This interview was originally conducted by Liam Sephton and published in an issue of All Gone Latics from the 2014/15 season. I lost my crib notes so I can’t be sure of the exact edition it appeared in. Also my watch broke. And I can’t tell the time. And any other excuses I neglected to make.
Anyway, this is a pretty long article, so have your Bovril flavoured Horlicks at the ready. AGL, it’s over to you…
AGL: How did your move to Wigan come about?
MF: I was playing for Barry Town at the time, semi professional in the Welsh Premier League. My agent gave Paul Jewell a shout, told him to come and watch me and the game he did I was playing right wing back. He liked me straight away so that was it then.
You managed almost 40 goals during your time at Barry Town, how did you manage that?
We had a really good team. The way we played suited me and I was a lot quicker back then — I’ve always had an eye for goal too. The league wasn’t getting any better to be fair, but like I say we had a good team and it complimented the way I played.
Are there any players you’ve played with excluding Barry Town that have scored more Champions League goals than you?
Erm, no, there’s not I don’t think. That’s an interesting fact!
What’s your favourite goal you’ve scored in your career?
The Blackpool goal obviously keeps coming back, but I scored a goal for Gillingham away at QPR when I ran from my own half. I scored quite a few goals while at Gillingham but that’s probably my favourite.
After signing you from Barry Town, Paul Jewell said Wigan had faced competition from ‘quite a few clubs’ for your signature. Do you know who these teams were?
Yeah, there was interest from Nottingham Forest and Millwall, those type of clubs.
To be fair I just thought Wigan were a club that were going places and they already had a good manager in charge. In League 1 at the time I thought that was the best chance I had to break into the team and make an impact — a move that I’ll never regret having made.
What was the best moment of your career?
Signing for Wigan since it was my first professional club. I still can’t believe it was 13 years ago, it’s gone so quick. When my agent rang me and told me that Wigan wanted to sign me I told him to stop winding me up. ‘Don’t be so stupid, I’d never wind you up like that — they want you’. So I spoke to Paul Jewell on the phone then and went straight up to Wigan to sign and that was that. I’ve never looked back.
Which club did you enjoy playing for the most?
It’s Wigan, I always preferred playing for Wigan. Now that I’ve come home to Newport it’s different because it’s my home town. Even though I was mostly on the bench at Wigan, for me that’s no disgrace because of the quality of players we had there. With the success we had, two promotions in three years it was definitely the best time of my career. We had an unbelievable team spirit and a great bunch of characters. I’m proud to say I’ve played with the likes of Leighton Baines, Jimmy Bullard, John Filan, Jason Roberts and Matt Jackson — all big names in football.
Were you happy to be used as an impact sub during your time at Wigan?
I’ve always wanted to play and I’ve always been switched on, but I was under no illusion what I was up against to get into the starting line-up. I just think I should have been given more chances, I’m not going to lie about that. When your team is that successful in the three years I had at Wigan, even my second year we only missed out on the play-offs by a point and in my final season when we won promotion to the Premier League I made 27 appearances so it must have meant I was doing something right.
After your goal in our 2-0 win at Blackpool, why did you start running away from the away end after fans invaded the pitch?
I didn’t realise how far away [the away end] was if I’m honest! The gaffer told me to go on, make sure we kept our shape and hold on to the 1-0 lead. The next minute Nathan [Ellington] put me through, I felt I could get to the ball and the goalkeeper fortunately kicked it against me and I was just able to tap it in. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights since it was my first league goal, plus it was a big derby live on Sky.
Who was the best player at Wigan during your time there?
You had Leighton Baines, John Filan who was an absolutely exceptional goalkeeper, Jimmy Bullard, Lee McCulloch, Nathan Ellington, Jason Roberts— those players stand out because they’ve all gone on to play at a higher level. You’d have to say Leighton Baines because of the level he’s playing at now. He was younger than me, a great kid, a great professional and I’m really proud of the career that he’s made for himself.
What about the goal you scored for Barry Town against Porto? FT: 3-1 Barry (3-9 AGG)
Yeah, I loved that. It always pains me a bit though because I missed a one-on-one over in Porto [Champions League 2nd round qualifier 1st leg] when it was 0-0. I’m always hard on myself about that, it still eats at me now. I’m a ‘one hundred percenter’ and I’ve always been honest with myself — I should have scored that chance, I should have done better. Especially with it being out in Porto it would have been unbelievable.
Do you plan on going into management on a full time basis when your career ends?
Yep, I’m doing the academy now at Newport and I’ve just recently been moved up to first team coaching staff. I’ve recently done my A Licence and I’m all geared up ready to go. I’ve got three young lads in the first team this season now and a couple more knocking on the door, which I’m very proud of. The academy’s having its best season in 15 years which is great experience for me.
How did Paul Jewell compare to other managers you’ve worked with?
Very organised, a good man manager and always fit in with the lads. For me he was very good with the discipline, he kept players on their toes and created a team spirit that was second to none. As good as teams are, if they don’t have that togetherness they won’t do as well as they should do. We had good players and an unbelievable team spirit. That takes a lot for the manager to put that together as well. You can’t just go out and sign so and so just because he’s a good player, because you’ve got to see if they fit in with the rest of the squad. You also don’t want any ‘big time Charlies’. He [Jewell] signed me so he must have done something right.
Bearing in mind Wigan were promoted to the Premier League just a few months later, do you wish that your move to Gillingham was delayed until the summer?
Yeah it should have been, that’s my biggest regret in football, leaving when I did— I should have gone on loan. There was talk about me getting a new contract too. I needed to play though, and it got to the point where I felt I deserved more chances — I worked my socks off day in, day out and that’s not me blowing my own trumpet. If I had a bad game I would have to sit the next half-a-dozen out, but if somebody else had a bad game they’d be given another chance. That’s the nature of the beast. Hindsight is a lovely thing but I’m still proud I got my promotion medal. I did really well at Gillingham so if I had gone on loan I think I’d have definitely stayed and signed a new contract. I maybe would have gone out on loan to a big Championship club or stayed and played some Premiership games. If I keep thinking about that I’ll be suicidal so thanks for bringing that up!
Would you say that leaving was the worst moment from your time at Wigan?
Yeah it was. When I was saying bye to the boys I cried and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I knew what I was leaving behind, but it was something I needed to do and try to get my head around.
Jimmy Bullard says the Wigan side back then was like The Crazy Gang, so do you have any evidence to support that?
Yeah, the fact he was even in the team was crazy enough! I used to absolutely love the away trips [at Wigan], I hate them now. Nobody would room with Jimmy, nobody would room with me so we had to go together. You had players like Ian Breckin, Nicky Eaden and Paul Mitchell, they’d be trying to outsmart us and we’d be outsmarting them — throw Alan Mahon in the mix and you’ve got chaos. There was all-sorts going on. One time me and Jimmy were in the CCTV room watching what the other lads were doing to our room. The away trips back then were really interesting without saying too much. As they say, what goes on tour stays on tour.
Did having no superstars in the team work as an advantage during your time at Wigan?
I think we had top class players but none of them took it for granted. Myself, Leighton [Baines], Jimmy [Bullard], Gary Teale and Lee McCulloch were all young. Then we had the experience of John Filan and Matt Jackson who had both played at the top so they knew what it took. We had the right blend, just people that wanted to work hard every day in training. If you look back, the kind of players who did have an ego weren’t at the club long. We were all proud to play for Wigan and I think that’s the biggest compliment I can give. It’s a club that will always been in my heart and I’d always go back.
JWAW: Well, that transported me back ten years! Summer is a time for reflection, but the new season draws closer than that weirdo on the bus inching further into your half of the seat. Keep an eye out for the Progress With Unity Season Preview, coming soon to a cinema near you. You know, the one that showed Terminator 5, but nobody came to watch it.