Bolton doesn’t tend to deal too much in delusions of grandeur, but recent months have still been new territory for local product and one-time Wanderers first-teamer Andy Kellett. Notably signed on loan by Manchester United in 2015, the ex-Wigan Athletic midfielder/full-back has found himself having to take the wheel in seeking out his very future in the game of late.
Recent years have brought the surreal of elite company in training, the likes of Harry Kewell and Kevin Nolan in the dugout, but individual misfortune and recent relegations have contributed to him searching for a true turning of the page. It was another of those ex-Premier League names to manage him, his last Notts County boss Neal Ardley, who called the 26-year-old a ‘very good player’ who could be a club’s ‘little gem’, and it was Billy Heath’s Alfreton Town he joined last week.
With his career ready for its next act, the recent AFC Fylde player shares the behind the scenes of a footballer battling for that chance to show the worth they know they have, along with a ‘caño’ from a Champions League winner, and more…
Firstly, how did joining Alfreton come about, and what were the conversations, with Billy Heath etc.?
I recently parted ways with my agent, so I was looking for clubs myself. I was messaging managers, speaking to managers, and to be fair, National League North wasn’t really something that I’d looked at. I was speaking to one of my pals and he’d spoken to Nick Hawkins, who’s at Alfreton (as sporting director), and he just said ‘why don’t you listen to what he’s got to say and just have a chat?’ That’s what I did, and I went and met Billy at a night match, and he kind of sold it to me. I just wanted to get back playing football and enjoying it again, because I’ve not played a lot this year.
Are you travelling in from Bolton, or are you a bit closer to Alfreton?
I had been training at Fylde prior to joining Alfreton, but I live in Nottingham with my missus. My mum and dad live back in Bolton, though, so my week was staying up north and then coming back to Nottingham at the weekend. It’s worked out well for me really. I would have travelled anywhere, but it was nice that Alfreton fell in place.
You left Notts County in late-August, had that recent short-term spell with Fylde, but what have these last few months been like for you overall?
It probably has been my most testing season. I’ve not been involved really at all this season, and it’s my first real time out of football, in terms of not being with a club. I’ve found it hard, because I am outgoing, but it’s quite awkward messaging managers, ringing managers, asking if they can give me a chance. To be fair, I feel like it’s given me more contacts, and from what I’ve experienced, I prefer to speak to the managers myself, just for the fact that I can get everything from them instead of going through my agent.
Do you start considering different options outside football in such a situation, or have you always maintained that desire to stay in the game in these past few months?
If I’m being honest, no, not all this year. I’ve had times where I’ve been rejected, I’ve been told that I’ll be offered a contract and they’ve kind of just blanked me. I’ve messaged managers and they’ve blanked me. It felt like a kick in the teeth, and I felt like ‘bloody hell, if I can’t get somewhere at this level, it’s only gonna get harder and harder,’ but for me, it was just to get back in somewhere where I could enjoy playing. The last couple of years haven’t been great for me; I’ve not really wanted to be a professional footballer, just for the fact of injuries and stuff that’s gone on behind the scenes, and it made me fall out of love with it really. That was hard for me, because I really wanted to enjoy my football, but I wasn’t getting it, so I felt like I wasn’t 100 percent in it. When I look back, for all the teams I’ve been at, I’ve been at some really good clubs, and at the time, I probably did take them for granted, because I’d always been given contracts and been given the opportunities. For me to not have opportunities, if anything, it’s made me just wanna get my career back on track even more.
CHAMPIONS !!! 🔵⚪️🏆 pic.twitter.com/Dyy3YxbOtk
— Andy Kellett (@AndyKell13) May 8, 2016
Was the spell at Fylde as you expected, in terms of the overall arrangement? How did conversations with (manager) Jim Bentley go?
I’d left Notts and I started messaging a few teams, and Fylde were one of the teams. I knew the chief exec from Wigan and I just messaged him, and it was actually the previous manager (Dave Challinor) who I went in with for a couple of weeks. Obviously he got sacked, and I was still there. They said ‘don’t come in for the next couple of weeks until we’ve sorted something.’ Jim Bentley came in and they ended up getting back to me. I was training there and they offered me a contract, but it was ‘why don’t you sign up for a month? You’re not getting anywhere at the moment,’ and I was happy to play for free. I just wanted to jump at it and get my name back out there. With the budget, they couldn’t give me anything, and it kind of fizzled out, but to be fair to Jim and the staff at Fylde, they were brilliant with me. He’s looked after me, Jim, in terms of trying to get my name out and trying to get me back into a team. So even though I was at Fylde, he was looking elsewhere for me to go and play, because he felt that because I hadn’t played all year, and they needed results, he didn’t wanna just chuck me in there. When I heard Alfreton were interested I just kind of stepped away from Fylde.
There’s more upbeat stuff to talk about, I promise, but what is the ‘behind the scenes’ to a situation where you’re told as a footballer to not come in for a couple of weeks? How do you approach it in the meantime – just draw upon as much of a routine as you can from being in the pro game?
Well it is hard, because since I was young, there’s always been that routine where I’m training every day, doing gym every day, I’m eating well every day. Then you go into a two-week block where you’re not gonna be training, or doing weights, but to be fair, I’ve always looked after myself away from football. I don’t drink, I eat well, and I try and do more training, just to keep myself on top of things.
In your career so far, what kind of approach from a manager have you found works best with you personally?
I would say for someone to believe in me really, and a club that I feel wanted at and a part of. That’s no digs at any other clubs, because managers have chopped and changed at some clubs, and the new manager might not take a fancy to someone else’s player. So for someone to just give me that encouragement to be at the level I’ve been in the past really.
Which manager(s) would you say has had the best understanding of that?
I would probably say Jack Lester at Chesterfield. I played quite a big part at Chesterfield, and he always made me feel like I was the main player; even though I might not have been, he made me feel like that, and I played over 40 games in that season. I did quite well and got the move to Notts, and even though it was a difficult season, it was quite a positive one for myself.
Is there an example of a player you played or trained with whose ability alone belonged at a higher level? Or just had that bit of a ‘wow’ factor to some of the stuff they did?
I’d probably say Yanic Wildschut who was at Wigan. I don’t know what it was, he wasn’t particularly one of the best trainers in the team, he was probably towards the lower end, but on match day he could just turn it on. At Championship and League One level, he was unbelievable in terms of power, strength, speed, just going past people and being effective in a game. Then at Under-23 level, I’ve played with people like Robin van Persie and Falcao, and it’s just different. If I’m being honest, I feel like the lower leagues are a lot harder to play at than playing in the Championship or League One, because they seem to give you more time on the ball. You can do your thing, the opposite team does their thing, but with League Two and Conference level, there’s no time on the ball, it’s hectic, it switches possession so many times, and it’s just a different type of football.
Obviously that loan to Man United is something that sticks out from your career so far, does it get annoying at all when it’s instantly brought up by people? Or just a great thing to have experienced and to have on your CV?
A bit of both really. At the time it was an unbelievable feeling for me, but then people would say, off the cuff sort of, ‘how’ve you nicked that move?’ and stuff like that, and that makes you feel worse about the situation than it was. When they asked me to go there, I couldn’t really believe it at the time, but I’d had history with (reserve coach) Warren Joyce and he’d always liked me as a player. So when they came forward and it was Warren who was pushing that, I kind of understood it a lot more. It was a complete transformation, because the six months before that, I was on loan at Plymouth and we were training on a park, you would have to take your own breakfast/dinner in. That might seem like nothing, but when you go to Man United a couple of months after, and you get literally everything for you, you’re working normal 9 to 5 hours because it’s so professional in terms of training, gym, food, video analysis, stuff like that. It’s like a full-time job. It was very good, and it’s something that I’ll probably always look back on. Whether that’s hindered my career or not, because at the time we were pushing for play-offs with Plymouth. Maybe if I’d have stayed in that, my career might have gone a different way, but obviously signing for United, I couldn’t imagine that bringing anything negative to my career.
Good day today at old Trafford!!! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/ASchr1lS4U
— Andy Kellett (@AndyKell13) May 17, 2015
You mentioned van Persie and Falcao, but in general, were you always very separate from the first team, or was there a lot of crossover?
Yeah, there was a lot of crossover. Most times, me and a few others would train with the first team, but when the first team weren’t in, we would train with the 23s, and the first-team lads who weren’t playing or were coming back from an injury, they would join in, so there was always a mix.
Are there any details that stick in your mind from being in that kind of company? Maybe ‘I didn’t realise he was that strong on the ball,’ or something funny someone did, whatever it may be?
If there’s one thing, I would say that the difference in intensity and speed is minimal going through the leagues, but the quality in the finishing and the passing and the movement is completely different. It made it easier for me at the time, playing and training with players like that. The other thing that sticks out in my mind is in my first training session, I got megged by (Ángel) Di María, and everyone was just running around screaming! As embarrassing as that was for me, it made me feel less anxious about the situation.
Did you ever have a conversation with Louis van Gaal?
It was more everyday stuff like ‘how are you?’ He introduced himself and we’d speak in the morning about how things were going. I learned a lot from Warren; I was playing left-back at the time, so I learned a lot in terms of a different position to Plymouth and previous.
Have you ever had an initiation to do when you’ve joined a club? If so, which song(s), and how did it go?
Yeah, I’ve sung at every team I’ve been at. My go-to song is usually ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations. I suppose it depends; I’ve been at clubs where they make it really awkward for you, and then others where they kind of join in and it helps. I’ve always worked myself up before them; I don’t know a lot of people who do like doing them! So I wouldn’t eat before mine, because I’d work myself up so much that I wouldn’t be able to. Once you’ve done it, it’s a huge relief and you can just move on from it.
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist
I’d listen to anything that’s upbeat really. I quite like the songs in different languages, and that’s just from lads who’ve been in the team over the years from different countries who play their music. But at Wigan, Ryan Colclough was the DJ, so he used to have a playlist, and we had this system where, it’s hard to explain, but it would change the beat of the track and stuff like that, and he would do that and all the lads would laugh at it.
As we speak at this point in your career, what would you say has been the happiest spell overall?
I would say more towards the start of my career, so the 23s at United, and Plymouth. Even though it was such a far journey (to Plymouth), the fans were unbelievable, the manager (John Sheridan) was good, and I felt like I was gonna play every week. That’s how the whole club made me feel, and we got to the play-offs that year, but I wasn’t a part of that, because I’d gone on loan somewhere else. We were always towards the top, so we were winning games, and at that time, I was playing with probably the most confidence I’ve ever played with. I only say that because I compare it to the last couple of years, where I’ve been at Chesterfield and Notts County, where we’ve been at the bottom and it’s been quite a negative place overall.
Aside from playing/training, what other interests do you have, whether it’s wider ambitions or just something uncomplicated to switch you off from football?
To be fair, it’s always been football, football, football, but since I’ve had a bit of time out recently, I’ve been looking into buying properties. If my football wasn’t to take off again then that’s the road I would probably go down. It’s something that I’ve always been interested in; my dad was a plasterer. Before these last six months, I’ve never really thought about going into anything else.
Finally, at this point in your football, and certainly with some of the recent experiences, what do you think the game’s taught you the most so far?
I think it’s taught me to be more open about everything. Apart from injuries and a bit of bad luck, stuff like that, I’ve never really stuck up for myself, where I’ve felt in the past like I’ve been left out of certain games, not for football ability but because someone else will be harder to control if they’re not in the squad. To be fair, I’ve never been that type of person where I’ve been confrontational about stuff like that, but I have learned over the years that managers want that sometimes. At the end of the day, I think if you’re doing all the right things and you believe in yourself, then you can go anywhere you wanna go really.
Interview by @chris_brookes