored again on the Sunday at QPR to win the league and my eldest son, Charlie, was born in between the two games, so it was a pretty good week!”



The rest of Brunt’s Baggies career has become the tale of a modern-day great.

He has pulled on an Albion shirt 412 times, scored 48 goals, won two promotions, suffered two relegations, played in an FA Cup semi-final and helped Albion to eight successive seasons in the Premier League, peaking with 11th, 10th and eighth-place finishes in successive seasons.

Internationally, he became one of Northern Ireland’s most popular players but missed out on a place at Euro 2016 through a cruciate ligament injury. It is the biggest regret of his career.

“Not being able to play in the Euros was a massive disappointment,” he admits. “You spend so much of your life away from home playing for your country, so not being able to go and play in the tournament was gutting.

“But what can you do? I’ve been really lucky with injuries in my career and I was just unlucky on that occasion.

“Then to lose out in the following year in the World Cup play-off to a horrendous refereeing decision (Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial penalty) didn’t make it any easier.

“Highlights? Getting promoted under Tony Mowbray in that first season was great and scoring a goal was something I will never forget.

“And then it was just great being part of a decent Premier League team.

“Growing up, you always want to be in the Premier League, testing yourself against the best players you can, and I have been fortunate enough to do that for quite a lot of my career here.

“Looking back, I wish I had taken more of it in, especially at West Brom, because when you’re in it, every day rolls into one.”

Brunt knows this season could be his last at The Hawthorns.

He is into the final year of his contract and is currently out of the team, although he is clearly still impressed with new boss Slaven Bilic.

He has not ruled out extending his career elsewhere but would need to weigh up any offers before agreeing to commute from the Midlands, where he has based his family and where he plans to remain when his career ends.

The 34-year-old is in a reflective mood, adamant that occasional criticism from supporters and an infamous 2016 incident when he was struck by a coin thrown by a travelling fan at Reading will not define his relationship with a fanbase which has, by and large, taken him to its heart.

“I love the club,” he says. “It’s a great club with great people working for it. The majority of the time the fans have been great.

“The Reading thing was one idiot in the crowd who’d had a few too many. You’d rather it didn’t happen but you’ve got a lot of people coming to watch you and it’s an opinionated game — that’s what makes it so great.

“Someone might say I’m the worst player in the world and for someone sitting two rows in front of them, I might be their favourite player.

“I’d like to think, over my time here, I’ve been reasonably consistent and if the fans are happy with that, that’s good enough for me.

“The football club as a whole is great with the foundation and the stuff in the community and the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve got involved.

“People ask you to come back and you become a well-known name, and you can use that to help out.

“That gives you as much pleasure as anything else because football moves on quickly and this club is very good with its former players.

“They’ve got a good former players’ association and you see them around all the time.

“If, in a few years time, I’m still involved at the club, coming to games or meeting or greeting people, I’ll be happy.

“One of the good things about being here so long is that you can relate to people.

“You know a lot about the football club and you know people around it.

“Fanbase wise, it’s not the biggest club in the area so it does have more of a family feel to it.

“So in the future, hopefully I’ll be able to come back with my kids and my wife but hopefully, I’ve got a few games left in me this season and can help out on the pitch before thinking about anything like that.”

(Photo: David Davies – PA Images via Getty Images)

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Reesh1867

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Sheffield Wednesday
#47 12/09/2019 at 09:19

Chris Bart-Williams describes the summer of 1993 as one of “regret and pain”, which in isolation, is a startling statement. But, in the context of losing two cup finals at the hands of George Graham’s Arsenal earlier that year, it is a revelation that won’t surprise the blue and white half of Sheffield.

Age has always been just a number for the former England youth international, who landed his first big move to the Owls in 1991 having come through the ranks at Leyton Orient, where he played regularly in the third tier as a 16 year old. A wise head on young shoulders with bags of talent, he believes the experiences of his early days with the east London club shaped his career.

“It was never about my age, it was about being accountable,” he told The Athletic. “At that level, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. You have to have belief in your ability when you are around that level of players. People always say to me, ‘Weren’t you nervous?”. My coaches at Leyton Orient did a phenomenal job so by the time I moved to Wednesday, I felt like an old man. They had already trained me to handle those moments. I was yelled at when I didn’t perform at Orient and so when I moved on, it was no different. I knew I was there to do my job and my age was not going to be an excuse for me to get away with making mistakes.”

An ‘old man’ by the age of 17, Bart-Williams earned his move to Wednesday in the summer of 1991 after an impressive debut season as a professional, where he bagged two goals in 36 appearances for Orient. Joining the newly-promoted Owls in the First Division was a big change but one he embraced.

“It was quite the culture shock but I was made to feel extremely comfortable and welcome right off the bat,” Bart-Williams said. “To walk into a dressing room like that, such a star-studded dressing room – very few pros get to experience that, let alone someone so young.

“My first morning, I walked in and they put me right between Viv Anderson and Nigel Jemson. I got some real sound advice on a daily basis. You’d watch, you’d learn, and it was a wonderful diverse dressing room made up of these strong personalities who had walked in your shoes and offered you that support. I took a lot of different things from a lot of different people.”

If his first season was a learning experience, it would set Bart-Williams up well for the rest of his Wednesday career as the club finished third in the First Division. Back in the big time, the fierce competition from within the Owls changing room took them into the Premier League era in 1992-93 and onto double cup final heartbreak in the FA Cup and League Cup.

“It was the strong leadership from the senior players and the mentality they demanded that led to success,” Bart-Williams continued. “It was evident in everything they did. They created a very healthy and fierce competitive environment. Everybody wanted to play and anybody that wasn’t disappointed about not playing didn’t belong in that environment. In the weeks leading up to the cup finals, it was kind of surreal but at the same time, you are working hard to get in that starting lineup. To lose both – the Wednesday fans understand – you can’t put into words how painful it was. I felt we played well enough to win at least one of the trophies. I think it had a psychological effect the following season.”

Bart-Williams did finally get his hands on some silverware while at Nottingham Forest, who he joined after leaving Wednesday in 1995. Winning the First Division title in the 1997-98 season under Dave Bassett coincided with Bart-Williams finally feeling settled at the club after his Hillsborough exit and a rocky arrival at the City Ground.

“I hope nobody gets offended but leaving Sheffield Wednesday had nothing to do with me being ready to move on,” he said. “I have never really explained this previously but my whole time at Wednesday, I had one contract and that was it. There were people around me signing new contracts but I felt like an afterthought. It was pretty much left to a point where I had other options. Looking back, it would have been nice to be rewarded if the club felt I was doing well but it never materialised. I loved Wednesday and it was a big part of my life but I just didn’t feel appreciated, although I always was by the fans. That was a little bit painful but we all have to live with the decisions we make.”

Bart-Williams admits moving away from Hillsborough was a difficult decision at first and adjusting to life in Nottingham was testing, despite reuniting with Frank Clark, his manager at Leyton Orient and now his Forest boss.

“It was hard to win over the Forest fans. The first two years were rough. It was a different playing style than Sheffield Wednesday, so it took a couple of years to adjust to the Forest philosophy. It was quick ball movement, extremely firm passing whereas at Wednesday, we were more patient and deliberate and we tried to hold the ball for long spells. Forest did that at times but also added that explosiveness. Once I became comfortable and understood the responsibilities of playing for Nottingham Forest, then I started to show that I was a responsible player. Between Sheffield Wednesday and Forest was my pinnacle.”



After Forest, Bart-Williams saw out the rest of his career with spells at Charlton, Ipswich, APOEL in Cyprus and Maltese outfit Marsaxlokk, before moving into coaching in the United States. As if to mirror the star-studded start to his playing days, he did almost the same as soon as he touched down in America, as a chance meeting with Women’s World Cup winning coach Tony DiCicco shaped Bart-Williams’ coaching career.

“When I got to the States, I ran into Tony, who definitely gave me a lot of great advice and guidance. I started working with him in Connecticut and he introduced me to coaching women. Tony had a big impact. Watching him work and talking to him about his success at that World Cup was something extremely special,” he reminisces.

“Anybody that spent time with him would understand – it’s no different from those big coaches at British clubs like Sir Alex Ferguson or Jurgen Klopp now. They’re the coaches that have a big impact, and Tony is probably why I stayed here in the States to this day.”

Now running his own youth coaching programme for the next generation of male and female footballers in the US, Bart-Williams believes a new wave of talent could emerge from Major League Soccer in the coming years as the sport continues to develop over the pond.

After working with legendary coaches on both sides of the Atlantic, what of his coaching style?

“It’s definitely based on a lot of the coaches that I have had,” he says. “At Orient, they developed everything – your personality, your mentality, your ability to learn and comprehend topics that were being taught. Throughout my career, I had some great coaches. I didn’t have to like them all but I had to respect them. If you know how to motivate and inspire, there’s nothing a team won’t do for you.”

(Photo: Clive Brunskill/Allsport)
 

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Otto_Man

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#48 12/09/2019 at 11:12

Cheers Walks, really enjoyed both of them (and two players I have always considered massively underrated in their respective times here) Thumbsup

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Reesh1867

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#49 12/09/2019 at 11:29

Got to say Nancy Frostick is showing the Star up with the articles.  

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DPCSF

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#50 12/09/2019 at 11:35

Got to say Nancy Frostick is showing the Star up with the articles.
Reesh1867, 12/09/2019 at 11:29


Mark the Pitsmoor Owl could show up the Stir.

Another clickbait article on our squad. 

Be water, my friend 

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Owling_Wolf

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#51 12/09/2019 at 13:10

I really enjoyed the article on Brunty and was fadcinated by stuff in the CBW one. I knew nothing about his later life.
Cheers, Reesh.  

We must not give opposition teams hope. We have to kill them. 

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HirstysHiTecBoots

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#52 12/09/2019 at 14:20

Used to love Bartman, such a talented player. Remember that solo effort away at Man City?!

The fact Trev/Richards had him on the contract they gave him as a 17 year old the whole time he was with us is illustrative of the shit management that was going on.

A decent watch: https://youtu.be/HcTstv7Fs6Q

Post edited on 12/09/2019 at 14:24 by HirstysHiTecBoots

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DPCSF

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#53 12/09/2019 at 14:50

Great interviews, they were some talented lads we had.
Brunt’s arrival was a bit of a sliding doors moment, wasn’t sure where he was meant to train so he said 1st team. With our track record of developing young lads he could’ve been lost to the game so easily. 

Be water, my friend 

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emre

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#54 12/09/2019 at 22:13

I still 💙 Brunt Blush

Fuck this for a game of soldiers. 

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Owling_Wolf

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#55 12/09/2019 at 23:09

I still remember the sprog that was Chris Brunt when he joined us. If my brain's actually working for once, we were away at Chezzie and he was at the front at some stage, looking very bashful as he signed autographs for young 'uns. I seem to think we were told at the time that he was one for the future. Just maybe our immediate future was affected by his spur of the moment actuons the day he arrived. 

We must not give opposition teams hope. We have to kill them. 

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Reesh1867

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#56 16/09/2019 at 09:20

“The way that I work is with clarity. I have always found that if a player knows exactly what you are asking of him, there’s no grey areas and that’s when they perform at their best.”

As Garry Monk addressed the media before Sunday’s trip to Huddersfield Town, he wanted to make it clear that a hallmark of his managerial style is strong communication.

A 2-0 win over the Terriers provided early evidence of Monk’s mantra. Prowling the technical area as Wednesday boss for the first time, clarity was the overriding factor in ensuring Monk brought three points back to South Yorkshire against a struggling Huddersfield. He has kept things relatively simple in his first training sessions so as not to overload his new charges with too much information, while the initial focus has been on making sure his players know their individual roles.

“It’s always difficult when a new manager comes in and has his own way or methods or things that he wants to get across but what I have actually tried to do is simplify that,” Monk said. “That will be a process in the coming weeks and months but trying to give them clarity, really, that’s how I work. I thought for a first attempt, they did it very well.“


Monk tries to get his message across (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)
Managerial casualties are not a rare occurrence in the Championship but Sunday’s match was also new Town boss Danny Cowley’s first game in charge after passing up the chance to join Wednesday. This provided the more unusual problem of neither team knowing quite how the other would line up.

Monk had admitted that it would be more difficult to prepare for the clash “because there’s that element of not having a backlog of games and knowing how teams play”. The Owls chief’s usual meticulous research would have to go out of the window in favour of a little more “guesswork” and thinking on his feet, then.

Innovative means were needed to get the manager’s message across at times. In an echo of the 2016 match between the two sides, when Ross Wallace intercepted a note being passed among Terriers players, Owls assistant Lee Bullen handed instructions on a scrap of paper to Kadeem Harris which was then forwarded on until it eventually reached Jacob Murphy on the right wing. Message received and understood, Murphy promptly chewed up and spat out the instruction so there was no chance of any Huddersfield players or staff reading it.

“That was just to clear up set-pieces,” Monk said. “It’s very difficult because obviously Danny has come in here as a new manager, so you can do a little bit of guesswork on what you think they might be.

“Set-piece wise, I had my ideas about what might happen with them but then there’s also the unpredictability of something new and something different. It was just a piece (of paper) to make sure that all the markers that we had were picking up the right men. It’s probably still floating about out there now.”

Two changes each signalled caution from both managers. Wednesday brought in Dominic Iorfa for the injured Tom Lees, and Moses Odubajo for Morgan Fox in an amended back four.

But if the team selection was cautious, inspiration came via the first tactical flourish of the Monk era. The Owls lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Adam Reach operating as a No 10 behind Steven Fletcher. The Scot has looked isolated in recent games, despite scoring two goals in as many league games coming into the clash but he instantly had better service courtesy of Reach’s supporting role.

As shown by Reach’s first-half touch map below, his ability to roam freely provided an outlet to link central midfield pair Barry Bannan and Sam Hutchinson with Fletcher, and widemen Harris and Murphy.

Reach’s link-up play worked successfully early on as he picked the ball up in a central position and fizzed a sumptuous ball in to Fletcher, who eventually finished off a 16-pass move as he headed home from Harris’ cross.

Murphy had a quiet afternoon and, as the home side built momentum in the second half, Monk was forced into a change as he replaced the Newcastle United loanee with Sam Winnall. The tactical tweak meant the Owls moved to two up top as Reach moved out of the No 10 role and out to the right wing. Utility man Reach looked at his most effective in the first period, and could be a long-term solution in that position should Monk pursue his previously favoured policy of using a lone striker.

The decision to include Winnall was soon justified as he connected with a Barry Bannan cross to double Wednesday’s lead with another headed goal. Monk didn’t rest easy with the scoreline at 2-0 though, as he continued to bellow instructions from the technical area to those few players he was unable to pull near on the right side of the field in order to quickly pass on a message.

Speaking of Wednesday’s two headed goals and his tactical changes, Monk said: “It’s part of our strength. There’s still a long way to go offensively and I think that was part of our game where we could have been better especially with the ball but we know in that final third, there’s a lot of work to go.

“We will have a couple of formations. I think it is important to be adaptable and unpredictable but the way that I’ll do it, our principles will be exactly the same. In terms of how we defend and the attitudes and how we attack and the roles within that, no matter what formation you use, the principles are the most important.”

With the Wednesday chief the victor in the battle of the bosses at John Smith’s Stadium and chants of “Garry Monk’s barmy army” ringing from the away end, the message of support from Owls fans for their new manager was communicated loud and clear.

(Top photo: Ben Early/Getty Images)

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CDLF

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#57 16/09/2019 at 11:40

Compare that with Bullens assessment after the QPR game. 

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CDLF

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#58 16/09/2019 at 11:42

And Wilderpig was bigging Bullen up fo the job....the odious c**t. 

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Reesh1867

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#59 18/09/2019 at 08:40

“It’s tough. I don’t like Saturdays at the moment.”

It’s a frank admission from former Burnley midfielder David Jones as we sit at the dining table in his Cheshire home discussing his current situation.

The 34-year-old is out of contract and still searching for a new club after being released by Sheffield Wednesday at the end of last season. He has been training with the Burnley first team since the beginning of pre-season to maintain his fitness.

During his career, the central midfielder has played for a number of different clubs including Derby, Wolves and Wigan but, last month, for the first time, he was without a team on the opening day of the season.

We meet the day before Burnley visit Brighton in what turned out to be a 1-1 draw. As the squad took a flight down to the south coast after training Jones finished up his programme for the day and headed home, ready for a weekend watching football instead of playing it.

“It’s tough mentally to keep giving 100 per cent every day knowing you haven’t got a game on Saturday and that you haven’t got a contract anywhere, so it is mentally challenging at times,” he admits.

A search for a new club began after the Championship season finished with Wednesday but with no luck, a phone call to Sean Dyche was made. Jones joined up with the Burnley squad on the first day of pre-season and has trained there every day since.

He accompanied the club on their pre-season warm-weather training week to Portugal (which involved running 13 kilometres in one gruelling session) and has also been involved in a couple of under-23 and behind-closed-door games to build his match fitness.

“I knew I was out of contract at Sheffield Wednesday so in the six weeks you are off, my agent was trying to find a club to sign with because that would have been ideal — to get a full pre-season with the new club,” Jones says.

“That didn’t happen so, as it was coming towards the end of June, I phoned Sean. I’ve obviously worked with him before and we still sent the odd text to each other in the three years I’ve been away from the club. He was happy for me to come in and train and they’ve been brilliant.

“It’s a great place to get fit. I knew from working with them before that they are one of the fittest teams in the league, so it was good for me to spend a whole pre-season there and get up to speed.”

Jones is philosophical about his situation.

The central midfielder has 16 years of experience in the Premier League and Championship and is targeting a return to the second tier of English football. So far though, there have been no offers from any clubs in that division.

“I still feel I want to play at as high a standard as possible, so that’s a key thing,” Jones says.

“In football, as you get older the opportunities sometimes aren’t there straight away — and even when you are younger, but you have to keep that desire and mentality to want to play, which is still there for me. It can be tough at times, but I just have to keep going.

“I had an offer from League Two but at that moment in time it wasn’t the route I wanted to go down. I’ve been waiting because I still feel like I can play in the Championship.

“It’s not ‘the Championship at all costs’ — if there is a club lower down that I feel is suitable and they want me, I’d take it.”

With not having a game to play in on Saturdays, Jones is putting in extra work to make up for it. He spends an additional hour in the gym every Thursday and Friday, when Burnley’s volume of training for their players tapers down as the focus switches to tactical plans for the weekend fixture. Jones then trains on Saturdays too.

Away from the training ground, he has always made sure to properly look after his body and mind. Pushing his boundaries in search of further improvement, he has employed a physio and does yoga on a weekly basis. Jones has also benefited from working with psychologists and is also grateful to Katrina, his wife of five years, who works in mental health as a cognitive behavioural therapist.

“It’s something that I pride myself on – being professional and looking after myself and getting myself into top shape,” he explains. “You draw on the experience of working with psychologists and what they’ve said — the simple one being, ‘Control what you can control’. So in my situation that’s working as hard as I can, so when the opportunity comes I’m ready to hit the ground running.

“I’ve only had moments where I had been frustrated. My wife is brilliant at keeping me positive about the situation. She’s schooled me over the years with the mental side of things. She helps me with that. She can read me like a book, so she knows the frustration and she knows what she is doing.”

Jones left Wednesday after three years. He made 64 appearances for them in his first two seasons, where he mainly worked under Carlos Carvalhal. After his sacking, Jos Luhukay arrived at the beginning of 2018 and Jones began to be eased out of the team. In the following season, he only appeared twice.

When Luhukay was ditched in December and Steve Bruce brought in, Jones continued to be surplus to requirements. He felt ready to move on and was informed his contract wasn’t going to be renewed a week before the end of the season.

“It wasn’t exactly a shock. I was aware I wasn’t going to get a new contract, but I wouldn’t want to sign anyway when I’m not playing. I’m not about getting contracts and seeing out my career without playing. I want to play,” he says.

“When Luhukay came in, he wanted a younger team it seemed and a lot of the older players got pushed to the side. It was a difficult time, another challenge to keep going and keep training hard every day and stay fit. It was a disappointing end because I still felt I had something to give.”

Our conversation reverts back to Dyche, and Jones has nothing but praise for him. While the former Manchester United trainee may have returned to an upgraded Burnley training centre at Barnfield, the feel of the club is still exactly the same as when he left.

“He’s (Dyche) a leader. He can have a laugh and a joke with his players and there is a relaxed atmosphere around the club but there’s certain standards about what’s expected,” reveals Jones.

“He helps to improve players and make them into real footballers and by that I mean having great habits, to be a professional on and off the pitch. He helps people not just as players but as human beings. I had my happiest times there, not just because of the success on the pitch but generally around the place. His personality and stamp on the club is evident throughout.”

Jones’ three years at Burnley from 2013 may never have happened if it wasn’t for Tom Heaton — so close a friend that they took on best-man duties for each other’s weddings.

After spending the second half of the 2012-13 season on loan from Wigan to Blackburn, Jones was expected to sign permanently but an offer did not arrive. A conversation with Heaton led to the goalkeeper alerting Dyche of Jones’ availability.

“It was surprising I never got an offer through from Blackburn. I thought I was going to sign there from speaking to the manager and the chief executive,” Jones says.

“Tom had just signed for Burnley and they had just gone in for pre-season training and ‘Heats’ said to me that it was really good and asked if I would fancy it — ‘Do you want me to say something to the manager?’ — so I told him to mention it.

“Later that day I had a call from Dyche and he got me in for a meeting and it went from there. I got a really good vibe and it was all thanks to Tom because I don’t think the manager thought I was available. He thought I was going to Blackburn, but Tom had told him I was sat at home watching Wimbledon!

“I got a bit of stick from Blackburn fans when I came up against them. It was quite an intimidating atmosphere, but they were enjoyable games — they are a big deal, because it’s a big rivalry.”

In his time at the club, Jones played a big part in two promotions to the Premier League.

“There are certain games which were big moments,” Jones remembers. “The first promotion, when we beat Wigan at home, that celebration with the fans on the pitch and the squad was special with your family watching in the stand. They are moments which you don’t get very often.


Mobbed on the pitch in 2016 after clinching promotion (Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
“Then the second promotion, winning the league. We didn’t get beat after Boxing Day. We had done it (confirmed promotion) the week before, against QPR. I played in that one and then was fuming I wasn’t playing in the final game away at Charlton. I was told the day before so sat on the train travelling there thinking, ‘I want to play in this game’, but you push your feelings to one side and the bigger picture was that we all did the job.

“Then we came back to Burnley to do the bus parade and Town Hall stuff. You do appreciate how much it means to all the fans. You see fans in the stadium every week, but you don’t see the volume of the whole town celebrating and how much it means for a club and a town like Burnley to get Premier League football.”

It wasn’t just on the pitch where Jones experienced some of his favourite moments at the club. Others came on Fridays during a game called Burnley Spins before the team meeting ahead of the weekend’s match.

Most clubs implement a fines system for punishing players for small things such as leaving their kit on the floor. Dyche’s players’ fate is left to chance, via a wheel of fortune the guilty man must spin.

“We always used to do it on a Friday, so it was always funny,” recalls Jones. “A bit of team banter. It was like you had to sing a song or balance an After Eight mint on your forehead and wiggle it down so you could eat it or how many crackers you could eat in two minutes. It could also be a fine — or you could get given money!

“The whole ethos around it is to get rid of your ego — if you can embarrass yourself in front of everybody. The gaffer used to say, ‘Leave you ego at the gate and pick it up on your way out.’ There were a few funny things such as dancing but the one that sticks out is Michael Duff doing a lap dance. He looked a bit too good. He looked like he had done it before!”

Jones was fortunate enough never to land on “lap dance” when it was his turn and preferred singing — “In a footballer crowd, I’m not bad with the voice” — yet he admits in general footballers “can’t sing”. When asked the worst he’d heard — “I’d have to go with Heaton!”

Priority number-one for Jones now is finding a new club. He keeps himself in the football loop and watches Championship games with particular interest, analysing whether he could fit into a certain team’s style of play or not.

“I’m just looking forward to getting back playing on a Saturday and getting back into a routine of that,” he says. “When you are training every day, you want something to work to and at the moment that has been missing, but hopefully soon I will get that opportunity.”

(Top photo: Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images)

Consilio et Animis 

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Owling_Wolf

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First used 31/07/09
39151 posts

Sheffield Wednesday

Yellow Card

#60 18/09/2019 at 08:51

I hope he gets a reasonable club. He seems an honest player.  

We must not give opposition teams hope. We have to kill them. 

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