Ex-Terras midfield-enforcer Shaun Wilkinson joined Ben Ashelford for Podcast #8, here are the highlights for those of you that missed it. The full podcast, also including Goalkeeping Coach Robbie Yates, Former Keeper Tom McHale & Paul Maitland is available.
Ben Ashelford: Shaun, as a young player was it Havant before Brighton or Brighton first?
Shaun Wilkinson: I got released by Southampton as a youth player before they went on to YTS and so I went to Moneyfields and I was playing for Moneyfields against Bognor and I had a good game and they recommended me to Brighton who offered me a trial. After the longest trial in history, about four months, they offered me a three-year scholarship.
BA: You ended up playing up front with Bobby Zamora is that right?
SW: Yeah, for Brighton I played in the Championship, League 1 & League 2 all the leagues they’d been in at that time, and its probably one of my regrets actually leaving there. Mark McGee came in and because Id been a young player I was in and out of the side because you come through the system and I was sub quite a lot of the weeks and getting to that age where I wanted to play and Mark McGee came to me and said Havant have made a bid for you, we don’t want you to go but its completely up to you, and I decided to leave which is probably my biggest regret.
BA: And was it Steve Claridge who bought you from Havant to Weymouth?
SW: What happened was two months after I arrived at Havant, they sacked the Managers Liam Daish & Mick Jenkins, and the Chairman resigned and I’m left thinking “I’ve left Pro Football for this, I’ve come out of Pro Football for you three…?” so I requested to go on the transfer list and then Mick Jenkins went down to Weymouth to work under Steve, and then Steve put a bid in and lucky for me they accepted it.
BA: And how did you find playing for Steve Claridge because there are conflicting reports….?
SW: Steve’s a real good football man, he knows what he’s talking about, but the problem I thought, when I was under Steve was he was still playing at the time, he was trying to do everything, trying to play and trying to manage, and in my opinion it just doesn’t work. You have to do one or the other. We had good forwards there at the time like Lee Phillips, and Chukki came in, and he would always play himself, obviously he was a good player but you think “Go with the other two, go with Chukki & Lee Phillips, the younger more pacey kind of players and just stay on the sideline and manage.”. I think that was a bit of his downfall really.
BA: And what about his managerial style, was he hands on arm around the shoulder type or was he stand-offish?
SW: He was quite aggressive with his approach; he did not give you an easy ride! He was very big on his fitness. The problem with Steve, Steve is a brilliant runner himself, so in pre-season we used to do all the running that he was good at and he would be up the front. So, he’s the manager, getting on later in his career and he’d still be up the front but when the short stuff came out he’d just stand back and watch then. But I sort of had a bad time under him, I wasn’t in a good place, I was upset and bitter with myself that I’d left pro football thinking it would be easy coming to a lower level, and I ended up going out with my mates and just didn’t take it serious enough under Steve.
BA: I was going to touch on that because its fair to say you got a little bit of stick in your first season from the terraces, didn’t you?
SW: Yeah, I did I got quite a lot of stick, I mean I didn’t realise, nobody realises, just how big a club Weymouth is until they go down there, the support for a non-league club is fantastic and I’m a bit aggressive in my approach, on the field anyway, but to be fair I deserved the stick at the time, I wasn’t playing very well at all and I’d come in when he’d paid quite a bit of money for me so I came in with a bit of a reputation and I didn’t really live up to it early doors.
BA: Did the stick affect you much? Did you hear it?
SW: Yeah, I heard it but not massively because as I said I was disappointed with myself. I am quite a strong character so it didn’t affect me too much. Obviously its not nice and it does affect you in a little way because the fans are giving me stick obviously but then I was getting stick in the dressing room as well, obviously if I was playing well I wouldn’t be getting stick, so Steve was on my case I was one of his signings and he wanted me to make him look good.
BA: How did things change when Steve went and Garry Hill came in, because obviously Garry was a very experienced non-league manager? Obviously, he did a good job and you won the league 2006. What was the difference in atmosphere at the time?
SW: The difference for me was the switch back to full-time. Where I’d come from and with my position in central midfield, fitness is everything so going full-time certainly helped me. But Garry was such a good manager for non league level. You get your good managers and coaches. You’d never see Garry coaching he left that to Kevin Hales who would organise the fitness side and the tactical side and then Garry would manage the group, they were the perfect combination.
BA: That’s going to lead us on to the biggest game in Weymouth’s history for quite a while, Forest away in the F.A Cup. Can you remember the excitement building up to that game…?
SW: The bigger the game is for me I seem to turn it on, and that was probably one of the best games I played for Weymouth. Although we were a non-league side, we were full time, on good money, we were obviously good players to be at the club at the time because it was a club that was going places. We were a bit higher than a non-league club if you know what I mean, we had players with football league experience, everyone upped their game and on the day we were unlucky not to nick it at the end.
BA: In the replay we came so close to taking the lead didn’t we, Chukki hit the post in the first half?
SW: Kirk Jackson missed the best chance, I know it was Kirk because I clipped the ball back in, it had come out wide to me and I sort of faked to have a shot and clipped it to the back post to Kirk Jackson who’s 4 or 5 yards out and he’d usually bury them but he headed it just the wrong side of the post. But we were good that day, you usually only get one shot at that sort of opposition and that was our shot away from home really. Because when they came to our place, they won pretty easily didn’t they?
BA: We have a few questions sent in; What was the best or worst excuse for someone missing training that you have heard?
SW: We had a few at Brighton because there was a fine system if you were late that started at £50 and went up £10 for every 5 minutes or something. We got to about an hour and the goalkeeper Michel Kuipers and all the lads are clapping and cheering “this is rising and rising”, then a phone call came through that he’d been in a car crash and gone to hospital, he was alright, but he’d gone to hospital. But the lads still fined him, that’s how cut-throat they were at the time. He never got away with it.
BA: Have you seen any bust ups between players, or between players and managers?
SW: Oh yeah, you always see fights, I’ve been in a few myself… There’s always fights and arguments in the changing room, that’s just footballers caring for the cause to be honest. Fights between players in training and the changing room was quite a regular occurrence when I played.
BA: Have you ever been really screamed at by a manager, the hairdryer treatment?
SW: Probably every manager, every manager has screamed in my face, but a lot of managers only do it to the ones that they know can take it. It’s sort of sending a message around the dressing room.
BA: So are you still involved in football at the moment?
SW: A couple of weeks ago I took the managers role at a Wessex League Club (Same level as Portland) called Baffins Milton Rovers. I was assistant manager at Eastleigh. Then I was assistant manager at Gosport to Alex Pike, that didn’t go too well I lasted two months, that club was in a nosedive, so I was away from football for a bit, I had offers but…
BA: So what was it about this job, was it the timing or the project or something else?
SW: You hit the nail on the head Ben, it’s the project, the chance to start at the bottom under a top Chairman with a dedicated committee its in Portsmouth & they are spending a lot of money on the pitch. And its completely opposite to where I was at budget wise with Weymouth & Eastleigh, trying to attract younger player with the coaching and the pitch and the atmosphere and get them ready to move up the pyramid, so yes, it’s a good challenge for me.
BA: Would Shaun Wilkinson the manager sign Shaun Wilkinson the player?
SW: Yeah, every day of the week!! Every team needs a player that’s going to work hard and scrap like that, especially at non league level.
BA: What are some of your favourite times of playing at the Wessex Stadium as it was called then?
SW: Obviously, the year we won the Conference South, the lads were on fire that year but even the start of the following year in the Conference National we were about third or fourth, and this is a sign of how things changed at Weymouth we were about to go away on a mid season break to Spain for a bit of winter training and a bit of sun. I said goodbye to the wife and headed to Weymouth and when I got there and walked in the dressing room, Garry Hills got a face like a…he’s really miserable, and Kevin Hales comes in with an envelope for everybody that said Martin Harrison was pulling out of Weymouth, the money is gone, you are all free agents, the dream is over, go and find yourself a new club! I went out into the car park and phoned Havant and did a deal there and then because I already had one baby and another on the way and that was my full-time job. In hindsight I should probably have held on for a bit because Jason Tindall came in and I think his father in law was chairman for a bit.
BA: Any messages for the people of Weymouth before we wrap this up?
SW: Hopefully when it all gets back up and running, they can speak to Mark and you can bring a team down for a pre-season friendly and we can have a proper reunion? Its great to them back, great supporters, great people, I literally do love the place it’s a great place to play.