Simon Bullock chatted to Guiseley Academy graduate and former Bournemouth, Port Vale and Yeovil Town midfielder Ben Whitfield about his time with The Lions, his early football career, move to the Premier League and life at Torquay United.
Q: After spells with the academies at Bradford City and Silsden, you signed for the academy at Guiseley. How did the move come about?
A: I was going to sign for a football college programme at Craven College in Skipton and a guy who I played football with at Bradford who didn’t get a scholarship either was doing a scholarship at Guiseley, as well as doing a BTEC course and doing some training and playing for the academy, so my Dad rang Guiseley up and they said I’d have to go on trial. Dave Currie called a few people at Bradford to ask what I was like as a player and a person and I had to write a little bit about myself about what I was like and from there he accepted me. I went straight into the first training session and that was that.
Q: You were an important part of the Guiseley Academy side that made it to the first round of the FA Youth Cup, and you scored in that game. What was that run like and was that game your favourite memory of playing in a Guiseley shirt?
A: The whole run was crazy. We played Brighouse Town and drew to bring it back to Guiseley for a replay and I scored an equaliser in that game, only to then give the ball away straight from kick-off and they went back ahead. Then, one of their players went through on goal in the last minute and our keeper wiped him out, breaking his leg and the game got called off. When when it got played again, we ended up winning by a fair amount, but on that run we also beat Grimsby Town and then played Bury, but Grimsby was probably the best game because we went and played against an EFL side and so winning that game was brilliant for an academy of our size.
Q: Soon after, you made your debut for the first team in a 2- 1 win over Selby Town in the West Riding County Cup. Did you expect to make your debut so quickly or were you thinking you would have to go on some loan moves?
A: To be honest, I was still quite young and didn’t really get how football worked with loans. I just knew that Danny Ellis, who was part of the academy staff, kept telling me that if I trained well, I would get a chance with the first team. A few of us got called up to the first team; there was me, Ben Walker and Callum Marshall and then I was on the bench quite a few times for league matches. I never actually came on but it was good to be involved. I didn’t know that I was going to be involved against Selby, so I turned up to the game and then came on as a sub which was great.
Q: Not long later, you signed for Bournemouth after having a trial with Huddersfield Town. What made you choose Bournemouth?
A: Huddersfield offered me a deal and I was close to signing it. Then my agent got in contact with me and said that Bournemouth were interested. I didn’t really know where that was because it was so far away. I went down there, having trained with Huddersfield for a while but I’d never met any of the first team players, management staff or anyone like that. I turned up at Bournemouth, where the Chief Scout and Assistant Manger Jason Tindall were waiting for me and they showed me around the stadium, the training ground and they pulled me into an office to talk about what they’d want from me which was a big thing for me, meeting the coaching staff and talking to them about their plans. The club didn’t expect to go on the run they went on, getting promoted to the Premier League, which was why I never ended up being in the first team but that was the main reason I went there, because of the conversations that we had and being told by Eddie Howe that I was the kind of player that he looks for.
Q: When you were training with the first team, what was Eddie Howe like to work with and how much did he teach you about football at the higher levels of the game?
A: He taught me loads. Just the way he trained his players, the intensity of the training sessions, how he worked with everyone and how long the sessions were. Training under him was also done to a proper match standard and that showed on the pitch for the boys who went on to get promoted. He worked so hard every day and it was a great club to be a part of when they went on that promotion season run.
Q: It’s a pretty big move to choose to go to the south coast at such young age, so were you confident in making the move or would you have liked to sign for a club a bit closer to home?
A: Driving 300 miles that day to find out where Bournemouth was, came as a bit of surprise to me as to how far away it was. I was 17 at the time and didn’t know what to think really. I took it all in my stride, took every day as it came and didn’t really think about how far away from home I was. The club were good with me at the start, saying I could do a week’s training, then go home for a few days and that helped me, knowing that I could go home and then come back to Bournemouth and get my head down to concentrate on football. That happened quite a lot in my first season, and when there wasn’t a game for the U23’s I would go home at the weekend, but when I turned 18 everything changed and I didn’t really need to go home. I needed to do it at first because obviously, moving away from home is difficult and the club knew that, but as I got older, I never really went home. I stayed down there and it was just like being at university really.
Q: Your first loan spell in the National League with Kidderminster Harriers ended with you winning the club’s Player of the Year and Supporter’s Player of the Year awards. What was your time there like, playing regular first team football etc?
A: It was brilliant, I loved every minute of my time at Kidderminster. It taught me about playing for three points every week and knowing that I was a big part of the part of that, the management were really good to me. The chairman, Gordon, still keeps in contact with me now, he was brilliant with me when I was there. To win Player of the Year and Supporter’s Player of the Year was a big thing for me because I was still quite young, so it was nice to receive that award. It was a good first team environment, the players were really good and I was made to feel welcome there. I signed for Kidderminster on an initial one-month loan, and it just got extended and extended. That season was definitely a key part of my footballing career so far.
Q: The season after that, you made the step up to League Two, signing a season long loan with Yeovil Town. How did you find making that jump up a division and what was your time at Yeovil like?
A: Yeovil was really good as well. Darren Way was the manager and he worked a bit like Eddie Howe because he was so close with a lot of people and worked really hard day in, day out. He didn’t have the finances or maybe the players he’d have liked to succeed as well we might have done. Playing in League Two was great because playing professional football and playing at a higher level is what everybody wants to be doing and so, for me, making that step up a division was a good move.
Q: Another season was spent on loan, this time at Port Vale, followed by you signing for them permanently. Did you feel that was the next logical step for your career, or would you have liked a move higher up the leagues?
A: In the first six months at Port Vale I did really well and I had other teams interested in me. Lincoln City wanted me and they offered Bournemouth some money, then Port Vale showed interest and they offered Bournemouth some money. Because I was playing so well, I didn’t really want to move so I just asked if I could sign on loan again at Port Vale and continue progressing. I didn’t want to leave Bournemouth because I knew that they were a higher level club than Port Vale, but I didn’t want to not sign on loan at Port Vale because I knew that I was playing regularly in my first six months there. So, when they and Lincoln wanted to buy me, I didn’t think it was the right time to leave Bournemouth so I signed on loan again at Port Vale and I didn’t play as well as I did during my first six months. There were things behind the scenes there that weren’t too good with the management staff, but I continued to play and scored a key goal to keep them in the league.
Q: Did you ever come close to making your Bournemouth debut or was the plan always to send you on loans to help further your career?
A: Eddie Howe always said to me that he didn’t realise that the club would progress so quickly, with how well the club did by getting promoted within one season of me being there. When they travelled to Manchester United for the last game of the season, I flew up with them, I was in the hotel and I was a part of the travelling squad. On the pitch, there was the likes of Wayne Rooney and players like that which was which was ridiculous. To be out there warming up at Old Trafford is what every little boy’s dream is. Obviously, playing there would have been even better, but I was the 19th man and nobody got injured in warm-up, so I didn’t make the bench but it was good to be involved with the squad that day and was an insight as to what could be in the future.
Q: After leaving Port Vale about a month into this season, you signed for Torquay United. How are you finding football back in the National League, this time with a lot more experience, and would you like this to be a springboard to get back into the EFL?
A: Yeah, 100%. That was how the move came about. The manager at Port Vale told me that I didn’t score enough goals to be a part of his team, which I didn’t agree with as I hadn’t played under him much before and when I had done, I’d scored, so I didn’t really understand that. Me and my agent had a discussion and thought it was best that I leave to go and play elsewhere. I signed for Torquay and so far, I’ve played and started every single game, apart from my debut which I came off the bench and scored in. I’ve gone out and got myself a few goals, a few assists which is what I needed to do. Hopefully, this can be a springboard in the right direction and teams will have been watching so I can myself back into the EFL.
Q: Finally, how would you sum up the importance that Guiseley has had on your career and how important was the work of Dave Currie and the other academy coaches in setting you on the right track to have a successful career in football?
A: I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Guiseley. Dave Currie taking that chance on me has got me to where I am now. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have signed for Bournemouth, so because he took that chance on me without ever seeing me play, just going off of word of mouth, was a big thing for him I think, because he had to pay for part of the college thing and to take on another player, but hopefully when he did that, he knew he had made the right decision. I’d like to think that me moving on to Bournemouth was an inspiration to other lads joining the academy, especially now other players have done similar, like Jacob Brown who signed for Barnsley. Like I say, Guiseley played a major part in my development and I’m thankful for what they did for me.
We would like to thank Ben for taking the time out to do the interview and wish him the best of luck for his future footballing career.