Simon Bullock gave former Lions and current Havant and Waterlooville midfielder Simon Walton a call to discuss his time at Nethermoor, his previous football career and his move into management.
Q: Firstly, on your international career, you featured for England U16’s, U17’s and U19’s, so what was it like to represent your country and who was the best player that you played alongside?
A: There was a few, I was quite lucky. In my age group most of the players went on to have half-decent careers. I played alongside James Milner, who I was at Leeds United with, and Mark Noble was another one. I captained an U17’s tournament in Norway where we got beat in the final. It was good experience and I’ve still got plenty of shirts and memorabilia from those days. Representing your country, even at a younger level, is just a dream come true.
Q: You made debut for Leeds at start of 2004/05 season, what was it like to make your debut for your hometown club?
A: I had season tickets at Elland Road for years and years before I made the first team. I was born and raised in Garforth so I was a local lad. I was only 16 and it was a dream come true since the time when I can first remember kicking a ball. To play for your hometown club was just fantastic and it’s something nobody can ever take away from me.
Q: Two seasons later, you signed for Charlton Athletic, then went straight out on loan to Ipswich Town, scoring some important goals for the club. What was it like to get regular first team football for the first time?
A: When I signed for Charlton it was a step up and I was doing quite well, but I knew that they weren’t signing me to put me straight into the first team. I was only 19 years old still, and was up-and-coming at the time. To play for Ipswich, who were a massive club, I had a very good time there and I’ve kept in touch with quite a lot of the players who were there at that time. It was definitely one of the better loan moves that I had in my career.
Q: A year later, you moved on to QPR before signing for Hull City on loan. What was it like being a part of that group who went on to win promotion to the Premier League that season?
A: When I signed for QPR, I broke my leg on my debut, so that pretty much curtailed my career because by the time I was coming back, there was a lot of money flying around the club and I couldn’t really get back in the team. So, I went to Hull, which was a move back up north, and I signed in January, just before the club went on a hell of a run. We nearly went up automatically and I think we lost out on the last day to Stoke City, but to have a promotion from the Championship to the Premier League in the trophy cabinet is a great achievement. I’ve still got my medal from that day.
Q: Then you spent four years at Plymouth Argyle, how was your time down there?
A: It was a very up and down time. I was their record signing and it was quite an exciting move. I moved down there and there was lots of off-field stuff going on. There were financial difficulties and the club nearly went out of business. In my last season, I was captain and we stayed up even though we had a points deduction. I really enjoyed my time at Plymouth and it’s a club that playing higher than what it is. A lot went on in those four years and sometimes I look back and can’t believe I was only there for four years, because it felt like a lot longer.
Q: Following that, you had a spell at Hartlepool United, spending two years there, before shorter stints at Stevenage and Crawley Town. Did you enjoy your shorter times at each of those clubs?
A: I got a move to Hartlepool and they were doing well in League One at the time, which was a bit of a step up. They’d spent a little bit of money on me but I didn’t have the best of times up there because of some personal reasons and the club were changing managers quite a bit. But again, they are another club who should be doing a lot better than they are. It’s a good club but personally, my performances were inconsistent.
Q: You signed for Garforth Town, then moved on to Guiseley after a couple of months. How did the move to Nethermoor come about?
A: I was at Crawley the year before and they were in League Two. I’d played about 38 games in that season and came 2nd in the Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year awards, so I’d done alright. I had another year left on my contract, but then some new owners and a new manager came in and they had their own ideas about football. I got released, but was fortunate enough to be paid up the money for the final year of my contract. I’d never played outside of the Football League before and I wasn’t injured or anything, but I was struggling to get a club. I had offers, but some clubs weren’t right for me geographically, so I ended up playing a couple of games for Garforth just for fitness and fun. I signed for Guiseley eight games into the season and one of my mates who’s an agent, is also a friend of Adam Lockwood and played with him at Doncaster Rovers. I was told that Guiseley were desperate for players at the time. I don’t think they’d won a game at that point and were bottom of the league. I trained, met Locky and Dave Penney and signed a short-term contract to begin with; not for my sake but for the club’s sake, just to see that everything was alright. I ended up staying for the whole season and it was a successful season in the fact that we survived in the League and kept National League status for another season which, as we know, gets tougher and tougher each year. I really enjoyed my time there, met some good people and to say that was my first season in non-league football, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Q: What was it like for you on the final day of that season, staying up with seconds to go thanks to that Danny Lowe header?
A: We’d actually done really well in the build-up. I think we only needed to win two games out of our last eight, so we’d put ourselves in a hell of a position, but we hit a bit of a brick wall. I think out of the last five or six games we kept losing whilst the teams around us were winning and on the last day we just needed to match or better York City’s result. On that last day we weren’t great and we got away with one a little bit. But for Lowey to score with about a minute left, then after that, it was weird because we still didn’t know what was going on in the York game. We knew they’d kicked off a little bit later because they were on TV, so we didn’t know whether we needed to go for the win or whether a draw was enough. When the ball went in, we didn’t know whether to celebrate or get the ball out and once the final whistle went, we were all on the pitch stood around an iPad. When it was the York game finished, it was just a great feeling. The group of players and staff that we had made it even better because we were very close knit. From the position that we were in and the size of the clubs that we beat along the way, it was a massive achievement. When the pitch invasion ensued, it was brilliant. The main feeling was relief but at that point, I knew it was going to be my last game for the club because I wanted to get back down south. To stay up in my last game, in the manner that we did, was an unbelievable feeling.
Q: At Guiseley you played alongside your brother-in-law Jake Cassidy, an important player that season, what was it like to play alongside family?
A: There were a few of us who’d signed from the Football League. Connor Brown had signed from Oldham Athletic, but Connor knew Locky really well because he used to play with him at Oldham. He and myself knew Jake and he wanted to leave Oldham, so he came in and then a few weeks after that, James Wesolowski signed from Oldham as well. We did well and managed to get a few players in that the club needed but the ones that were already there, the likes of Lowey, Jake Lawlor, Will Hatfield, Ash Palmer, Adam Boyes, with all those lads it was a really good group. To say we were a part-time club, getting called a pub team wherever we went, we loved it. We knew what we were and we were as professional as any other else when we were on the pitch. We also had a good laugh and that’s what made the season so special in a way. Not because of how it went, because when you can do it with a group of people you enjoy spending time with, it makes it a whole lot better.
Q: After leaving Guiseley, spells at Sutton United and Billericay Town followed, before you moved on to Maidstone United. Not long into your time there, you became caretaker manager. How was that unexpected first step into coaching?
A: I went back down south after that season because I had family down there, and the opportunity at Sutton came along. They’d had a brilliant cup run and a real injection of money because of the FA Cup run, playing Leeds United and Arsenal on TV, so they were giving it a good go. That season we lost in the playoff semi-final to Boreham Wood, so to go from nearly relegated to nearly promoted in one season shows the highs and lows of football. Then I ended up at Maidstone, I don’t really know how, and became caretaker manager for eight games and it was never a secret that I enjoyed it. For my first job like that to be the caretaker manager of a club that size was a great experience. I think we won four matches, drew one and lost three which isn’t a bad record. The club then brought in a more experienced duo, which didn’t quite work out because it ended in relegation. But for me, it was a good first experience in a role like that, one I enjoyed and one I’ll be looking to do in the future. I’m pretty sure I did quite well at it and people tell me I did alright, so it’s definitely a route that I want to go down eventually.
Q: This season you had been playing for Havant and Waterlooville as a player-coach and the club were 2nd in the National League South when the season was stopped. Would you say it has been a smooth transition for you, from playing to coaching?
A: I think because at Havant there was Paul Doswell and Ian Baird who I had at Sutton; I had a good relationship with them. To go and work there as a player-coach was a good move for me because I was working with people that I liked and people who knew what I was about. They gave me free reign to do my stuff instead of doing what I was told, so they put a lot of faith in me to put sessions on and they asked for my opinion and things like that, so I’ve actually really enjoyed it and it’s a shame what’s happened because we were in a pretty good position. Coaching and managing are definitely things I want to do and I’ll be 33 soon, so it’s coming up to that time, but I’ve really enjoyed the season and although it’s finished now, I’ll see what the future holds.
Q: Finally, when you’re playing days are done, what will be next for yourself?
A: Eventually I want to be a manager at the top, as I’m sure everyone does at this level, but you’ve got to start somewhere so for me, I’m going to explore as many avenues as possible with my coaching and if that coaching leads me to managing, then that’s great. I definitely want to stay in football. It’s all I’ve done since I can even begin to remember, so yeah, coaching and managing is the road I’d like to go down but when or where that happens, I’m not quite sure, but I’ll see. Hopefully, opportunities will arise soon and, like I said, that’s my dream so I’ll give it everything I’ve got.
We’d like to thank Simon for taking the time out for this interview and hope he and his family are keeping safe and well during these unprecedented times.