Football has always been in my blood, as I was born and grew up in Murton,
County Durham – as with most in this area, I followed Sunderland. Murton’s
produced a number of professionals over recent years; Chris Brass who’s
player manager at York, Richard Ord (eleven years at Sunderland), Paul Kitson
(ex-Leicester, Derby, and Newcastle) and Steve Harper who grew up around the
corner in Easington (Newcastle keeper).
At the age of nine I was playing in the school team for the under 11’s
and also attended the Sunderland school of excellence. I turned out for two
Sunderland boys teams; the Roker Rookies, and Kennet Roker. I also played for
the school – Murton County where we’re pictured with a number of
trophies we won.
At the age of eleven Manchester United became interested and offered me a place
at their school of excellence based locally at the McEwan Centre, Houghton.
To be honest, I was Sunderland through and through and didn’t want to
leave my mates and my team. But United’s school of excellence was superior,
we were given greater attention - there were 36 of us at Sunderland and only
16 at United with the same number of coaches. In September 2003 I celebrated
ten years at United – pity I don’t qualify for a testimonial!! During
the school holidays I used to travel to Manchester and spend my training with
the other lads, I’ve therefore known lads such as Luke Chadwick and Mike
Stewart for years.
I feel that each season I’ve made progress at the club, and enjoyed tournaments
both in the UK and abroad. During the Easter of 2001 we played in the Dusseldorf
Youth Tournament. I did well enough to be awarded the title of ‘defender
of the tournament’. Jimmy Davis, my team mate until his tragic death won
the ‘striker of the tournament’. He was a great lad, always happy,
always joking, and a great player too. He’ll be missed around the club.
As most people will know, United have a close relationship with Royal Antwerp.
Each year United send two prospects over to Belgium for first team experience.
Selection, for what is a usually a two-year commitment is based on merit, and
I’m happy to say that I joined Antwerp in December 2001. At 16 years of
age I made my full debut in senior football. I enjoyed myself in Belgium and
feel that I developed as a player and became stronger both on the pitch and
off it. As it happens I only stayed at Antwerp for eighteen months, Neil wood,
the other lad who went over with me, wasn’t having the best of times and
with him wanting to return to Manchester, I took the opportunity to see out
the season and return home in May 2002.
At the start of the 2002/03 I found myself on the bench of the reserve team
at United. After a few weeks I began to play regularly for the second team,
but at around Christmas time I was offered the chance to go on loan to Swansea.
When the opportunity came in my initial reaction was to say yes and give it
a go – but I didn’t know too much about Swansea. I spoke to Jim
Ryan about the move and although he supported it, his parting shot was to ask
me to take a look at the league table, I did, Swansea were rock bottom. But
I wasn’t moving to Wales to win trophies. I wanted to go there for the
experience, to develop myself as a player – and if I could help the team,
then all the better. As it turned out, I had one of the happiest times of my
life in South Wales. Even now I can tell you that I’ll always have a soft
spot for Swansea, they are a fantastic club, have a great manager in Brian Flynn,
and are a great set of lads. I really took to the place and the recognition
I received from the fans was brilliant. Dave Bushell, the youth team coach at
United, came down to see me play in Wales and on speaking to me afterwards told
me that ‘I was a little star at Swansea’, well, I certainly felt
like one. One aspect of the club that really impressed me was the team’s
spirit – rooted to the bottom of the table but the will to win and camaraderie
was incredible – and Brian Flynn must take a lot of the credit for that.
In total I played 27 games for the Swans, and we finished one point above Exeter
who were relegated to the Conference!
I was so impressed with my time at Swansea that my mum actually banned me from
talking about it!! A few people have asked whether I’d like to sign for
Swansea on a permanent basis, the answer is that although my heart says yes,
my head says no. I’m a Man United player and I’ll do anything and
everything to make my time here as successful as it can be. I’ve been
here for quite some years now, my landlady; Marjorie Blenkhorn keeps me right
and I’m more than settled here.
I returned to Manchester at the end of 2002/03 season with some tremendous
experience. As I write this in August 2003, I’ve worked hard during the
pre-season and enjoyed our trip to Portugal in August where we took part in
an under 23 tournament, we finished 3rd out of around 6 teams, sporting Lisbon.
This year I hope to break into the first team squad and my get a chance in perhaps
with the Carling Cup or in the Champions League - if the club have already qualified
in the league stage.
I’m now the captain of the reserve team and hope to continue in this
role – but progress to the first team as soon as possible. Time will tell…