First Team 1 month ago

In Depth: Cleverley On Injuries, Reunions & More

In his own words, Tom Cleverley talks about being back in the team after injury setbacks, hoping to turn results around for Watford, and life away from the pitch. This feature was originally published in match programme THE HORNET.


MIXED EMOTIONS

It’s been a strange start to the season. On a personal level I’m pleased to be back out there after the injuries I’ve suffered over the past year or two. I think having a full pre-season was massively important for me to get that foundation of fitness, so I was glad to be able to do the full six weeks.

It was always my target to get into the team and to stay there. I’ve had a decent run of games so far, but next up I want to continue to do the best I can for the team and hopefully that can contribute to getting results. I’m pleased to be back amongst it and more involved than last year, but I’m obviously really disappointed about the results.

FORWARD THINKING

I’ve been playing further forward this season and I must admit, it is somewhere I enjoy playing. Being there is going to help me get in more goalscoring positions and even though I’ve only scored the one goal so far, I have got into a lot of good positions and had plenty of shots.

As a team we’ve not scored enough goals so it’s vitally important the likes of myself and the other midfielders chip in so that we’re not just relying on the strikers to find the net for us.

Personally, I enjoy playing in central midfield the most. I like to be involved in the thick of the action so at least I’m in the middle of it all where I’m playing this season. I much prefer that to playing out wide.

SETBACKS

It’s well documented that 2018 was my toughest year yet as a footballer. I was out for pretty much the whole year, so to then suffer another injury in March – when I’d only been back for a few months – was tough. I injured the area just above my Achilles and just below my calf, but it was on the opposite leg to the one I’d had surgery on thankfully, so that made it a little less worrying.

Mentally you have to be so strong. When you’re out for the long period of time that I was out for, you lose motivation and the belief in your body. There are so many different things that go on and you work so hard to come back, but then you’re not in the team.

There were a lot of challenges and obstacles for me last year but that’s made me even more determined. I had a good break during the close season to get my head right and then I had a strong six-week pre-season to get my body right, and I’m really pleased with both of those things now.

FEELING GOOD

The condition I’m in now, this is the fittest I have been for the last two years. The five or six months at the start of the 2017/18 season I felt really good but then in the December that’s when I started to break down a little bit.

You’ve got to take the positives from that experience and make sure you learn from it. This Christmas I’ll know how to manage myself better if I’m playing a lot of games. I’m two years more experienced and more professional.

It’s all about what you do in the week, how you rest at home, your sleep, your diet and your training. I feel like everything in and around my lifestyle has improved, so I’m really confident in my body at the moment.

FROM SPORTSMAN TO SPECTATOR

Other than football there are three sports I love the most – boxing, golf and cricket. I really enjoy watching top-level sports and I find that observing other sportsmen can inspire you so much.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Joshua and I also love Joshua Buatsi – he’s the most exciting fighter coming through, in my opinion. Me and Troy are always talking about the boxing and I follow all the YouTube channels that talk about it too. I’ve not been recently but in the past I’ve been to Joshua-Povetkin, Eubank-Groves and both Bellew-Haye fights. My wife actually likes it as well so we go whenever we can.

It’s not just boxing though. I went to the second day of the Lord’s Test Match with Hughesy a month or two ago and that was a great experience. I also went to watch the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. I just really like tapping into other athletes and seeing how they prepare and perform.

RE-UNITED

Me, Craig [Cathcart] and Danny [Welbeck] obviously go back a long way as we grew up together at Manchester United, so it’s funny that we’ve all ended up in the same place again.

Back then, Craig was not the joker and the bubbly guy that he is now. He was a lot more serious and stubborn. He could never be wrong, but as soon as he came over from Northern Ireland you knew he was going to be a player. Jonny Evans was a year above him and they were literally identical.

Danny was a couple of school years younger than me but he used to come up and train with us. His ability and technique were obvious straight away and over the years he grew into a physical beast. He’s become a top, top footballer.

He’s one of my best mates in football and it’s nice that after the mad journeys we’ve been on, we’ve ended up together at Watford. Even when I was elsewhere and he was at Arsenal we would speak once a fortnight and see how it was going. I spoke to him a few times over the summer when he didn’t have a club and told him how good it was here.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Having Danny here is another indicator of just how far this club has come. I think during my first season here we had the smallest wage bill in the Championship and we were happy with finishing mid-table.

We had such a young squad back then, so to think that 10 years later we would have internationals for Argentina and Spain and people with 20 goals for England – it’s unbelievable really.

It’s a great journey that the club’s been on and hopefully in 10 years’ time we’ll be looking back at another decade of amazing progression for Watford Football Club.

First Team 1 month ago

Non-League Day: Foster On Semi-Pro Roots

Ben Foster is one of a handful of current Hornets to have plied their trade in non-league football before climbing the leagues and ending up at Vicarage Road.

With Non-League Day 2019 this Saturday (October 12), the goalkeeper has spoken about how non-league football offered him an unusual route into the game, later gave him a chance to hone his craft on the pitch, and how it remains a big part of his life to this day.

Foster was playing for Racing Club Warwick in the Southern League Division One West when he was spotted in 2001 by a Stoke City scout, who happened to pop in and watch a match on a whim.

“There was a Stoke City scout at one of the games, I had a particularly good game that night under the floodlights and thankfully he was there,” said Foster.

“It was a funny story, he got stuck in traffic on his way home from Stoke, decided to re-route somewhere and saw some floodlights on so while he was stuck in the traffic he thought he may as well just pop in and see what’s going on, and the rest is history as they say.”

A teenage Foster joined Stoke City but was not ready to start for the Potters and, at such a young age, found it hard to get minutes on loan at a league club. So, in order to get more game time, the goalkeeper happily returned to non-league football with Tiverton Town, before having spells outside of the football league with Stafford Rangers and Wrexham.

The stint at Tiverton was an important formative experience for Foster, who said if he had to nominate a non-league hero it would be Martyn Rogers, the manager who gave him the opportunity at the club.

“I was just craving game time, I needed game time on a Saturday,” said Foster. “It was very hard to get a league club. Not many league teams want to take a young goalie on loan to actually play in the first team.

“Martin Rodgers gave me a big chance. I think they were playing in the Dr Martens Premier League at the time, and he gave me a big chance to play week in, week out. I think I was there for six months or something, the last six months of the season, but he was brilliant.

“He’s a great guy. I think he’s been there forever, I think he’s still there now as manager and we’re talking over 20 years at least. But just as a bloke he’s absolutely class, he lived and breathed Tiverton Town Football Club, everyone in the area would know him. For me personally he was a great guy, a great manager, exactly the sort of guy I needed at the time to take me under his wing.”

Foster is now almost 20 years into his career in football but has not forgotten his non-league roots. He regularly returns to where it all began at Racing Club Warwick and is always keen to catch a game when he’s not playing Premier League football for the Hornets.

“I’ve been back a few times actually,” said Foster. “I do a lot of cycling and the cycle ride starts from the Racing Club Warwick car park so I’m back there all the time anyway! But I’ve actually been to see the team play quite a few times.

“My friend goes and watches and I’ve got a few friends who actually play for the team. I think I sponsored them last year as well. So it’s nice to go back and see them and stuff like that. That’s where it all started.”

But the goalkeeper, now 36 years old, doesn't only return to Racing Club Warwick to catch up with old friends. He is proud of his roots outside the football league and thinks the grounding it offers is invaluable.

“It grounds you and gives you that feeling of appreciating where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’ve got,” said Foster. “I go and watch my mates on a Saturday afternoon in the non-league and they’re playing on pitches that are – to put it politely – bobbly, super bobbly. For us, even our training pitches are like bowling greens. So I think you appreciate that a lot more.”