I started when I was fifteen playing Sunday football. Casuals at the time were one of the best youth sides around. From there, I worked my way up the youth setup and played there even though I was younger than the age group. After a couple of years, I broke into the Reserves and then into the first XI. In truth, I made it to the first team squad as I never fully established myself as a regular until around three years ago where towards the end of the season, I had a good run of games.
Unfortunately, I picked up an injury – a problem with my hip which had to be operated on. That was around the time that Matt Howard took over. He asked me to get involved with the coaching side of things and that’s where we are now.
Apart from yourself, there’s not been many players come through the youth setup and make it all the way to the first team. Does that give you a sense of achievement that you’ve been able to do that?
I’ve not really thought of it like that to be honest. Looking back at it, there was a period in time where the age group one year older than me had some great players - the likes of Harry Holloway and Scott Hassell. But I’m the only one left at the club now.
You’ve been named as a substitute a few times this season even though you’ve taken to the coaching side. Do you still see yourself having a playing career?
There are games where I’d love to be out there and I think I could do something. But I look at other games and where I’ve not played for so long, the tempo would be too fast. I’m only 27 and I still would like to play but I’m enjoying the job that I’m doing now. There’s not going to be that opportunity where I can do both without getting games elsewhere and getting performances back to where they should be for this level.
How did you get into the coaching side?
Even when I was playing I was always an organiser on the field – a good talker. I captained the reserves quite a lot. My footballing side carried over nicely into the coaching side.
What do you enjoy about it?
Firstly, it’s being around the boys. At first when I wasn’t playing I could happily just turn up, watch from the side-lines and sit in the bar after. But being around the lads during the game and in the changing room at half time, well that’s what you miss when you’re not playing. So still being a part of it albeit on the coaching side is great.
Having an influence is great. Working with James is good - he knows his stuff. I’m still learning and James has been in Management for nine or ten years and I’m learning things from him as I did from Matt. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, I can go my own way and use the experience that I’ve picked up from both of them.
Does your Dad give you any tips?
*Laughs* Yeah – there’s a few tips he gives me. I take them on board though. What to do and what not to do.
Your last appearance for Corinthian-Casuals was in Sao Paulo playing Corinthians in front of 30,000 fans. From a personal point of view, tell us about that experience.
That day was unbelievable. I hadn’t played much football for the whole of the season. I’d tried joining in training every now and then but I couldn’t play much.
When we played our match at Wembley (vs AFC Wimbledon), I had just come out of plaster so I couldn’t even get five minutes in that game which was upsetting.
So to get another great opportunity such as this one… to be involved in the Corinthians match, one way or another, there was no way I was going to pass up on that chance. It was the best time ever.
What were you feeling as you were brought on as substitute knowing you’re about to play in front of that crowd and having to mark International-class players?
It was unreal… unreal is probably the best word as it didn’t seem like I was actually there. You end up switching off from your surroundings. It sounds stupid but you shut it out and it becomes just another game of football once you’re out there.
But as I was watching most of it from the side-lines, it was just pure madness. That’s when you take a lot more in. For what was just a friendly, the way the crowd were chanting and cheering, it was like their cup final. That’s how much it meant to them for us to be there.
Back to this season… it’s looking pretty positive at the moment. There could be some very big games coming up. How are you looking to approach this last quarter of the campaign?
Can Corinthian-Casuals do it? Can we as a club get in the playoffs? It’s one of ‘those’ situations.
We’re still positive but there’s always that thought in the back of your mind that makes you stay grounded. There are other teams around us that could easily go on a run and if we slip up, we could find ourselves 13th or 14th in the table come the end of the season.
We have to stay focussed in what we are doing. If you look at how we played against Guernsey and Chatham, we’re back to the way we were playing at the start of the season - playing with a little bit of arrogance going forward. We kept two clean sheets on the bounce in those games which is welcoming after conceding a few sloppy goals. We seem to be getting our defensive partnerships right. When you’ve got players in your team like Juevan, Kevant, Emmanuel and Shaun, going forward, we’re looking very threatening.
Is this the best Casuals side you’ve seen?
For the most part this season, I think the way we have this side playing has been one of the most attacking, full of flair squads that we’ve had. But a couple of years ago we went on a long run of unbeaten games, and we were hard to beat. We were winning games 1-0 with a Jamie Byatt goal or drawing 0-0.
This season, we’re scoring much more freely, so if we could take that defence and put it in this year’s squad, then it’d be the perfect side.
But this team are still young. They’ve still got a lot to learn and you’d think that if we were to fall short of the playoffs this year and kept everyone together for next season, then it’d stand us in good stead to push on come August.