They might still be trying to strike upon the exact formula to take them all the way, but Havant & Waterlooville are right in contention for promotion from this season’s National League South. With 2019/20’s home strait in clear view, Hawks boss Paul Doswell can call upon a number of wily campaigners, and none more primed for the challenge than Danny Kedwell.

As the Hampshire side look to bounce straight back for a second National League season in their history, the striker/skipper is seeing the main ingredients of the unified, successful sides he has been part of in the past. The 36-year-old says he feels in fine enough fettle, but whatever the vantage point, his life is currently more dominated by football than ever. The ex-AFC Wimbledon, Gillingham and Ebbsfleet United man took some time out for a varied one-on-one…

 

A long way into the season now and you’re right in the mix at the top, how do you sum it up so far?

I’m really happy. It’s going well, it’s just sometimes we haven’t got it right. Say we’re scoring goals, we might concede more goals, or we keep a clean sheet but we don’t score. So it’s a bit like that at the minute, it’s not all coming together at once, but we’re second and we’re six points behind Wealdstone now. I think last night (against Weymouth) was one of our best performances, so hopefully we can go on a final push now.

What about yourself, how are you feeling at the minute?

To be fair, I feel okay. The gaffer looks after me really well. We go in three days a week, but he’s always got me in having massages, and then I’ll only do a bit of shape one day, and then I’ll train the next day. He’s looking after me really well and I’m feeling good.

What sort of group have you got in the dressing room? Are there some clear leaders, a good few who weigh in with the jokes, what sort of dynamic is it?

We’ve got a great group, to be fair. You’ve obviously got the older, experienced ones, like me, Si (Walton), Dukesy (Andy Drury), Nicky Bailey, and then you’ve got the younger lads, so we’ve got a great mixture. It’s coming together as a whole and it’s a very good group. We’re all in there together and we all battle together. I’ve been in changing rooms where we’ve won promotion and that’s how it’s been.

Prior to signing for him this season, you hadn’t played for him, but had you known the manager (Paul Doswell) at all?

I’ve always played against him, when he was (manager) at Sutton, and he rang me about going to Sutton, but he left that same year. He went to Havant and said ‘I’d like you to come with me over here and I want you to be my captain,’ and stuff like that. That’s how it came about really, playing against him…and him giving me stick from the sidelines!

There’s some fairly obvious, memorable spells in your career up to now, but is there a happiest overall time you’ve felt in football?

It’s a tough one. Wimbledon, I was always happy there, for the three-and-a-half years I was there. At Gillingham, my first three years were amazing, exactly the same, and then the last year or so there was horrendous. Like I said, the changing room we’ve got now is like how it was in those years. Ebbsfleet was a bit up and down really, but it was a good club, and I enjoyed it there.

On that Wimbledon spell, getting into the League (with Danny scoring the winning penalty against Luton in the play-off final), Terry Brown obviously led it, but what do you think made it work so well?

It was just everyone, I can’t put my finger on it really; everyone from the management staff, all the way down. Everyone just got on, and the manager never put us under any pressure, because he’d always make out that we’re the underdogs, from where the club had come. So we just all went there and had a laugh, there wasn’t any of that pressure where you’re all thinking ‘can we have a laugh, can we not?’ There’d be a team talk and someone would get up and laugh at what he’d said, and then he’d laugh about it. We took it on the pitch as well; someone messed up and someone would laugh about it. There wasn’t any moaning about it, it was always positive, whereas you find a lot of players nowadays who’d rather have a rant and rave at you than actually get on with it and help the team out.

For some it’s reassurance, others can thrive off a dressing-down sometimes, is there an approach from a manager that over time, you’ve found works best for you?

I think just leaving me alone, just letting me do my own job. When someone’s on me, I can go the other way. I’ve always been that sort of person since I was a kid, where I had to prove everyone wrong, so I always put that pressure back on myself; I didn’t need anyone else putting that on me. I’d say telling me how good I am, that’s when I’m good, instead of someone saying ‘you’ve gotta do this, gotta do that.’ Terry (Brown) always used to say, and even Martin Allen, ‘do what you’re good at, you’ve just got to go and do what you do.’ I’ve had managers where they’re like ‘you’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta come in here, go up there, come out there,’ and I’d just be like ‘well it ain’t my game,’ and that wouldn’t get the best out of me, because I’m doing other stuff that I can’t do or wouldn’t do. Just letting me do what I’m good at and letting me play, that’s when I’ve been most successful. I don’t agree with all that ranting and raving anyway, I’m a very positive person. I was captain at Wimbledon, at Gillingham, Ebbsfleet, and I’m captain here, and I always try and be positive and help people.

More than a few who fit the bill, but who are some examples of the biggest/funniest characters you’ve been around in the game so far?

Andy Drury. Simon Bass (Simon Bassey) at Wimbledon. Martin Allen as well (laughs) – that’s why his name’s Mad Dog.

How did that relationship work with Martin Allen at Gillingham, because obviously not everyone’s taken to his style in the past, whereas others have?

When he first came in, I proper struggled with him. In pre-season, I didn’t get on with him at all, I couldn’t work him out. He was on me, constantly, and the second game of the season, I went in the office and said to him ‘this is what I’m like, I don’t need you in my earhole 24/7, just let me get on with it.’ He was like ‘listen, I’m glad you told me,’ and from then on he was brilliant, he was unbelievable.

Is there an example of a player you’ve played with whose ability alone, taking all other factors out of it, deserved to be at a higher level?

Jon Main. He didn’t start playing football until he was 25 or 26, he came on the scene really late, and he was one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen. Just anything he hit used to go in, it was unbelievable, so he could have gone a lot higher. He went to Tonbridge and scored 40-something goals in his first year, and then he went to Wimbledon and was scoring goals. Me and him had the best partnership I’ve ever had; he just knew where to run, he knew where to be in the box, he just had a bit of everything. Wherever the ball went in the box, he was there, so he was very clever; people don’t see it like that, but it’s a clever skill. So I think if he’d have been a bit earlier, he’d have gone much higher.

In terms of how non-league’s changed since you started out, and even since just before you went into the League with Wimbledon (in 2011), how do you feel about it? Do you look at it as ‘that’s good they’ve raised the standard of this side of it’, or ‘this is too far away from what non-league’s about’?

Yeah, bit of both really. I think there’s a lot more quality teams in there and better-quality players than when I first started, but the other side of it, I think it’s absolutely a shambles, where the toughness has gone out of it. A little nudge, it’s a foul, and people screaming, that really gets to me. The quality on the ball is a bit quicker and faster, I think, and there’s a lot more full-time clubs in non-league now, and there’s bigger budgets, so there’s gonna be better players playing in it. But listen, when I was at Wimbledon in the Conference, we had Luton, Crawley and us, and teams like York, so it was a good standard. So it’s a bit of both really. The toughness has gone out of it, and some of that side of it’s embarrassing.

Have there been any myths/misconceptions about you in your career, or have you found most people have a fair impression of what you’re about?

Yeah, like I said earlier, I’ve had to prove a lot of people wrong. People saying ‘oh he’s rubbish, he can’t run, can’t do this,’ so I’ve always had to prove people wrong. Even when I’ve signed for clubs and people are like ‘why’ve we signed him?’ Then you play, and three months later, you’re their best player; they’re like ‘oh, how good was he?!’ So I’ve always been like that, I’ve liked to prove people wrong. In general as well, I’m a nice fella, I don’t put myself out there, no bad press and things like that, but people talk. You talk to people and they’re surprised and they go ‘oh, they told me you were like that,’ and I’m like ‘no, I’m a nice geezer.’ I think that’s just in general life. You go to stadiums, you do something, like a foul, or you score and give it to them because they’ve give it you, and they just think you’re a bad egg. So they take it that way and it sticks with you; I think that’s just football in general.

Back at Havant, have we got a team DJ?

Yeah, Bradley Tarbuck…terrible. Yeah, he’s terrible, I think we need to change it, to be fair.

Have you ever had that role at any of your clubs?

No, no one like’s Frank Sinatra or Elvis! I’m old school.

Have you had any singing initiations to do anywhere?

I’ve sung twice; I sung at Gillingham and at Havant. Frank Sinatra was at Gillingham, and then I did a Phil Collins song, the one off the Cadbury’s advert (‘In the Air Tonight’). It was easier, though, because it was on a karaoke screen!

Finally, coaching’s been one of course, but besides family, what else do you like in your life outside playing?

I don’t actually switch off (from football). The thing I like is I take my boys training and to football, because they’re both at Charlton. It’s nice, I just get away and I stand there on my own and watch them, and that switches me off really. I’m up there every night, so I go training, I’m home, and on my days off I’m up there, so it’s constantly football. I still do the academy at Ebbsfleet, the scholars, but I’m head of it so I don’t coach myself, I oversee it all. I go down there and watch it, so if I’m not playing, I’m somewhere doing football.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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