Photo: Boston United

There have been some impressive incomings at Boston United of late, with midfield man Paul Green having especially led a career of some calibre. The 22-cap Republic of Ireland international would have loved another go in League One with Crewe Alexandra, but through a mixture of circumstance, and a friend from back home, he resumes his non-league journey some 17 years on.

On the day that Doncaster Rovers sealed promotion to a Football League they remain firmly in today, Paul Green was the 20-year-old midfielder opening the scoring in what transpired to be an extra-time play-off final win over Dagenham & Redbridge. Stoke City were the hosts for that one, and there have been Wembley and Millennium Stadium finals for Green since, not to mention a major international tournament, four promotions and eight seasons in the Championship.

Having joined Boston United in August, it was he who got the Pilgrims off and running in last Tuesday’s 4-0 win at Leamington to start their National League North season, heading home Andi Thanoj’s corner. The Yorkshireman also nipped in to convert a header on his first start for the Republic of Ireland – a decade ago now.

While that effort against Algeria is down in the history books, one other way in which he officially announced himself to the Irish fold sticks in the mind just as vividly.

“I’ve had to sing at every team I’ve been at,” he explains. “When you’ve got Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and people like that staring over at you, you’re a bit star-struck.”

“I sang ‘The Irish Rover’ that day, but my go-to song is from Top Gun, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, so I do belt that out! That’s probably the only song I know the words to at the moment!”

This year has provided a new (and largely unwelcome) spin on many facets of the game as we know it. After winning promotion from League Two with Crewe via points per game, Paul’s new side were due to play Guiseley in their second league game this weekend, only for a postponement due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Pilgrims’ squad.

Oh for the days when stories like 2010’s volcanic ash cloud were the height of the headline drama. For Paul, that one actually meant his first meet-up with the Irish team was not via a simple flight, but instead a taxi to Dover and ferry to Dublin.

‘A change of plan’ would be as fitting a tagline as any for this year, and the former Derby County and Leeds United player initially had every intention of turning out for Crewe in the third tier in 2020/21.

“I didn’t know what was going on (after the 2019/20 season suspension). We were training constantly, because we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the season.

“I had a few conversations with the gaffer (David Artell) and things like that, just saying ‘we can’t make a decision at this moment in time, because we don’t know, financially, where we’re gonna be.’ That conversation obviously had to come when we found out what was happening with the season, and it was just money really, with the COVID situation and the budget.

“A bit disappointing that it happened like that. Having two-and-a-half years, with a promotion on the cards as well, it’s a bit gutting getting released, but it’s football, I suppose; who’d have known this was gonna come about and what was going to happen?”

His new club have certainly not been content with simply treading water in recent times. Play-off finalists at the beginning of August, the Lincolnshire side with a Football League past are set on making it back there.

Suffice to say it wasn’t the farewell to York Street after 87 years anyone had dreamed of, with a ‘behind closed doors’ conclusion to their 2019/20, but a future at the new Jakemans Community Stadium offers some exciting prospects. In their new number eight, they have a player who featured 33 times (overall) last season for a club two divisions higher.

He represented Ireland by virtue of his grandfather from Westport, County Mayo, but it is his West Yorkshire roots that link him to Pilgrims boss Craig Elliott.

“Yeah, we’re both from the mighty Pontefract! We probably first crossed paths when I was only about nine.

“He used to be down at Ponte Collieries and we used to have a few little kickabouts, played 5-a-side together and that. When we see each other, we have a good chat about football, how he’s been getting on and how I’ve been getting on, and (joining Boston) just materialised from that really.”

There can’t be too many from Pontefract who have been likened to Gennaro Gattuso and Nobby Stiles. It was, however, Paul’s former Ireland manager, the legendary Giovanni Trapattoni, who did just that.

He recalls the interactions and the general dynamic with the former Italy boss.

“He liked things doing right, so if you weren’t doing it right, obviously he’d give you a kick up the backside. He had the language barrier, so he had an interpreter, but more often than not, he got his points across, you understood what he wanted.

“It was very organised, how his team wanted to play.”

‘Il Trap’ rated him enough to include him in his Euro 2012 squad. It was one of those instances football tends to throw up from time to time, where a previous surmise of a player is made to look almost comical. Here was someone coming on against the world champions (Spain) in a major tournament, having once been deemed not physically adequate for his club as a youngster.

“I was on the books at Sheffield Wednesday from 11 to 16, and then I got the little nod saying I was too small, so I got released from there at 16. I think I had a trial at Scunthorpe then; again, got told I was too small, but I think they signed Jamie McCombe on that same day, the big centre-half.

“Then I went to Doncaster, got picked up there by the Snodin brothers and never looked back since really.”

As with Jamie Vardy, Paul would cross paths with the club again as an opposition player in the same division some years later. He had featured against them in friendlies, but as part of the Doncaster Rovers contingent that climbed the divisions under Dave Penney, he would line up against the Owls in League One as a 21-year-old.

“A massive club like that being in League One was obviously ridiculous. It was a great occasion for myself, going back to Sheffield.

“I never played at Hillsborough as a kid, but having watched loads of games growing up, it was a great occasion to go back and play.”

He would also face them for Derby County, Leeds United, Ipswich Town and Rotherham United, netting the winner for Ipswich in a May 2014 encounter. Club allegiances can stay strongly with some players, while for others, a career in the game tends to somewhat dilute or wipe away being a ‘fan’.

Paul confirms he considered himself a Wednesday supporter once upon a time.

“We used to get free tickets and that, and I used to love watching them; Benito Carbone, (Paolo) Di Canio, all them. I would have said I was a Sheffield Wednesday fan in that time, but I don’t really follow anyone now, to be honest, I’m quite neutral.

“Obviously, I still follow my teams that I’ve played for.”

While there was a conversation with Brian Laws during his time as Wednesday manager, a return never quite came to fruition. As it was, he spent four years with Derby, which began with the 2008/09 campaign.

It was a strange one for the club, having just come down from that scarring 11-point Premier League campaign, and with a throughput of new players, only for a managerial switch from Paul Jewell to Nigel Clough mid-season. The Rams finished 20 points back from the play-offs, but there was a run to the League Cup semi-final, with Paul featuring in both legs against Manchester United (and against them in the FA Cup soon after).

Three seasons earlier, he was part of Doncaster’s headline-making run in the competition as a League One side, which saw them eliminate Manchester City and Aston Villa. With Arsenal the visitors to Belle Vue in the last eight, it was Paul who put them 2-1 up in extra-time, only for World Cup winner Gilberto Silva to devastatingly equalise at the death (Donny losing on penalties).

It would be impossible to discount those Dave Penney years, but it was the following era under Sean O’Driscoll that stands out as Paul’s most enjoyable in his career to date, he feels.

“I’d say it was that spell. We had a lot of success in that short space of time; obviously when you’re winning and you’re getting promotion, the team morale is unbelievable to be around.

“That’s my happiest time in football, definitely. Probably last year at Crewe, it got quite close to that, as in the team morale and the togetherness, but I’d definitely say Doncaster stood out to me by a long shot.

“Sean O’Driscoll probably excelled me to that next level; how he wanted to play football, the football movements and the technique, got you thinking about the game a bit more. With the great team that we had when we went up to the Championship, I thought that the way we played football that year and the year before, it was unbelievable to play in.

“We had some talented players and some have gone into managing now, some are still playing.”

Under O’Driscoll, he was a Wembley winner over Leeds in the 2008 League One play-off final, with 75,132 there to see it. Another 59,024 had been there when he won the Football League Trophy a year earlier (Donny 3-2 victors over Bristol Rovers).

Although Paul left the summer they won promotion, Donny in the Championship under O’Driscoll would attract acclaim for their playing style. Comparisons were drawn – slightly tongue in cheek but with undoubted admiration, too – to the Barcelona/Spanish national team style that had come to football’s forefront.

As alluded to, Paul found himself up against the latter in summer 2012, one night in Gdańsk, when he was brought on in Ireland’s 4-0 group loss. His career has seen him compete against some stellar names along the way – some bloke called Messi included – but it is no surprise that La Roja spring to mind first when he looks back on the individual match-ups that blew him away somewhat.

“Yeah, that was the one straight away. I came on against Spain and I think I touched the ball four times; I think two of them were from the kick-off!

“They were just so dominant it was ridiculous. The defenders were playing like midfielders, midfielders were overrunning, with the defenders being in there as well, and the strikers pulling away.

“The triangles they played, that team they had that year was an absolute joke. Yeah, that was the moment I just thought ‘wow, these are unbelievable.’”

If the likes of David Silva, Jordi Alba and Xavi seemed to fly by that evening, so too did the tournament experience overall.

“When you’re there, it’s just tunnel vision. Just focusing on training the next day, you’re training the majority of the days.

“(Trapattoni) gave us a couple of days off but it’s literally just playing golf and relaxing kind of thing, he didn’t really want you out socialising, which you can understand, being in a big tournament. It was just focusing on the tournament more than anything else, and when you do sit back, when you’re coming to the end of your career, you just think to yourself ‘wow, what an achievement just to get a minute on the pitch in the Euros,’ which I never, ever thought playing in the Conference 17/18 years ago.”

It was during a barbecue with family that he was told of his first call-up, and he would win caps over a four-year period. While he was 27 at that point, and a settled Championship player, with all the extra focus from media and suchlike that playing for Ireland brings, did he feel like a ‘new signing’ who had to prove himself?

“A little bit. It just came like a whirlwind really.

“I was in a training camp over there for a week or something like that, and Trapattoni kept me on for the upcoming friendlies. I played I think 25 minutes in one and I made my full debut in the other.

“I was lucky enough to score on my full debut. It just came that quick, I didn’t really take it all in, but a very proud moment for myself, my family, and I’d never change it for the world.

“The media side of it, I’d never come across it in that way. I did read things when I was over there; you have a poor game and obviously the media’s straight on you.

“One minute you can be unbelievable, next minute you’re down in the dumps, but mentally, myself, I was ready for that, being brought up right.”

On that criticism he encountered, Robbie Keane was one who made a point of reassuring him he was there for a reason. His path is also unquestionably evidence of someone who hasn’t folded when a test of his mettle has arisen, but what stands out as the most difficult period of his career to date?

“I’d probably say at Oldham. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes there that people didn’t know about.

“In some ways, it just wasn’t a nice environment to play in. It was a tough time and the results weren’t great.

“It was nice just to get a lease of life again going to Crewe, playing some nice football.”

From that Doncaster team he cited, Richie Wellens (Swindon Town), Gareth Taylor (Man City Women) and Brian Stock (Weymouth) are currently managing, with Graeme Lee leading Middlesbrough’s Under-23s, and others like James O’Connor and Adam Lockwood having also had stints in the dugout. Along with continuing to play, Paul has so far obtained his UEFA B Licence, which ties in with the A1 Football Factory he runs back home.

“I own a facility in Pontefract. It’s got three 3G pitches in there, it’s got a play centre, a bar and a gym, so it’s keeping me busy.

“I’m heading up the academy that we run down here and overseeing the coaching. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do eventually when I finish football, it’s just given me the time to do it now.”

Fewer extended periods away from loved ones is undoubtedly another plus point to come from his recent move.

“I love spending time with my family now. Playing over at Crewe, I was constantly in the car or staying over, things like that.

“It’s nice just to spend time with your family when you’ve got a six-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl. They take up a bit of your time, wanting your attention or taking them to their football games or gymnastics.

“I do really enjoy a game of golf, and I’ve been playing a bit of cricket this summer. Over in Crewe, when I used to stay over, we used to have big table tennis tournaments, with Chris Porter and Nicky Hunt, so I used to enjoy that as well.”

The goal he served up for Boston on his league debut hints at what could prove another successful stint, in a near-two-decade career that certainly has room for promotion number five.

“I’m really excited for the season ahead. It’s a massive club in that league, an ambitious club that want to go forward, and the way Craig was speaking about the club, it was a no-brainer for myself.”

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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