It was a flurry of eye-catching close-season arrivals at Buxton, and among them, Gary Hayward secured a midfielder who was in National League action (with Chesterfield) as recently as February. Former Wrexham and Macclesfield Town man Sam Wedgbury has been notable for his whole-hearted approach over the years, helping Forest Green Rovers win promotion to League Two in 2017. His character and sense of integrity has also struck a chord with many.
In a year racked with disruption, the current Northern Premier Division season has been on hold in recent weeks, but Buxton’s 17-point haul from their opening eight games has them in fine fettle. Wedgbury has played his part, though 2020/21 has had personal interruption, with the ex-Stevenage player even persisting with a cracked rib at one point.
A few weeks without matchday matters has given extra opportunity for the 31-year-old to properly prepare to return, and the one-time Wembley winner would love to contribute to long-awaited success at Silverlands. In this conversation, he talks Macclesfield Town, Wrexham, Chesterfield, managers, teammates, social media, and more from a playing journey that began at senior level as a record-breaking 16-year-old scoring debutant for Worcester City. We begin, though, in the here and now, with lofty ambitions in the High Peak…
How has it been for you so far this season? Obviously something entirely different to the rest of your career, with everything that’s been happening, but have you enjoyed it in the main?
Yeah, it’s been good; it’s been good to be with a winning team. It’s been a little bit stop-start for myself. I’m never normally too good in pre-season, obviously you’re just finding your feet and getting back playing, so I think the first few games of the season, I didn’t start. Then obviously, we were winning, so it’s hard to get back into a winning team. I came in at one point, we won a few on the spin, and I cracked my rib, so I was playing through it for a couple of weeks, but it just got worse. This lockdown has actually been quite good for me, because it’s allowed that to recover. On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed it, and like I say, really good to be part of a winning dressing room.
When it came to talking about signing, in terms of ambitions and the part you would play in that, how was it put to you?
I met (chairman) Dave Hopkins and I met the manager (Gary Hayward), and for the chairman, it’s a project and he’s got ambition. It was a similar thing when I went to Forest Green; the chairman had massive plans to go up the leagues. It was the ambition of what the chairman’s doing (at Buxton) and how passionate he was about it.
What is the squad dynamic like, with that mix of ex-League players and other lads? With the disruption to the season, does it still feel like a new group?
It feels like I’ve known the lads years and years, I can’t speak highly enough of the lads within the dressing room. We’ve got good characters, there’s no big-time Charlies, everyone’s on the same script. We all work hard when we come in and train, and when we play, we work hard. I can honestly not fault the dressing room, it’s one of the best I’ve been a part of in my career. It sounds crazy for such a short period of the season, but there’s not one lad in the dressing room I dislike. We’ve got a real, good bunch of lads, and it helps even more that there’s some really good players in there.
Most importantly, have you ever had a night out in Buxton? Even pre-COVID, with being at (nearby) Macclesfield?
No, I haven’t had chance! I’ve been to Buxton walking a few times; obviously I was at Macclesfield for a few years, so I used to drive that way through to Macclesfield. I’ve never experienced it, no. From what I’ve been told from a couple of people, it’s actually got a decent little night out. Hopefully I’ll get to sample it at some point; obviously safely. A promotion party, that’d be the best thing.
Man-of-the-match winner Sam Wedgbury in action today against Bristol Rovers. (Photo: Bruce Fenn) pic.twitter.com/Czogad6Uc4
— Forest Green Rovers (@FGRFC_Official) August 25, 2014
I know you’d already had a unique experience going and playing at (Hungary’s most successful club) Ferencváros (on loan from Sheffield United), which you’ve talked about before, but take me back to being at Macclesfield. You were still a young player, getting a lot of games at what was initially a League club. How did you feel at the time?
I felt like a first-team player, that’s the best thing. I felt like a proper pro, training all week for the games on a Saturday, which wasn’t the case at Sheffield United, apart from when I went to Hungary, which was incredible. It made me really grow up at first; probably the first six months, I wasn’t ready to play, to be honest. I was so naïve to the level. I thought I was gonna go from Sheff United to there and absolutely walk it, and I struggled for the first few months, it was really difficult.
You had the likes of Matt Hamshaw, Carl Tremarco there, was it an enjoyable place to be around? Obviously at some clubs, there’s not always that connection between players. What was it like at Macc in that sense?
It was like a family. The manager, Gary Simpson, he recruited good characters, and I’ve been very fortunate with that at places I’ve been in my career. I’d like to think that’s why I’ve been signed at a lot of clubs I’ve been at as well. I’d like to think I’m well respected in the dressing room, but I also respect other people. It was like a family and we had lots of things go on at Macclesfield that were tough and most other clubs would have folded under. Obviously they lost (manager) Keith (Alexander) the season before I went, and then losing (midfielder) Richard Butcher, who all the lads loved. We were like a family in that dressing room, it was horrible when we all had to split up, but lads went on to play at better levels, which you can’t really fault. I was 21 but I was respected like a senior pro, that’s the main thing, and the blend of the squad was unreal. We had the likes of Matt Hamshaw, Tremarco, and the likes of Ross Draper, who went on to play in Scotland; it was a perfect blend of experience with younger players. There was no better way to learn my trade, because that’s when you really do start learning.
Matt Hamshaw said at the time that you were the team DJ as well…
Yeah, I was – I’m not now! I’m very old now, that was when I was about 21.
✍🏻 SIGNED | @wedgbury_samuel signs a contract extension at Wrexham AFC until the end of next season.
Read more 👉🏻 https://t.co/KGbriy20GZ
— Wrexham AFC (@Wrexham_AFC) February 21, 2018
You signed a new contract at Wrexham a couple of years ago and then actually handed back the signing-on fee to the club when you left later in the year (for family/travel reasons). Did that just strike you as the right thing to do?
That’s how I’ve been brought up. I know that every penny to a club like Wrexham, a fan-owned club, is counted for. I even had a car that the club had sorted out for me to come back the following season, so I could do the drive from Sheffield, and I had nothing lined up (when deciding to leave). So for me, it was more my conscience, and I was never gonna screw them over, because I loved my time there, it’s an incredible club. I know at the time a lot of fans were angry and annoyed with me, and they couldn’t see the reasons why, and to be honest, at times I do regret it. I had a real, good rapport with the fans and I played pretty much every game, and sort of got that winning feeling back at the club, even though we just missed out on the play-offs, but obviously that was from the manager (Dean Keates) leaving (for Walsall in March 2018) and lots of things went on. I’m just an honest lad and I would never (keep the signing-on fee). You don’t earn millions in non-league, and it was a lot of money for me at the time, going into not having a club lined up, but for them, I knew it was a lot of money, and what I would have got would possibly help the club getting into the play-offs. It was probably a mad decision but one that I can look back on and say I’ve got no guilt over.
How does it feel seeing the takeover news at Wrexham now?
Really happy for the club and for everyone there; I can’t speak highly enough of the people there. They need to be back in the Football League and they really deserve that as a club. They’ve had a lot of heartache, a lot of tough times, nearly went out of business, and it’d be unbelievable to go and watch a game there with them in the Football League, because that place would get 10/12,000 every single week.
You left Chesterfield earlier this year. Ultimately, what were the feelings that you took away from those two years at the club?
I’d just say disappointment more than anything, personally. Obviously I did my knee, which I couldn’t foresee happening, but that season, I knew I had a lot to offer, because I played a lot of games at Wrexham. Then when I came back from my knee, I didn’t have a fair crack of the whip in terms of consecutive games; when I was there, I probably had one of the best points-per-game ratios, which doesn’t say a lot because I only played about ten games. From a personal point, it was that I had so much to offer the first season I was there, then the second season, being out for nine months killed me a little bit. I feel bad that they were paying me a wage and I wasn’t able to show what I could do. The second season was stop-start, then COVID happened, but in the games I played when Pembo (John Pemberton) came in, and even under (John) Sheridan, we won quite a lot of the games. It’s another club that deserve to be in the Football League, and I’m so fortunate that I’ve been at two massive clubs. I got on well with people behind the scenes who now have took over. From a personal point of view, it’s just one of disappointment really that I never got to show what I could do.
In terms of happiness on the pitch, a great dressing room, life off the pitch as well, has there been a most complete time overall that you could pick out in football so far?
When I was younger, at Sheff United, they’re probably my best times. When I first signed, from living in the Midlands and being in an environment with my close family, to coming to Sheffield at 16, I hated it. Then I’ve ended up moving here, met my wife who’s from Sheffield, and had my family. I’d probably say Sheff United because I was in the city that I loved and training was 15 minutes away from home. Obviously your facilities and everything you get, you’re very fortunate. So I’d probably say that as a feeling, but I didn’t made the grade at first team, which was very disappointing.
As a seasoned pro, I loved Chesterfield because I’d done all my travelling over the years, but I’d probably say Macclesfield out of all the clubs. I was there three years, I played a lot of football, was living in Sheffield and travelling over, good set of lads, and the fans were incredible. As a pro, they gave me my opportunity and I felt most at home there. It was an unbelievable club, and in my last season, I got Players’ Player and Supporters’ Player, which was a nice way to sign off.
What has been the managerial approach that you think has got the best out of you, and which manager(s) has most understood that?
One I’d say, Dean Keates was brilliant with me; he just knew me. I don’t know, it was like we’d known each other years, just how he treated me and how he respected the player I was, as a bit of a hard-working midfielder. He really made me one of the focal points of the team. If I was suspended for a game, I’d be back in again, and he’d speak to me all the time. It was just nice to be part of it and well respected. From another point of view, from my injury point of view, I’d say Martin Allen was unbelievable. He knew I was out for nine months, was ringing my wife to see how I was and make sure everything’s okay, had my family to games, coming in the office and having meals before the games. I suppose that goes for the club as a whole at Chesterfield, they dealt with me really well when I was out, but as a manager, Martin Allen was unbelievable. What a man.
— Chesterfield FC (@ChesterfieldFC) October 8, 2019
From the individual battles you’ve had with opponents over the years, do any stand out? Whether that’s for what they had to say for themselves, how good they were, or how much you enjoyed it.
Obviously I played at Conference level for a long time, so I always loved coming up against Tranmere, and you had the likes of Jay Harris, who was there for a while. Being around the Conference for four or five years, you play against some good lads. He’s a good little ratter and he gives you a good battle, which you like, it’s what it’s all about, it’s why you play football. For played with, I’d say Rob Sinclair, who I was at Forest Green with; as a midfielder, he should have played League One all his career. He could do it all, he could tackle, he could play, and he’s one of the real standout players I’ve played with.
You’ve been changing-room DJ but have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a team?
I’ve got a couple of tunes that I belt out. One’s Chris de Burgh ‘The Lady in Red’, which I did a good rendition of in Portugal at Wrexham! I like Luther Vandross ‘Never Too Much’ as well; that always goes down a treat. I’ve got a few in the locker; I’m not too shy at singing, I enjoy it.
Are you currently off Twitter? What’s your feelings on that?
Yeah, I was on Twitter for a few years but I’ve come off it. I’ve got kids now, I’ve got my two boys, and to be honest, I’m sick of reading negativity or people attention-seeking. I just came off it and it’s the best thing I’ve done. My wife will probably still say I’m on the phone a bit too much, but I just sort of took all the negativity away. I just wanna spend time with my kids and my wife when I’ve got a spare moment.
Away from football, what else do you enjoy, in terms of other interests?
I like, in the summer, going fishing. I like exercising as well, running, I really do; doing 5k and 10k runs and stuff like that. Eating out’s a big one – well, when we can and there’s no lockdown. Just the normal stuff really, nothing too fancy.
Finally, if you were describing your career up to now, how would you sum it up, in your own words?
I’d say lived my dream out, getting paid to play full-time football, but very unlucky with injuries. That’s probably the best thing I could say, because at one point, I was playing really well, then did my knee. Then I would have gone to Wembley with Forest Green for the first time (in 2016); I was lucky enough to go the year later. So, underachieved, but I’d probably say very lucky to have had a career where I’ve been paid to play.
Interview by @chris_brookes