A Conference title-winner in successive seasons with Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town less than a decade ago, Richard Brodie also so nearly won promotion with the club he enjoyed his most sparkling form at, York City. Also a scorer of over 100 goals in that division, it of course only tells a fraction of the tale when it comes to his time in the game.

A mention of the native Tynesider evokes opinion from many, but he is keen to put across his side, too. The 33-year-old frontman’s playing days have taken in FA Trophy finals (and painful defeats) at Wembley, while he was the Crawley player who so agonisingly almost earned a dramatic draw in the FA Cup fifth round against Manchester United at Old Trafford in February 2011, as his header cracked back off the crossbar with Wayne Rooney et al watching on.

While he is rueful over plenty, he speaks now at a point of undoubted optimism, as a Skelmersdale United player given the opportunity to kickstart a move into coaching. Here’s his in-depth interview…

 

First off, what have these last 3-4 months looked like for you? With football, with work, with life in general.

It’s been strange, to be honest, because I’m one of those people where I like company, and I thought I would really struggle on my own, but I’ve managed to see the kids every day. I was a taxi driver, which at first I thought would be okay, with the hospital contracts and stuff like that, but it got so bad it was untrue. Sundays were my favourite days, but the last Sunday that I worked, I did £5 in seven hours. I carried on going but I applied for a job in the meantime for Morrisons, driving for the home delivery.

You’ve been playing for Skem, what have you found since you joined the club, in terms of the overall picture there?

I went to Ilkeston Town with Fowls, Lee Fowler, about 18 months ago. I played with Fowls and he said ‘come and help me out, help get us promoted etc.’ All through being full-time, I never had an injury; I was out for two weeks with a rolled ankle, I was really lucky. Went to play for Fowls and I lasted 30 seconds before I clicked my knee. I’d done my meniscus and I was struggling for six months, big time. I went and did a pre-season at Ramsbottom, I got a good pre-season, but I still wasn’t confident on my knee. I’m living in Southport and they gave me a dual-registration with Skem for a month to get games, and this was October last year. I found it enjoyable, I was playing every week, and with my career, I’ve always travelled, but when you’ve got work and the kids, the travelling just became a bit of a ballache, to be honest. I ended up staying there the full season, and it’s historically a big non-league club in the North West. It’s had a lot of financial difficulties but they’re over that now and they seem to be trying to turn the corner and move the right way.

You’re North West-based now, but is Gateshead where you’ve grown up?

I was born in Newcastle General, but I’m a Gateshead boy. I went to school in Whickham, played football for Whickham, played cricket for them. Whickham was my life and I ended up moving to Rowlands Gill. That’s where my mam and my gran and granddad, and my auntie and uncle still live now.

Can you paint the picture of what life, football etc. was like growing up?

I lost my dad at a young age, at six, and my gran and granddad brought me up really, as well as my mam, but she worked shifts. My granddad was an ex-professional, played for Middlesbrough and was captain of them in the 50s, in the same team as Brian Clough. Granddad took me everywhere. Some weekends I was playing Saturday morning for Redheugh Boys Club and Saturday afternoon for Whickham in the Northern League as a 15-year-old. Sunday mornings, pub football for the Highwayman in Whickham Highway. You used to come in from school, quickly do your homework and then you’d play football until it was dark and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Working-class family, I had a great family life and I still do now, but moving away with football, I ended up here, there and everywhere. I moved to Southport and my two kids are here now, so I’m happy here.

Has it been good to go somewhere entirely different sometimes – as far as Crawley and Aldershot – or has that been tough?

I wish I’d been able to settle somewhere properly, and I still believe to this day if York hadn’t have sold me that day to Crawley, I think I’d have been a one-club man and stayed at York the whole time. I honestly believe that. The travelling’s just the way it’s worked out and I’ve moved clubs for a lot of reasons; some being my fault and some not being my fault. I left Aldershot because Michelle fell pregnant, so we moved back home. That’s why I’ve stayed at Skem and why I wanna be here. Sometimes things are out of your hands with football and it’s a cruel, cruel game. You’re not treated like a human being sometimes, you’re treated like a piece of meat by some people, and you have to move on. People think it’s a great life, living in hotels and living out of your car but it’s not, and I got fed up of it. I read Chris Hargreaves’ interview saying that people think footballers have lots of money, but you do spend a lot of money on travelling, in hotels, so it isn’t always the case, especially at these lower-league clubs.

You’ve played a lot of seasons at a good level but just the one in the Football League, with Morecambe. Why do you think you didn’t end up playing more seasons in League Two, or even pushing for higher?

I made a lot of mistakes in my career, the way I was, and I look back now and think ‘should I have done that? Should I have said that?’ I remember Micky Mellon saying to me, there was a big Scouse dressing room at Fleetwood, and people say Geordies and Scousers are the same. Micky said ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ In a way, yes, he’s right, but I’m also thinking ‘no, because I wanna be my own man,’ and sometimes being your own man, it becomes your downfall. I should have went a lot higher, I fully believe that. The year I signed for Crawley, in 2010, I’d actually agreed terms to sign for Colchester in League One. Everything was agreed, the whole lot done and dusted, they’d bid £120,000 to York and another £20,000 with add-ons. Then Crawley came in with this ridiculous offer and the club sold me there, so that was out of my control. I should have gone higher, I should have progressed, but there’s no point dwelling on the past, I’ve just got to look forward.

For managers who’ve understood you best, who comes to mind?

Martin Foyle was the one that stands out a million miles; it’s no coincidence that my goal record under him was better than under anyone else. He was an understanding man and I still speak to him now. He took time to understand you as a person , what made you tick and to understand your family life. I think that goes a long, long way, and it doesn’t happen very often. Jim Bentley is one of them who’s an absolute diamond and in my top three or four managers by an absolute mile. The only reason I left Morecambe was because they actually couldn’t afford my wages from Crawley; they were paying my full wage and there was a disagreement on that side of things.

So are you someone who works best from that reassurance, or if a manager riled you up, would that work for you sometimes as well? Or more so against you?

It would work against me, because I remember playing for Steve Evans, and it’s the complete opposite. The ball’s within a ten/15-yard radius of you and you’d hear your name being screamed; not even anything constructive, just shouting and swearing. Then you go all tense and you make a mistake, then you make another mistake and it’s just a knock-on effect. I knew at York under Foyley that I could try anything and he wouldn’t have a go at me for it, and to be honest, those couple of seasons, most things I tried came off anyway. I left York and went back again, and people say never go back. I went back under Jackie McNamara, who by the way, was absolutely brilliant as well. I remember walking in to sign when Michelle was pregnant with Charlie, my first son, and he even involved her. That’s someone who’s captained Celtic and played for Scotland, who could take a bit of time to get to know you, and he was dead honest with me. That’s one thing I’ll always do now in my role at Skem, because there’s nothing worse than being lied to.

Looking back over the many teammates you’ve had, who would be some of the main examples of the ‘characters’?

There’s probably two that come to mind. I’m very good friends with Scott Davies, and Scotty was a character, but the two that come to mind are Jamie McGuire and Steve McNulty, to be honest. Jay was just a timebomb, he was 100-mile-an-hour on the pitch, but in a good way. He’d be one of them – and you don’t get these people any more – where if you do have a little fall-out or a disagreement, you shake hands and you have a pint afterwards. So was Macca, to be honest; we’ve had loads of run-ins since and played against each other, but we’d still go for a pint after. You don’t get that now; you get people holding grudges and young lads thinking they’re better than they are. So definitely Jamie McGuire and Steve McNulty.

On the subject of that time at Fleetwood, the boxing matches after training have had a couple of mentions, with you seemingly always being put forward as one of the two! What was your take on it, is it something you look back on and laugh about?

It’s laughing in a way but I think it was misinterpreted, and I think things have been said that probably aren’t true. It was a laugh, it was part of the dressing room. I’ll always say now that the Crawley and Fleetwood dressing rooms that won us the Conference were full of absolute characters, and you had one or two nice lads. The York team that I was in the year before, who got to the play-off final, was just a team of really good, honest, hard-working lads. But the boxing, it was meant to be a one-off and a laugh, and then it became a bit more serious, but that typified the dressing room we had. One of the boxing matches, we were meant to be in the gym doing a cool-down, because we had a game. Micky Mellon and the staff were in the other room, and Micky walked in, and me and Stefan Cox are in our underpants, fighting, all oiled-up. Micky was like ‘what’s going on here?’, but that was the kind of atmosphere that won us the league. I don’t cringe at it, but I’ve come out of it probably looking worse than I should have; it was what it was at the time. It didn’t matter who I was fighting with, they kept on making me win to fight the next time, because they knew I’d have a laugh with it. Things like the fine book as well, Macca took the fine book and just threw it in the shower, and that’s just how it was then.

York the first time around is certainly the obvious one, so when I say the most complete picture you’ve felt in football in terms of happiness, would that be the one?

The complete picture was York the first time around, although, I still think it could have been better. The second time around, there’s only one person that ever ruined that second spell, and that was Gary Mills. It was a football club that I hold close to my heart, and I’m actually doing a Q&A at York with Jon Parkin when things are back to normal, but I still can’t get my head around not being given the opportunity to play the second time around. He got rid of me after ten days at Gateshead, and when he came in at York, he sent me on loan to Macclesfield. I came back after two months and I was still the club’s top scorer, and he wouldn’t give me an opportunity. He was respected by a lot of people because of what he’d done and getting them promoted to the Football League, which, credit to him, by the way. I went back after my loan, and it was the week before they were travelling to Dover, and I went to see him on the Thursday. I had all the stats written down, and I said ‘look gaffer, I’ve been on loan,’ and he’d used six strikers in that time I was on loan. I said ‘gaffer, this club’s in the relegation zone, you don’t have to like us, let’s just work together and try and do something.’ End of the day, the stats were that I was the club’s top scorer and he wasn’t giving me an opportunity, and he just said ‘get out of my office.’

What stands out as the most difficult or challenging time you’ve had? Maybe when the enjoyment was compromised more than it should have been.

The enjoyment was never lost because I still love the game now, and this lockdown’s proved how much you actually do miss the game. One of the managers I played for said to me ‘enjoy playing, because you’re a long time retired,’ and you don’t think of that as a youngster. It’s more about being around the lads, that you miss. The most challenging time I would say was Crawley. Going in that dressing room as a young kid who’d never lived away from home, who was living on my own, and probably doing things off the field that I shouldn’t have been doing at the time. I’ve got a lot of regrets, but now with my role at Skem, I wanna use my regrets and mistakes to help other people move up the ladder and do well.

In your time in the game, how much do you feel there’s been misconceptions of you, and how much do you feel the impressions have been fair?

There’s a lot of people that have a misconception of me. People think because I’m a certain way on the pitch, that I’m like that off it, but I just want to win. I’m a nice, honest lad, who’s had a few off-the-field issues, but at the end of the day, I would do anything for anybody. That’s probably worked against me, because you can think people are your friends and they’re not. I do like a pint and I do like to go out, but it was more just to be around people. You befriend people and you do things to sort of please other people. With the thing with Macca and Jay McGuire, people say that I’m thick; I’m not thick, I’ve got 11 GCSEs, grade A-C. I probably didn’t help myself either, because I played along with it. Now my kids come first, and I’ve got a lot to give playing-wise, but I’ve got a lot to give off the field as well. With this lockdown, I’ve read and I’ve studied and I’ve looked into things.

We mentioned the driving jobs but is there anything else you’ve done work-wise, either before or after being full-time with football?

When I left school – I stayed on at sixth form and got three A levels as well – I went to Newcastle College and became an apprentice joiner. It was a two-year apprenticeship and after 18 months I ended up signing for York. I had to pack that in to go full-time, and then I stayed full-time until I left York the second time, which would have been 2016.

There’s various players in non-league who end up playing for a lot of clubs, which can bring a certain negativity, with the ‘journeyman’ tag. When people say ‘oh, Richard Brodie’s moved clubs again,’ how do you feel about it? It surely also says something that clubs still want to sign you.

Yeah, it does, but I do kind of cringe in a way. My mates will have a laugh with me, ‘oh, 26 clubs, what training kit are you wearing this week?’ It’s a Catch-22, isn’t it, because everyone wants to earn money, and if someone offers you a little bit more, then great. I’m at the stage now, I’ve just turned 33, I have been offered money again for next season, but I’m at a club under Paul McNally, and it’s come out of the blue that I’ve been given the opportunity after the assistant manager’s left. It’s not anywhere near the money that I’d be getting anywhere else, but I thought ‘you know what? It’s 20 minutes from home, the kids can come when they want, I can have my job and not be sat on the motorway again.’ Not many people would have given me that opportunity, because of what we’ve talked about and people having that opinion of me, and Macca’s done that, and I can never be thankful enough for it. We’ve been going back once a week now for the last four weeks and I’ve been taking a session in a small group. That’s what I wanna do, get my badges done and go down that road. Skem’s a bit of a sleeping giant and there’s so many nice people who deserve a bit of success. They’ve been at Prescot and now gone back to their own ground, and things are on the up. It’s an exciting time to be part of that.

Following on from that really, how are you feeling at the moment in terms of fitness, sharpness, desire to play, and just your outlook in general on the future, football-wise?

My outlook is nobody knows what football’s gonna be like, and we’ve all watched the Premier League and seen how strange it is with not having fans, because the game is to go out and put smiles on people’s faces. You play for yourself and for the team, but you play to excite people, because that’s what people go to watch. It’s been very hard to keep yourself fit, training on your own, because when you train with the lads, you’ve got a bit of competition. Obviously, you lose a yard of pace, but you try to keep as fit as you can, but with work, kids, it’s not as easy to rest and do things properly as it is when you’re full-time. You don’t have to be as fast as when you were younger, because you’ve got that bit of experience in your head; my game’s changed.

Finally, if we go back to those days when you were starting out, playing non-league at such a young age, how have you changed since? How have you not changed?

I’ve not changed my nature as a person, but I would do a lot of things differently. I can’t say being a lot more dedicated, because that’s not true, but I would certainly listen a lot more. You think that coaches are telling you just for the sake of telling you, but you look back and think ‘no, he was right.’ That’s what I wanna try and get across to people. I certainly would have been a bit more careful off the field. Everyone knew that I liked to have a bet, and I probably went a bit too far on that side, where I look at it now, and I’m on less money than I’ve ever been on, but I look after my money. That was again, the football nature, and being easily led and easily swayed to areas I shouldn’t have been. You can’t buy experience, and that’s the most true saying ever. We’ve got a good group of lads at Skem, so I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life and my career.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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