GOOD, BAD & UGLY

The life and times of Bris­tol City striker Aaron Wil­bra­ham

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

STOCK­PORT County, Old­ham Ath­letic, MK Dons – at the age of 30, Aaron Wil­bra­ham was the ar­che­typal jour­ney­man. Then, in 2011, the big striker moved to Nor­wich and ev­ery­thing changed. Pro­mo­tion to the Premier League, a top-flight goal against Ful­ham, an­other pro­mo­tion at Wem­b­ley with Crys­tal Palace.

“I re­ally was liv­ing the dream,” said the Bris­tol City striker, now 36. “I thought my chance had gone, but sud­denly I was in the top flight, test­ing my­self against the best.”

Here, he tells us about those early days slog­ging through the divi­sions, his “re­venge” on boy­hood club Manch­ester City, a witty for­mer Eng­land star – and how that strike at Craven Cot­tage set a unique record.

FIRST CLUB

Stock­port County. I was at Manch­ester City as a school­boy, play­ing in their U15 and U16 teams.

I got re­leased in 1995 and, luck­ily, my old PE teacher knew the man­ager at Stock­port. He put me in touch, fixed up a trial and it all went from there. Two years later, Gary Meg­son gave me my de­but in a match against City at Maine Road and I scored the win­ner!

At the time I was a YTS and I still had a sea­son ticket at City. My Nana and Grandad used to take me and they’d take it in turns to miss out so I could go ev­ery week. I gave my ticket to my mum that day and I had about 30 other mem­bers of the fam­ily spread round the ground.

It was a strange feel­ing to score against the club I sup­ported but it was also a nice bit of re­venge on them for re­leas­ing me. I think there were about 30,000 there as well.

BEST MAN­AGER

I’m not just say­ing this be­cause he’ll fine me but the gaffer here at Bris­tol City, Steve Cot­ter­ill, is re­ally good.

From the start of the week to the end, the prepa­ra­tion is ab­so­lutely re­lent­less. I’ve been play­ing for nearly 20 years and it’s the most I’ve ever known my job go­ing on to a foot­ball field. I think ev­ery­one here feels the same and that’s why we had such a good sea­son last year.

And, of all the man­agers I’ve had, he’s one of the keen­est on play­ing foot­ball. He wants us to play out from the back all the time and the fans en­joy that.

He’s great to work un­der, though Paul Lambert at Nor­wich was also great. A blend of the two would be the per­fect man­ager.

BEST TEAM-MATE

Wes Hoola­han at Nor­wich. He’s very un­der-rated for me and I think he should have played for Ire­land a lot more than he has. That year we went up and our first sea­son in the Premier League, he was ab­so­lutely un­be­liev­able. He was our David Silva – so good on the ball, find­ing space all the time, pick­ing passes and mak­ing runs.

In train­ing, no­body good ever get the ball off him. Left foot, right foot, it didn’t mat­ter. It was to­tally ef­fort­less.

And he didn’t get any­where near enough recog­ni­tion for how hard he worked. He’s not just a play­maker. He tracks back and cov­ers runs. A bril­liant player.

FIRST PRO­MO­TION

That was in 2004-05, with Hull City from League One to the Cham­pi­onship. They’d come up the year be­fore, signed me from Stock­port in the sum­mer, then we made it two on the spin.

When you look at the play­ers we had, it’s no sur­prise. Nick Barmby, John Wal­ters who is now at Stoke, Ian Ashby, the cap­tain.We had Boaz My­hill, the West Brom keeper, and Craig Fa­gan, the striker.

I’ve been pretty for­tu­nate in my ca­reer. Since I left Stock­port in 2004, I’ve ac­tu­ally been pro­moted with ev­ery club I’ve joined. Hull was League One to Champ, MK Dons was League Two to League One, then Nor­wich and Palace were both Champ to Prem. Last sea­son, I won League One with Bris­tol City.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Marc Tier­ney, when I was at Nor­wich. I’m still in touch with him and, sadly, he’s had to re­tire at the age of 30. He got a bad foot in­jury at Bolton and couldn’t come back.

He was a great lad, con­stantly pick­ing the lads up. Jokes, pranks, tricks – he was like a full-time en­ter­tainer.

And he did a great im­per­son­ation of Paul Lambert. He had his man­ner­isms, his ac­cent, ev­ery­thing. At the end of the sea­son, we were in the dress­ing room and Paul said ‘Come on then, let’s see it’. He had to stand up in front of ev­ery­one and did an im­pres­sion of the gaffer for about 5-10 min­utes.

FUN­NI­EST IN­CI­DENT

This is less an in­ci­dent and more a funny pe­riod but, ba­si­cally, ev­ery day Carl­ton Palmer spent in charge of Stock­port.

He was only in charge for a short while, but he was hi­lar­i­ous, con­stantly be­ing big time about money but in a jokey way that didn’t get your back up.

I re­mem­ber he got asked in FourFourTwo mag­a­zine ‘What would you do if you won a mil­lion quid on the lot­tery?’ Most of the an­swers were like ‘Sign Michael Owen’. Carl­ton said ‘Stick it in the bank with the other three’.

We’d have team meet­ings and he’d say ‘What are you lads on, two grand a week? I’ve lost more than that run­ning for the bus’. He was like one of the lads.

One day, we were play­ing ‘next goal wins’ in train­ing and he got rinsed by one of the young lads. The coach said ‘Je­sus gaffer, you got turned in­side out there’.

Carl­ton goes ‘Yeah, I did Ricko, but I didn’t at the Nou Camp when I marked Ron­aldo out of the game’. He was so quick and had a come­back for ev­ery­thing.

I’ve spo­ken to peo­ple since who played with him, like John Pem­ber­ton, the as­sis­tant here at Bris­tol, and they’ve all got sim­i­lar sto­ries.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

Get­ting pro­moted to the Premier League with Nor­wich and Palace, es­pe­cially at the age of 31 when I thought my chance had gone. It was the best feel­ing in the world to fi­nally test my­self against the very best.

I man­aged to score against Ful­ham, which meant I’d been pro­moted from ev­ery divi­sion and scored a goal in ev­ery divi­sion, which I’m sure must make me some kind of quiz ques­tion. I’m proud of that record, too, but I think the pro­mo­tions top it.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

For any foot­baller, be­ing in­jured is a night­mare. The worst for me was prob­a­bly when I had a back op­er­a­tion as a young lad at Stock­port.

I was 22 and, up to then, I’d been play­ing ev­ery week so it was a real shock to the sys­tem to be told you’d be out for sev­eral months.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

When I was at Stock­port, we could never get a win when­ever we went to Grimsby. Blun­dell Park was a hor­ri­ble place, al­ways freez­ing cold and it stank of fish from all the boats in the port.

The fans all used to wave th­ese gi­ant in­flat­able fish above their heads and sing ‘We only sing when we’re fish­ing’. I hated it.

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

It’s im­pos­si­ble to sep­a­rate Sol Camp­bell and Gary Pal­lis­ter. I played against both of them as a young lad at Stock­port and it re­ally opened my eyes to what a good de­fender is.

They were both phys­i­cally mas­sive, re­ally strong and im­pos­ing. But they were also good with their po­si­tion­ing. They al­ways seemed to be in the right place.

For a tar­get man like me, who re­lied on pin­ning peo­ple down, it was a night­mare. I met my match and they didn’t give me an inch.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

It’s got to be Wem­b­ley. I man­aged to play there three times and I ac­tu­ally won all three – JPTs with MK Dons and Bris­tol, then the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal with Palace.

It’s the whole oc­ca­sion. Look­ing at it the day be­fore, the build-up, the jour­ney, see­ing all your fam­ily in the stands. Es­pe­cially the play-off fi­nal.

Be­fore the game, there’s a twoweek break from the semi-fi­nal to the fi­nal. And, for that whole fort­night, all the hype is about money: how much the game is worth, how it will change the club, all those things.

It’s mas­sive pres­sure and it makes the feel­ing of com­ing out the other side so much bet­ter.

AM­BI­TION

Just to play as long as I can and to keep en­joy­ing it.

I’m cap­tain of a side for the first time in my ca­reer, and it’s a great feel­ing to still be in the thick of things at 36. I still feel fit, I still feel sharp and I’ve got no in­ten­tion of stop­ping.

Will I go into coach­ing? I ac­tu­ally think I’d be bet­ter as an agent, bring­ing young play­ers on and guid­ing them through the game.That can wait though.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

Tough­est op­po­nent Sol Camp­bell

GOAL-DEN AGE: Aaron Wil­bra­ham’s pro­mo­tions and goals in each divi­sion are likely to make him a quiz ques­tion Tough­est place to go: Grimsby and its fish

est team-mate: Wes oola­han at Nor­wich OKER: Wil­bra­ham’s for­mer Nor­wich mate Marc Tier­ney Best man­ager: Steve Cot­ter­ill and his de­tail Fun­ni­est pe­riod: Carl­ton Palmer’s one-lin­ers

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