Ryan Cresswell is already down the road in plotting a future after playing, and the former Southend United defender and his wife are also due to welcome their first baby this week. A player who has spent the bulk of the last 12 years in League One and Two, he is still only 31, and those who have seen firsthand what the ex-Northampton Town man can do feel there’s still a Football League (EFL) player there.
As well as sharing all range of stories from his playing career so far, ‘Cressy’ openly spoke about his alcohol issues on the ‘Undr the Cosh’ podcast earlier this year, and he has since been raring to throw his all into playing again. After a frustratingly fractured 2018/19 season, he signed for Bradford (Park Avenue) this summer, with new player-manager and former Bradford City favourite Garry Thompson a Morecambe teammate of his once upon a time.
In this conversation, the Rotherham lad has a look back, and a look ahead, with plenty of insight in between (and the odd character or two…)
Favourite team and player growing up
I used to watch Rotherham United. For players, I always remember Michael Owen when he first burst on to the scene.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why?
I played the first game back after I lost my granddad, which was a really emotional time, away at Accrington (for Rotherham), and I scored the winner near the end. I had family and stuff in the stands. Scoring my first goal for Northampton away at Wycombe with a good header. I scored on my second debut, if you can have one, for Rotherham; we beat Lincoln 2-1. That was like the 80-odd minute as well. There’s quite a few actually when you start thinking!
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
I think every manager has their own twist on things. ‘Fire and ice’ is what Chris Wilder used to say; he’d want you to be red hot chasing things and be cool in the big moments.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
Jon Parkin as a teammate; people used to call us a married couple. Chris Wilder was actually a funny manager, but he was demanding. Alan Knill, he was funny; you have to know how to take his sense of humour! Nicky Adams, he’s a funny lad, we’ve had some good times over the years.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
I’d say Nicky Law. We came through together at Sheff United and he made his debut when they were in the Premier League. I played again with him for Rotherham in League Two and I just thought ‘you should be so much higher,’ and then he ended up playing for Rangers. He got a couple of promotions for them, so I suppose he has played at a good level, but he was a standout one where you thought ‘he’s good’.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
Personally, I had my best season when I was at Southend. I played 54 games that year, got in League Two PFA Team of the Year. It was good, I never really thought I wasn’t gonna play on Saturday, so I always had confidence of the manager (Paul Sturrock, until March 2013) and the backing of the staff, as such. Then the Northampton league-winning year, the dressing room was such a good environment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you don’t look forward to going into training every day, but at Northampton, it was just such a good group of lads that it was a pleasure to go in every day. So them two really as probably the standout ones.
Hardest moment/experience as a player
We (Southend) lost at Wembley in the JPT Trophy (against Crewe, April 2013), which was hard to take because we felt a couple of decisions in the game hadn’t gone our way. Also leaving Rotherham to go to Southend at the time, I was a bit pissed off at the reasons behind why they wanted me to leave. When I was at Eastleigh, I just ended up in a rut with injuries and personal issues; that was the worst time, just masking over it, I suppose.
What was last season like for you? You had time with Mickleover, with Boston (after leaving Eastleigh in December), did it feel more like bits of a season rather than a proper one?
It didn’t feel like a professional football season like I’ve had for the last 12 years or so. It felt like it was just a stop-start, play football here and there, which was frustrating more than anything. I went to Mickleover, I knew the management team, so I went in there just to give them a hand really. They knew I needed to play some games to get fit and they needed a hand with the playing squad as well. Then Boston just came in and said ‘we want to try and make the play-offs, we know you’re on a non-contract, if we give you a contract until the end of the season will you come?’ They verbally offered me this season as well, which never came to the forefront really, for whatever reason; I think they just went down other routes. I didn’t enjoy any of last season, to be honest, but this is a new era, and…’we go again,’ as they say!
At this point in your career, what’s your outlook? Is it still to try and push back towards the EFL or are you content enough to just enjoy your football?
Well that’s a good question. I was desperate to try and get back in the Football League, and I’d do anything, and then I took more of a wide stance on it. We’ve got our first baby due soon, which is obviously a massive curveball in life! I wanna spend as much time as possible at home, so playing part-time for Bradford suits that side of things, but then every professional footballer just wants to play football. The selfish side of it is of course I’d love to go back full-time and play in the Football League and see how far I can go again. To be honest, I’m not really sure. I’m gonna see how this next six months pans out, see how many games I can get under my belt, see how I feel physically, and just keep demanding of myself really.
Signing for Bradford (Park Avenue), in your conversations with Garry (Thompson) and whoever else from the club, what were they keen to get across to you?
They wanted me to go in and be the experienced head. I’ve known Garry for years and I think they ended up losing quite a lot of players and they’ve got quite a young squad. The ambition of the club as well, they wanna push on, they wanna make play-offs, they wanna get promotion and want success at the club. I want to go somewhere where I might be challenging for something good at the end of the season, and I felt like that after speaking to the club. I spoke to a few clubs, I could have gone in full-time training and what have you, and I just thought at this exact moment in time in my life, for what I need, it ticked every box.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine? New baby as well, obviously…
Yeah, the new baby will probably take most of the time up. In regards to training at the club, it’s a Tuesday and a Thursday evening. I’m looking into doing some courses to become a teacher, but teaching training courses to construction site workers, health and safety. Century Training Solutions they’re called; it’s a business that a couple of my friends have set up and they want me to be part of. I’m sat here on a laptop as we speak, just learning and trying to pick up new tools, instead of just heading a football for a living!
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football/family?
I like travelling. Me and my wife like to go to different places. I like playing golf, I play that quite regularly. I like watching football matches; my mate’ll just text me saying ‘fancy going to a midweek game this week?’ and it can range from Premier League to non-league. We went to Arsenal v West Brom a few years back, just a random mid-week game, and then we ended up at Guiseley v someone on a Saturday afternoon.
Is there a funniest thing you remember from games down the years, or anything memorable/surreal that comes to mind?
One of the clubs I was at, one of the lads who I played centre-half with – I’m not gonna name names – the manager used to shout at him all the time. If someone else made a mistake, he’d shout at him, to shout at someone else! We used to look at each other and he’d go ‘why’s he always shout at me?!’ So I used to shout at him as though I was the manager. Say we’re on the opposite side of the pitch so the manager couldn’t hear us, I used to shout at him and he used to just look at me and go ‘oh fuck off, Cress!’
Another one, Nicky Adams would shout something and it’d look to the fans like he was trying to gee people up, but he was just fucking about! It would actually motivate you, because you’d laugh at him and it’d take pressure away from you that you probably felt you were under before. We (Northampton) won the league that year, so, different ways of motivating each other, I suppose.
What has the reaction been like to the podcast, where you were open about the struggles you’ve faced? Has it been totally positive?
Yeah I was quite surprised. I had phone calls from people, not who I’d forgot, but that I’d not spoken to in a long, long time. Positive support, and laughs, I suppose, with people reminiscing on things that I spoke about. Yeah, 100 percent positive feedback.
Is there any change you think could be made to the game at this level? Anything the players talk about and think could be tweaked to improve things? Like increasing promotion places, for example.
I’d definitely increase promotion places. When it’s only one team automatic, I can’t believe that’s still the case. Like Wrexham, for example, they came out of the Football League, and if there were more teams promoted they’d have gone back up by now. I think fans deserve a fairer opportunity of getting out of non-league than what it actually is at the minute. I’d change the footballs as well! I think non-league should play with the Football League balls, and I think a lot of players say that, but I don’t know if they say it in interviews. The footballs are like plastic, but the Football League balls are better.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true?
I think people take me as they find me. Don’t get me wrong, there will have been people who’ve said certain things; I’ve not been all professional, as I’ve been open and honest about before. I think people would say ‘he’s a good lad in the changing room’. I think the main one is ‘if you can keep him fit you’ve got a good player on your hands,’ and I can’t hide that fact; I’ve had a bad three years of recurring injuries. Self-inflicted, with what I was doing outside of football, which I’ve obviously sought help for and continued to not do. I think ‘he’s a good lad but keep him fit’ has been the case, but I’ve always hid personal problems.
One singer/band/artist you’d sneak on to the team playlist? And have you ever done the changing room music anywhere?
I’ve not really done changing-room music, but I’d sneak Robbie Williams ‘Monsoon’ on to it.
What have you been impressed with about Bradford (Park Avenue), and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
I think the work ethic of the lads is really good. People should come down basically to watch young, up-and-coming lads. I’ve only seen them a few times, but there’s a few lads who’ve got potential to go and play in higher leagues, to go and have a Football League career. If I’m being honest, when I was playing in the Football League, I never really took much interest in non-league players. I’m not disrespecting or knocking them, it’s just something that I never did. I think a lot of Football League, especially lower leagues, supporters of other clubs, they watch non-league clubs as well, and I suppose I didn’t realise that. Bradford City, I know they’re a rival of Bradford Park Avenue, but I think if they haven’t got a game mid-week, why not bring 2,000/3,000 fans to Park Avenue to support another local team? I think that’d really help communities as well.
Finally, what has this time in football taught you the most and has it changed you at all?
I think football brought me out of my shell. It made me confident, it made me be able to speak to any group of people in any environment. I could stand up in a board meeting and waffle something that someone wants me to speak about! At the beginning of my career, we went to a school to do a presentation, and they asked us if we’d mind saying a few words, and I was absolutely shitting me sen! One of the lads was like ‘Cress, you do it,’ and because I didn’t want to look shy I was like ‘alright, I’ll do it.’ I stood up there in front of parents on one side, kids on the other – the Duke of Edinburgh award, they were doing – and I was just like ‘stick to your goals in life’ and I was just like waffling on! I felt sick, but now, I could just do that like water off a duck’s back. So I think football brought me out of my shell and made me more confident around people, which is what I try to do with young lads coming through. Just having banter with them, but you’re bringing them out of their shell, you’re trying to get them to have a bite back. When you get a young lad that bites back at you, the whole dressing room just cheers, because that’s what you’ve been wanting, if it’s took you a week, six months. That’s what happened to me.
Interview by @chris_brookes