22nd March – Luke Freeman

Luke Freeman has had a double celebration today after turning 23 and also helping Bristol City defeat Walsall 2-0 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.

The midfielder is looking to have a fantastic end to a season that has already been pretty special for Bristol City and their fans as they look like they are going to get promoted to the Championship as League One champions. Freeman has always been a very good player and one that definitely has the ability to prove it at a higher level so he will be hoping that the club can secure promotion as quickly as possible so he can prepare for the second tier of English football.

Freeman started his career at Gillingham where he made his debut against Barnet in the FA Cup on the 10th November 2007 at the age of just 15 years and 233 days, therefore becoming Gillingham’s youngest ever player and also the youngest player to appear in the FA Cup. Later in the month he would also make his league debut against Hartlepool United and his performances caught the eye of several Premier League clubs and joined Arsenal on trial in December 2007.

Arsenal signed Freeman on the 30th January 2008 and after impressing for the under 18s he was given a professional contract by the club just over a year later. After progressing through the youth teams and into the reserves he needed first team opportunities and joined Yeovil Town on loan at the start of the 2010-11 season. He got off to a great start scoring in a 2-1 win over Leyton Orient on his debut and would go on to play 12 more league games for the club before his loan was ended by injury.

Freeman YT

He recovered from his injury and would impress again for Arsenal’s reserves and was eager to go back out on loan, this time joining Stevenage on the 17th November 2011. In his second loan spell away he played nine games and scored one goal in a 6-1 win over Colchester United but his performances particularly off the bench were exciting and showed he had a lot of potential. This convinced Stevenage to sign Freeman permanently on the 10th January 2012. He would help the club reach the playoffs with seven goals in 32 games but unfortunately they would lose out in the semi finals.

Freeman Stevenage

The 2012-13 wasn’t as successful for the midfielder as he struggled for consistency and spent a lot of the season featuring as a substitute. However in the following season, despite Stevenage finishing bottom of League One, he put in some fantastic performances and ended the campaign with a career best eight goals. After 128 games and 17 goals for Stevenage, Freeman would leave for Bristol City on the 26th June 2014.

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So far for Bristol City he has played 48 times in all competitions, scored seven goals and provided 15 assists which just shows how important he is to the side and is a big reason why they are challenging at the top of the table.

The final word can go to Steve Cotterill. “He’s someone we’ve been keeping tabs on for some time and I’m delighted we’ve been able to bring Luke on board. He’s a good, young, exciting player. He’s an excellent addition to the football club for the short term and long term. He can play on the left, on the right and cut in, or play in a midfield three.”

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12th February – Benik Afobe

Benik Afobe has been one of the highest rated youngsters in recent seasons and now he is getting his chance to show his potential in the Championship and is clearly showing everyone his talents.

Still only 22 he seems to have been around for quite a lot of time and played for many different clubs. This is to his credit as it seems like he just wants to play football and when he knew he wasn’t getting chances at Arsenal he went out on loan to try and play games in a lower level. A lot of young players are criticised these days for just sitting in the reserves and youth teams and because of this they don’t develop as well as they should have.

Afobe started his career at Arsenal when he was just six years old and after progressing very well through the youth teams and scoring a lot of goals, he was being linked with a move to Barcelona but he instead signed a professional contract with the Gunners in February 2010. To get his first taste of professional football he had to go out on loan and on the 2nd November he joined Huddersfield Town and made his debut that night in a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. He would go on to score his first professional goals against Rotherham United in the Football League Trophy to help his new team to a 5-2 win. After an injury to Anthony Pilkington, Afobe got an extended run in the first team and was in brilliant form for the rest of the campaign. During the second half of the season he picked up four man of the match awards in a row. In total he made 32 appearances, scoring eight times and providing 10 assists.

Afobe HT

During the 2011-12 season he suffered a few injuries but did eventually get fit enough to join Reading on the 22nd March 2012. He only played three times for the club but he did still play a part in helping them secure the Championship title. At the beginning of the following season the striker joined Bolton Wanderers on a season long loan. He scored his first goal for the club on his first start in the League Cup against Crawley Town but he was largely used as a substitute and had to wait until the 23rd October to score his first league goal in a 2-2 draw with Wolves. In January his loan was cancelled and he subsequently joined Millwall, unfortunately an injury meant he only played five times for the club.

Afobe BW

He spent eight months on the sidelines and when he returned he went back out on loan, this time to Sheffield Wednesday, where he played 12 times and scored two goals. This season started with Afobe joining MK Dons on loan for the season and went on to score his first goal in a 1-0 win over Chesterfield on the 19th August. But the League Cup second round was probably the best moment of his career so far as he scored twice in a 4-0 win over Manchester United and carried on his superb form in the competition by scoring two more in the next round against Bradford City. On the 29th November he bagged a hatrick against Colchester United in a 6-0 win. After 19 goals in the first half of the season there were other clubs looking at the striker and he joined Wolves in the January transfer window and he scored on his debut in a 2-0 win over Blackpool. Afobe so far has three goals in five Championship games for his new club.

Afobe MK

The final word can go to Wolves head of football development Kevin Thelwell. “Benik seems like a really outstanding young man. He is very pacey and powerful, good technically, and has an outstanding goalscoring record. We are really excited about him signing.”

20th October – Matt Jansen

Everyone knows that injuries play a huge part in football and some players get really unlucky and have their careers ruined by them, Matt Jansen definitely falls into this category.

In 2002 the striker was involved in a motorcycle accident and almost lost his life while on holiday and after six days in a coma it is understandable that he could never reach the level that he had previously been at. The saddest part of his story is the fact that he was on the fringes of the England team at the time and some people thought he was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the 2002 World Cup team.

The 37 year old started his career at Carlisle United and made his debut during the 1996-97 season and helped the club gain promotion from the Third Division. He also won his first piece of silverware at the club after they won the Football League Trophy against Colchester United after coming on as a substitute in extra time. Jansen made a quick start to the following season and found the back of the net nine times in 23 games before being linked with moves away from the club.
Jansen CU
He first rejected Manchester United as he wanted to be somewhere that could guarantee him games and signed for Crystal Palace in 1998 for £1 million. Although they were relegated from the Premier League Jansen proved his quality and scored three times in eight games before getting off to a positive start in Division One with seven goals in 18 games. This convinced Blackburn Rovers to sign him for £4.1 million and he would justify his transfer fee by scoring on his debut against Tottenham Hotspur in January 1999.

Once again, his club failed in their attempt to avoid relegation and he had to prove his ability in Division One. After a slow 1999-00 season he found his feet and was a very important part of Blackburn’s promotion to the Premier League in the following season, scoring 23 goals. Jansen was then helped the club stay in the Premier League with 10 league goals and also scored six goals in five games in the League Cup, including the first in the 2-1 final win over Tottenham.
Jansen BR
However, in the summer he had his accident and struggled to get back into the Blackburn team and joined Coventry City on loan in 2003 where he scored twice in nine games. At the start of the 2004-05 season he did get back into the Blackburn team and after two goals in eight games it seemed like he was beginning to rediscover his form, however a lot of people felt that he hadn’t recovered mentally from his accident and was struggling with the pressure of Premier League football and therefore decided that he should take a break from the game.

In May 2005 he signed a new deal with Blackburn suggesting that he was going to be given another chance but this didn’t happen and he was released on 11th January 2006. Two days he later he signed for Bolton Wanderers but after just seven appearances he was released.

Jansen did not return to football until March 2009 when he signed for Wrexham and he scored once against Northwich Victoria before leaving the club. Since he has played for Leigh and Chorley as his former teammate Garry Flitcroft was manager at the clubs and persuaded his friend to play for him. Jansen is now player-coach at Chorley.
Jansen Chorley
The final word can go to Dean Saunders, who coached him at Blackburn and signed him for Wrexham. “He’s not doing it for the money; he’s not earning a lot. He wants to come and get back to enjoying playing football again. Matt has done it to help me. Matt is a class player but I am not expecting miracles. He will hopefully show the bits of quality I know he has got in him.”

17th October – Kevin Lisbie

Kevin Lisbie might be 36 but he has just got better as his career has gone on and last season he was a massive part of Leyton Orient’s promotion challenge.

Leyton Orient surprised everyone last season and were unlucky to not get promoted after losing to Rotherham United on penalties in the League One playoff final. Lisbie has been a consistent goal scorer for the club and although this season has started slowly for the club, they will be hoping to pick up some better results and recover from losing manager Russell Slade. The striker is just as important off the field as he is on it and his experience will be vital now.

The Jamaican international started his career at Charlton Athletic and made his professional debut during the 1996-97 season and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League in his second season. He did not get much of a chance in the top flight and had to go out on loan. He joined Gillingham and played seven times for the club, scoring four times. With Charlton getting relegated he was expected to play a part in the first team but this did not happen and he had to go out on loan during the 1999-00 season, joining Reading, however he only played twice.

Charlton once again gained promotion but this time Lisbie got more of a chance after a loan spell at QPR in December 2000, he went on to play 18 Premier League games. He had his best goalscoring season in the following campaign for the club, hitting the back of the net five times but in February 2002 he was placed on the transfer list. He eventually signed a new contract in May.
Lisbie CA
His best moment in a Charlton shirt came in September 2003 when he scored a hatrick in a 3-2 win over Liverpool but unfortunately he could not build on this as he suffered from injuries and ended it with five goals in just 10 games. After he returned he became a regular in the side during the 2004-05 campaign but after suffering from nosebleeds it was discovered that he had a benign tumour in the back of his nose which had to be treated.

In the 2005-06 season he was loaned out a few times, firstly to Norwich City and then Derby County and this signalled that his time at Charlton was over. After 176 games for the club he was released and after a successful trial at Colchester United he joined the club in August 2007. Despite the club getting relegated from the Championship, Lisbie was in fantastic form and in just one season he surpassed his league goals for Charlton after scoring 17 times and finished as the club’s top scorer.
Lisbie CU
This meant that clubs were interested in him and he joined Ipswich Town for £600,000 in July 2008. He started off quite well at the club but struggled to hold down a first team place, with him failing to play a single game in the last two years. During this time he had to go out on loan again, and rejoined Colchester in August 2009 and scored twice on his second debut on the opening day in a 7-1 win over Norwich. He once again became a fan favourite as he finished as their top scorer with 13 goals but with the club failing to get promoted he decided not to sign for the club permanently.

He then spent the 2010-11 season on loan to Millwall in the Championship but injury problems meant he could not play to his full potential and he only managed four goals in 20 appearances. After being released by Ipswich he joined Leyton Orient on the 9th September 2011 and has become a hero for the club, scoring 46 times in his three full seasons at the club so far, with a best of 18 coming last season.
Lisbie LO
The final word can go to Russell Slade. “Kevin is a huge player for us. He’s a class act and an excellent professional, who offers us valuable experience and quality, both on and off the pitch.”

21st September – Danny Batth

Wolves have made a fantastic start to their Championship campaign and this is largely because of their strong defensive including birthday boy Danny Batth.

The centre back has benefitted from the management of Kenny Jackett and the fact that he had to rely on youth to get them promoted from League One last season. With Batth coming through the youth system at Molineux he will always be a fan favourite and want to do well for the club and if he can help them get promoted this season then it will be a great achievement for him personally and for the club who fell very quickly.
Batth WW
Batth joined the Wolves Academy at the age of 10 and despite having shoulder problems over the next few years he became an important player at every youth level and was one of seven academy players to sign a professional deal at the end of the 2008-09 season. The defender joined Colchester United on loan on the 17th September 2009 to get some first team action and after injuries to regulars Pat Baldwin, Paul Reid and Lee Beevers, he made his professional debut in a 2-0 win over Hartlepool United and earned the man of the match award for his performance.
Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Division One - Colchester United v Charlton Athletic - Community Stadium
After impressing in his initial month loan it was extended until the end of the season and he went on to score his first career goal in a 1-0 win over Oldham Athletic on the 20th February 2010 which extended the club’s unbeaten run to five games. At the end of the campaign he had made 18 appearances and on his return to Wolves he was named their Young Professional of the Year.

In the next season he made his debut for his parent club in a League Cup tie against Southend United and then spent the rest of the season in Sheffield. He first joined Sheffield United on loan for a month and only made a single loan appearance but after returning to Wolves he was loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday where he had a lot more success. After joining on the 16th March 2011 he played 10 games before the end of the season and put in some solid performances.

His performances were good enough to convince Wednesday to sign him again on a six month loan which was later extended until the end of the season. Batth was a key player in the club getting promoted, playing 49 times in all competitions and scoring against Preston and Bournemouth as The Owls finished second in League One.

At the beginning of the 2012-13 season he was heavily linked with a permanent move to Wednesday but this never happened after manager Dave Jones ruled out a move for the defender. With Wolves struggling in the Championship it was always going to be difficult for a young centre back to make a difference and they were relegated with Batth playing 12 times.
Baath SWFC
He eventually became a first team regular at Wolves and helped them gain promotion at the first time of asking and in all competitions played 50 times. He was rewarded with a new contract in January 2014.

The final word can go to Wolves Chief Executive Jez Moxey. “Danny’s performances have remained consistently high. It is no surprise that he is very popular among the club’s supporters. He shows the highest level of focus and professionalism both on and off the pitch.”

12th September – David Prutton

With 25 England under 21 caps to his name a lot was expected of David Prutton unfortunately his career did not quite progress as well as he hoped but he has still had a decent career.

Now a free agent he has been looking for a club and started doing media work, suggesting that he may already have plans for when he does announce his retirement. Prutton has been a model professional for most of his career but he is arguably most famous for an incident while at Southampton.

The midfielder came through the youth system at Nottingham Forest and went on to make his debut in 1999 and stayed with the club until 2003, making 155 appearances for Forest and scoring seven goals. He moved to Southampton for £2.5 million which was seen as a great investment.
Prutton proved to be a versatile player for Southampton and impressed in his first four months at the club, playing in midfield and at right back. During the 2003-04 season he continued his progression by playing 30 times and scored his first goal for the club on the final day against Charlton Athletic.
Prutton Forest
The 2004-05 season however was one to forget as Southampton were relegated to the Championship and Prutton was banned for 10 games after being sent off in a game against Arsenal and then proceeding to push referee Alan Wiley on several occasions while shouting at the assistant referee. He tried to put it right by staying at the club and help them get promoted, however he broke his metatarsal in September against QPR and after he returned he could not break into the side.
Prutton Soton
In January 2007 he returned to Nottingham Forest on loan to try and help them secure promotion back to the Championship. He played 13 times but he was sent off in League One semi final second leg against Yeovil Town. After his loan spell he joined Leeds United on the 7th August 2007.

During the 2007-08 season he was one of their most consistent performers, however there would be playoff heartbreak for him as they lost in the final against Doncaster Rovers. Under both Dennis Wise and Gary McAllister he was an automatic first choice but this changed when Simon Grayson took over. Once again Leeds lost in the playoffs but Prutton usually had to settle for a place on the bench before joining Colchester United on the 26th January 2010.
Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League One - Leeds United v Crewe Alexandra - Elland Road
He scored on his debut against MK Dons and ended the season in good form, despite being offered a new contract by the club he decided to sign for Swindon Town. He only stayed for one season as they were relegated to League Two and signed for Sheffield Wednesday. He also scored on his debut for Wednesday with a fantastic volley against Rochdale on the opening day of the 2011-12 season.

Wednesday got promoted at the end of the season and in the following campaign Prutton played his part in keeping them in the Championship but he was getting less game time. He had to go out on loan to play games, firstly to Scunthorpe United and then Coventry City before being released by his parent club.

The final word can go to Coventry City manager Steven Pressley. “He has played at the highest domestic level. He also has a detailed knowledge of this division and its demands. It was vitally important that we brought in a player with established quality, leadership skills and experience and David certainly fits that mould.”

4th September – Richard Garcia

Hull City have had a very good summer transfer window but it wasn’t long ago that they had to rely on free transfers and not big name players.

Richard Garcia is 33 today and is one of the players that helped get Hull back into the top divisions and get the fans excited about the club once again. Garcia may not have been the best player in the world but he definitely worked hard for the side. The fans may have a lot to look forward to now but it is only because of the hard work of the players that came before that allowed this to happen.

Garcia started his career at West Ham signing his first professional contract in 1998. He scored in every round of West Ham’s run to the Youth Cup final as they won the trophy. In August 2000 he was ready for first team football and was loaned out to Leyton Orient where he played 21 times and scored four goals. After an injury to his knee ligaments he returned to his parent club and made his debut for them in a League Cup match away to Reading in September 2001.

After West Ham were relegated from the Premier League, Garcia was expecting more game time but this didn’t happen and after just 22 games for the club he joined Colchester United in 2004. In his first season he scored six goals in 30 appearances but it was in the following campaign that he showed his true potential, helping Colchester gain promotion to the Championship and also reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup. A knee injury ended his season in March but he scored Colchester’s first goal in the 2006-07 season against Birmingham City on the opening day of the new Championship season.
Garcia CU
Colchester were the surprise package and pushed for a place in the playoffs but Garcia’s seven goals in 36 games was just not good enough to secure them a place in the top six. At the end of the season Garcia had played 96 games in all competitions and scored 21 goals and despite being offered a new contract decided to join Hull City.

He made his league debut for Hull against Plymouth Argyle and scored his first goal in the following game against Crewe. In his first season Garcia played a leading role in the club’s promotion push and they secured their place in the Premier League after defeating Bristol City in the Playoff final. He was also awarded the goal of the season award after hitting a 35 yard screamer against Burnley in March 2008.
Hull City v Stoke 08 November 2009
In the Premier League Garcia only took two games to score his first goal of the season, securing a point away to Blackburn Rovers, however this would turn out to be his only goal in the top flight in two seasons and had to wait until the 12th November to score again, when he scored against Preston in a 2-0 win back in the Championship. After injuries disrupted the rest of his time at the club he left after 128 games and returned to his homeland of Australia.
Garcia MH
On the 23rd August 2012 Garcia joined Melbourne Heart and stayed for one season, scoring six times in just 24 games but decided to move to Sydney FC in the next summer where he had a similar record, 6 goals in 23 games. But once again he only spent one season at the club and joined Minnesota United on the 5th May 2014 but after just two appearances he left and recently joined Perth Glory on a two year contract.

The final word can go to Melbourne Heart head coach John Aloisi. “Richard can play a number of roles. The experience he possesses isn’t something you encounter too often. He will assume a leadership role on the pitch and will be an important guide for our younger players.”