He believes he made his non-league debut over half his life ago for Moor Green, while a move to Redditch United this summer also makes him older than his new manager. All the same, Kyle Perry is actually only 34, but in his own words, the former Mansfield Town and Altrincham (amongst one or two others…) frontman is on the ‘farewell’ leg of his footballing tour.
It is 12-and-a-half years since his Chasetown side led a Cardiff City team that would reach the FA Cup final that year, and only a few days later, the one-time Walsall youngster stepped up into the pro game with League One Port Vale. The Wolverhampton native now wants to help some of today’s undiscovered gems unlock their own opportunities at higher levels. What he can pass on from his time in the game, though, only partly concerns that business on the pitch…
You’ve just signed for Redditch, so we’ll start with the important stuff… tell me about your wedding band and how that whole side of your life got started!
In school, one of my best mates was a musician, and we’d go to all these dingy, dodgy nightclubs in Wolverhampton and watch these bands, and we thought ‘we can have a laugh and do that.’ I’m not shy, so I thought ‘I’ll pick up a guitar and start playing’. When I made it pro at Port Vale, I was 21, and I’d get home at midday, you’d put your feet up and relax, so I just played the guitar. Then I started writing music, because I’m quite creative, and by the time I got to Mansfield, I was touring the UK in my band; playing with ones like JLS, Scouting for Girls, The Twang, The Rifles, Ocean Colour Scene. It’s just something that’s snowballed, like everything does really, and it’s been a great journey to be on. When I went back semi-pro, late-20s/early-30s, I became a dad, and it was a difficult time in my life. I split with my ex and was trying to see my son, and I put all my energy and time away from football into writing an album, so on the back of that, I ended up with a five-track EP and a 12-track album.
The original band was called Stubblemelt. I wrote my own music, shot the videos, I booked the tour, I did all that stuff. As with everything, the internal politics, all the drama, the band fell apart and went its separate ways. Falling out of the pro game, I needed some extra pennies, and I started the function band live, my wedding band. The last probably five years, I’ve been playing corporate events, weddings, so it’s very strange sitting in the corner of a wedding venue. I’ve had it where I’ve scored a last-minute winner, on top of cloud nine on a football pitch on a Saturday, then on a Saturday night, I haven’t been able to go back on the coach or anything. There was one where it was a rush in the car to Alton Towers, to their function room to play a wedding there. My function band’s quite good as well, so they can set up in the day; I’m the diva frontman! I’ll play on a Saturday, then rush to a stage on Saturday night and throw a guitar round my neck. I’ve loved every second of it, to be honest.
— Cardigan1979 (@Cardigan1979) June 18, 2020
At Redditch, the new manager (Wayne Spicer) talked about building a team to help get you the goals he feels you can. Has he gone into much detail about how he plans to do that?
Loads of detail, yeah. I didn’t know the gaffer before signing, but he just called me out of the blue and said ‘look, I’m interested, I know all about you and this is my vision and what I wanna do.’ I can see why he’s got the opportunity; straight away, he knows what he wants, and he’s got a team of highly-developed coaches there. They’re gonna be doing stats on players, filming training sessions, filming games. I’m at a level now where it’s risk over reward. I’ve gone for moves where I’ve been focused on the finance, I’ve gone for moves where I just wanna be playing, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. Last summer, I had teams coming in for me and I didn’t know what to do; I ended up signing for Bromsgrove. I got myself super-fit, scored the most goals for them, and after five games, the manager said ‘I want this player; you can go.’ At this point I think I’d only started one towards the end, so sometimes it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. I’m gonna follow my heart this time, I’ve agreed early doors, and I wanna help him. Everyone talks about philosophy and ethos, but it’s a simple game; you need to score more than the opposition, and to do that, you need the ball in the box. I want delivery; if you put it in the box, nine times out of ten I’m gonna score. Playing for a team that passes out from the back, goes left to right and then goes back the other way, it does nothing for me. Hopefully we’re gonna play fast, forward-thinking football and turn a few heads.
I’m 34 and I wanna help the next generation. I talk about when I was at Stafford Rangers, and there was a lad who came through called Josh Gordon, and I saw a twinkle in his eye and I knew he had something special. I helped him get set up with an agent who took him to Leicester, and this season just gone, he’s been top scorer for Walsall and picked up the Player of the Season award. So I pride myself on that now at this stage. Like myself, there’s so many players who are mismanaged and treated badly that I think I can use my past experiences to really help some of these lads. I see a gem, like Josh, or when I was at Hereford with Sam Clucas, and you know they’re going places. I see an opportunity at Redditch where I can play that part in helping young players come on.
— Kyle Perry (@IAmKylePerry) November 17, 2016
Aside from football, what has life been like for you since March? Do you still do the freelance graphic design work?
It goes back to my little boy, so before he started reception, my access to him was Monday, Tuesday, Friday. At that point with football, I was playing for Altrincham, so I got promoted with them from the National League North and then I had a good, successful season in the National League and got 15 goals. It was at the time where my little lad was starting reception, so I couldn’t see him in the week. I was freelancing, graphic design, for events and doing what I could to survive, but since then, I’ve been able to get into a stable job, with a manufacturing company in the construction industry. That was about four years back, and then after a year or two, I got promoted to the marketing manager for the UK and I’ve been doing that ever since. So I oversee everything from the web, the catalogues, the adverts, the PR, the copyrighting, the videos, social media, the CRM. I’ll always say this, I’ve learned so much from football, but it’s not necessarily on the pitch where I’ve learned my skills; it’s as a person and how to conduct yourself, and what you need to do to succeed.
How are you feeling overall at this point, do you want to keep playing a few years yet? Or are you going a season at a time?
I wanna keep playing, I feel fit. If you know about me, I’m a big lad anyway, and I’ve always been a big lad. Falling out of the game full-time, it’s harder juggling everything, but these last few months have given me a chance to slow down a little and reassess. I’m jogging every morning, I’m biking; I understand that I have to do more. I’m stretching, because I’m 6’4”, I’m 18 stone+. People joke and say ‘oh are you gonna drop back to centre-back now and do the Dion Dublin?’ but I’m still scoring goals. More and more people are saying the game’s changing and you need to be able to hold it up and run in behind, but I think the game’s the same, it’s just people’s interpretation of it. I feel like I can keep going for a long time, touch wood. It’s injuries that’ll finish me off, if anything, or my toleration level for bullshit, which gets thrown around a lot at this level. Another one is I’m on the edge where I know I could do a good job as a manager. I’ve played for enough clubs and I know enough players, and I feel like I know what it is to win a game. I’ve played for some teams recently and I think ‘why are they making those decisions?’ So that’s a strange one for me now. Like I said, now at Redditch, I’m older than the manager, but I still need that release on a pitch. I always say there’s nothing like scoring a goal and venting for 90 minutes, where you get all that frustration out on a football pitch. I’ve found nothing like that.
From the very varied time you’ve had playing so far, which spell(s) stands out as perhaps the happiest you’ve felt overall?
There’s so many bad times. You lose a game on a Saturday and your whole week’s dragged down, or you lose a couple of games so the manager thinks the team’s not fit enough and you end up running for two weeks. It’s just so much ‘negative, negative, negative’, so it’s hard to pinpoint one moment, but what I will say is every dressing room, I’ve found lads who I’ve ended up friends with for life. Obviously there’s people you don’t get on with! Then there’s people at clubs, the ones painting the fence, the ones doing the pitch, they’ve all got their own unique personalities and love the club and do anything for it. Now with social media, when I started the band, they’d all buy my albums, buy my t-shirt. You get a move, everyone’s messaging you, and you can’t beat that support. For proud moments, I experienced a lot in my early career. I still feel like I’m in my early-20s; I don’t feel like I’m 34, or by any stretch ready to hang my boots up. One of my first seasons, at 17, I got promoted with Telford; there was 5000 there at Step 3. I was top goalscorer for them, and within a year or two, I did the FA Cup run with Chasetown and it was all over TV. So it threw me into the game, and then I was on another step, and it’s just constant. It was probably only at 26/27 when I reassessed and said ‘ok, let me have a look what’s going on here.’ I played professional football and that’s what everyone dreams of. Every year I’ve had people say I’m not good enough or I shouldn’t play, and that was in League One down to Step bloody 3. You’re always gonna get your naysayers, but you just have to believe in yourself and keep pushing on. I’ve had a joke with Wayne Spicer that these are my exhibition years, my farewell tour! But it could be a ten-year farewell rock tour, let’s say! I’m just gonna focus on enjoying it; I never did, I always wanted the next thing.
Over the years, what have you found works with you when it comes to approach from a manager, and who has seemed to understand that best?
Charlie Blakemore at Chasetown. Lee Sinnott at Port Vale I have a lot to thank for, for putting me in the pro game, and then I got promoted with him at Altrincham. Lee Sinnott’s probably the one I’ve resonated with the most; got to know his family, but just a nice guy, straightforward. Nice people are the ones I relate to, who talk to you like a human and not collateral. A lot of the teams, you get a lot of bullshit, and I can’t handle that. If more managers were honest with players, that’s what you want really. Or instead of trying to force you out the door, just be honest and say ‘is there a chance you can go somewhere else?’ It’s a mug’s game to be involved and playing at this level, and that’s a sad way to look at it, because we all love it, but you see the same things every season. You keep the faith and think ‘something will change, somebody good will get a chance’ but it’s just frustrating.
— Bromsgrove Sporting (@SportingFC) August 18, 2019
From the many characters you’ve been involved with in football, who are some examples of the standouts?
Michael Townsend; I was with him at Hereford. He had a very good League career at Cheltenham, Barnet, he was captain everywhere he’s been. I used to play for Brewood Juniors on a Sunday and he used to play for Rushall, and we always used to fight each other! He’s just agreed terms to come to Redditch with me. Last couple of seasons, we’ve linked up at Stafford Rangers and Barwell, and then Stratford last season, and there wouldn’t be anybody else I’d wanna go to war with than Michael Townsend, he’s an absolute warrior. I’ve been going out biking 30 miles and whatnot with him. Tom Marshall, I met him when I was a kid at Hednesford. I got him in my band, Stubblemelt, so he was playing the bass! Never played an instrument in his life but we just needed somebody with stage presence. Had a successful season at Tamworth with him, took him to Alty with me, so he’s another one I’ve got a lot of time for. Another one, Louis Briscoe, Mansfield Town; that was ten+ years ago now, but I was one of the lads on his stag do a couple of years ago. We all went dressed up as wrestlers; I was Ric Flair and I chucked one of his mates over this little brick wall. Obviously I’ve got drunken strength, and he’s ended up passing out, and I only met him the day before at the airport! This ambulance comes up and I’m like ‘I’ve just killed Louis Briscoe’s mate.’ It was interesting a month or so after that at the wedding, trying to apologise to this lad’s wife that I’d nearly killed her husband!
During the time you had in the Football League with Port Vale, did it feel like you could compete at that level? Did you feel out of your depth against some of the players? What do you remember of it in that sense?
It was kind of split. The dressing room was poisonous, to start with. There was a lad who was playing for Manchester United the season before and he couldn’t believe he was sharing a dressing room with a player like me, coming from Chasetown. You’ve got to remember as well, before I signed, I knocked them out of the FA Cup. They just had the new manager, Lee Sinnott, and everything was up in the air. They wanted fresh faces and I was part of the next lot coming through, so it wasn’t very nice, but I was on cloud nine and I wasn’t gonna let that stop me. I played some massive games; Swansea away was my debut, Roberto Martínez was the manager. I set two goals up against Leeds at home, I was Coca-Cola Player of the Month in February. I got super-fit; I was playing left-wing-back in some games, left-wing, I was playing striker. I think physically and ability-wise, I could compete, but the mindset I was in, I probably put too much pressure on myself. Lee Sinnott was facing his own problems, with certain people trying to get him out, and when he was shown the door, I still had another year on my deal there. So I had to stay and face the next lot of people trying to get me out, but I had a great relationship with the fans, loved my time there and I wasn’t gonna let anyone bad or negative hold me down.
To what extent during your time in the game do you feel there’s been misconceptions about you? Whether that’s as a player, a person – how fair/unfair an impression do you feel people have had?
I think there is a perception of me straight away. They think because I’m a big lad, I don’t look after myself. They don’t realise I’m intelligent, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. What I love, especially at this level, the shirts don’t fit you. When I was playing in League One, League Two, National, you get looked after, and there was triple XL, double XL; at this level, you’re just expected to wear a large shirt, and the large shirts are absolutely tiny. So you go out, tucking everything in, you look like your belly’s hanging out, you look like Rag Arse Rovers, and every team you play against are like ‘bloody hell, who we playing against today?’ If you’re playing in the League, there’s thousands there, it’s just a ripple, there’s just like a noise and energy, and that inspires you to go on. You’re playing against Rushall away and there’s ten teenagers there just giving you shit. You can actually turn around to them and say ‘lads, what you doing? Give me a break, you’ve paid your money to get in.’ The corner comes in and I diving-header it into the roof of the net, and they’re like ‘oh’. So they don’t realise who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen. You never get that respect, it’s just a constant slog and then it’s done, but it’s that contentment you feel within yourself and for your loved ones.
Performing we’ve talked about, but have you ever been the team DJ in the dressing room? And if not, which singer/band/song would you choose to put on?
I’ve tried, but I’m a rocker through and through, and I couldn’t even describe what the music is in 90 percent of dressing rooms these days! These days I just keep my stage presence for the initiation songs; I think there’s a couple on YouTube from the last season or two. I think in one, I was singing Take That and ripped my shirt off, and then I think I was singing on the coach in one and was crowdsurfing. If I was gonna pick a band, I’d probably pick one like Rammstein or Metallica, or Muse, Motörhead, Led Zeppelin.
Finally, as you reflect at this point, what do you think you’ve learned most from the game (about yourself, other people, the game, life)? How have you changed through it?
I’m very much the same person I was; I’m still wide-eyed and eager to learn and progress. As a player, I was so focused and so driven as a kid, and I knew what I wanted to achieve. Now, I understand injuries play a part, life comes into it. I’ve got my little boy to focus on, and now it’s the exhibition years, but I’m still doing the same; I’m still changing games and scoring goals. This is the level I started at as well, but it’s a very different mindset in the sense that I was passionate to progress. Now, I don’t particularly want to progress and travel around, I’m quite happy staying in the Midlands, but I’m still hungry to score goals. I’ve had it bred into me to win games, I don’t believe in taking part or picking up a wage, I’m definitely there to win a game. I do whatever I can to do that, but I’m a lot less tough on myself now, and I’m just enjoying the moment instead of looking for what’s next.
Interview by @chris_brookes