9th November – James Hanson

With it being the FA Cup first round weekend it is a chance for non league players to show their quality against those that get paid to do it full time and it is always good to see players coming from below the Football League to being very good professional players like James Hanson.

Although he didn’t make his mark in the FA Cup he did come from obscurity to become one of the most difficult to mark in League One and has done a fantastic job for Bradford City since he signed for the club. The striker has added a lot to the team and he will be thankful that he has been given the chance to play professionally which a lot of those in the top flight do not.

The 27 year old played youth football for both Huddersfield Town and Bradford but was never given the chance in the first team and had to drop to semi professional level, turning out for Eccleshill United and Guiseley. But to support his dreams of playing football he also had to work in a supermarket on a part time basis. During his two seasons at Guiseley he scored 46 goals and this attracted the interest of Football League clubs.
Hanson BC
In July 2009 Hanson signed his first professional contract with Bradford and would go on to make his debut on the opening day of the 2009-10 season in a disappointing 5-0 defeat against Notts County. He would go on to score his first goal in a 5-4 win over Cheltenham Town on the 22nd August and had a very good first season which led to him being given a new contract by the club and being named the Player of the Year.

The following season was much tougher for the striker as he only scored six league goals but he was improving other areas of his game. But came back with his highest goalscoring league season in the 2011-12 season with 13 goals. The next campaign will be remembered for a long time by Bradford fans as they reached the League Cup final and also gained promotion from League Two, with Hanson and Nakhi Wells linking up well and scoring a lot of goals between them. Although Wells got most of the attention, Hanson chipped in with important goals in the big games, including one in the second leg of the League Cup semi final against Aston Villa, one in the semi final of the playoffs against Burton Albion and then another in the final against Northampton Town.
Hanson LC
Hanson was again rewarded with a new contract for his contributions and with his partnership being broken with Wells, some may have thought that he would struggle but he hit a good run of form after the turn of the year and scored six goals in nine games, meaning he finished his first season in League One with 12 goals in 35 games.
Hanson Wells
This season has been up and down for the striker as he started fantastically by scoring five goals early on and entering the club’s top ten all time top scorer list, however injuries have frustrated him since and he has not been able to recapture that form yet but he will be hoping as the season goes on he can continue his good goalscoring record.

The final word can go to teammate Andrew Davies. “Hans is getting better and better and maturing as a person as well. He needs to be our main goal threat. Strikers are judged on goals and he’s scored a few this season. If we’re going to go up this year, and that’s what we all want, then he needs to be scoring the goals.”

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27th October – Rhys Weston

Rhys Weston may not be the most recognisable name but he has had a very interesting career and if it wasn’t for injuries he may have played at a higher level for a prolonged period of time.

The defender will be fondly remembered by Cardiff City fans as he helped them climb from the bottom division of the Football League to the Championship and even took a pay cut in 2005 to help the club. The 34 year old can also say that he played at the highest level as he featured seven times for Wales between the years of 2000 and 2005.

Now 34 he doesn’t have a club but has played in a few different countries and experienced some different cultures so he can at least take that from his career. Weston started his career at Arsenal and made his debut on the 30th November 1999 in a League Cup game against Middlesbrough after coming on as a substitute. Later in the season he would go on to make his only top flight appearance as he started the final game against Newcastle United on the 14th May 2000.

In total he played three times for Arsenal before joining Cardiff in November 2000 for £300,000. He made his debut in a 3-2 win over Lincoln City and would go on to play another 31 times as the club gained promotion to Division Two after finishing 2nd. In the following season Weston was a more important member of the team and showed his quality in the 43 games he played, unfortunately the club missed out on back to back promotions after being beaten in the playoffs by Stoke City. The 2002-03 season was successful for the player and the club as they managed to gain promotion after beating QPR 1-0 in the playoff final. During the season Weston also scored his first professional goal after scoring in a 4-0 win over Tranmere Rovers on the 26th October.
Weston CC
Despite adapting well to the First Division, Weston struggled with injuries and would only play 24 times after suffering a knee injury and then damaging cartilage in his other knee in March 2004. In the following campaign he returned to his consistent self but again his season was ended by injury. At the end of the season he accepted a substantial reduction in his wages and was placed on the transfer list by new manager Dave Jones but still managed to play 30 times during the 2005-06 season. However, he was left out of the club’s pre-season tour and was released.

Weston then joined Norwegian side Viking but his only match for the club lasted 12 minutes as he dislocated his shoulder. Four days later the manager was sacked and the incoming manager could not speak English so Weston returned to the UK. In February 2007 Weston signed for Port Vale. He would go onto play 15 games for the club before being released. On the 16th July 2007 Weston signed for Walsall and went on to play 50 games for the club during the 2007-08 season earning himself a new deal. He would continue to be a consistent player but at the end of the 2009-10 manager Chris Hutchings decided not to give him a contract and after 111 games he joined Dundee.
Weston Walsall
He spent two seasons at the Scottish side and in both seasons they finished 2nd in Division One but at the end of his contract he decided to join Icelandic side KR Reykjavik. Due to financial problems he left the club after just 16 appearances and made the move to Malaysia to sign for Sabah FA. He only played six times and joined AFC Wimbledon on the 7th August 2013. Once again he did not get much game time and after a loan spell at Sutton United he was not offered a new contract.
Weston Dundee
The final word can go to Richard Money. “Rhys has become an important member of the team. His performances have become more and more consistent as the season has progressed and we hope that he will continue to be an important player for Walsall.”

16th September – Leon Britton

Leon Britton is a real legend at Swansea City and he has been a central figure in their rise up the leagues, playing in every division for the club and even the Europa League.

He is just one of four players to have played in every English Football League division along with Brett Ormerod, former teammate Alan Tate and current Swansea manager Garry Monk. Apart from one spell away from the club since making his professional league debut he has been at the Welsh side for his entire career. He is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League and if England teams were actually picked on form rather than reputation and the club they play for, he would have at least got some caps for the national team.

The 5 foot 5 inch midfielder actually started his career at Arsenal but was signed by West Ham as a 16 year old in 1998 for £400,000, which at the time was the highest transfer fee paid for a player of that age. He failed to break into the team at West Ham and joined Swansea City on loan in December 2002 and played a key role in helping them avoid relegation out of the Football League. He impressed everyone that seen him play and was voted the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year for the Third Division.
Britton SC
After he was released by his parent club, Swansea manager Brian Flynn made it a priority to sign him up permanently. In his first full season at the club he played 48 times and scored three times. In the 2004-05 season he helped them gain promotion from League Two and this was the start of an incredible journey for both him and the club. Every season in League One Britton played over 40 times and was making a name for himself and one of the best midfielders in all of the Football League.

On the 9th February 2008 he played his 200th game for Swansea and the season ended perfectly as the club got promoted to the Championship. Many expected them to struggle and had to adapt their game but there was no chance of this happening and the higher up the leagues they went the better Britton got, which attracted attention from other clubs. In January 2010, Wigan Athletic had an offer rejected for the midfielder and at the end of the season Britton left the club on a free transfer.

Despite Premier League clubs wanting to sign him, he joined Sheffield United but after playing under four managers in just five months, he had realised he made a mistake and regretted leaving Swansea. After just 26 appearances he was allowed to rejoin the Welsh club. His second debut came against Barnsley on the 20th January 2011, and then went on to score his first goal in three and a half years on the final day of the season against former club Sheffield United.
Britton SU
The 2010-11 season ended with Swansea getting promoted to the Premier League after winning the Championship Playoff final 4-2 against Reading. In his first two seasons in the top flight he barely missed a game and despite injuries in the last campaign he still put in some fantastic performances and would not have looked out of place in the England squad.
Britton SC7
So far in his career he has played 485 times and also played six times in the Europa League. The 32 year old has regularly topped the stats table for most completed passes over the last few seasons.

The final word can go to Brendan Rodgers. “In the British game he really is a reference point now for players of that type. He is performing consistently and making up to 100 passes a game which is phenomenal at this level.”

18th July – Lee Barnard

Lee Barnard has been a good goalscorer in the Football League over the years and he will be hoping to rediscover that form next season to help Southend United get promoted.

It is his second spell at Southend and if it can be anywhere near as good as his first spell then the club will certainly go close to achieving their targets under Phil Brown. Barnard started his career at Tottenham Hotspur but made his first league appearances while out on loan at Exeter City but he had to wait until a loan spell at Stevenage Borough where he would score his first goal against Shrewsbury Town. Further loan spells at Leyton Orient and Northampton Town followed but he was still only young and making his way in the game.

He eventually made his debut for Spurs on the 17th April 2006 in a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United after coming on as a substitute in the 77th minute and also came on the following week against Bolton Wanderers. At the start of the next season he joined Crewe Alexandra for five months and scored on his debut against Huddersfield Town. However, he suffered an injury in late October and returned to his parent club after 10 league games and three goals.

On the 25th January 2008 Barnard joined Southend on a permanent deal and he made his debut that night against Barnsley in the FA Cup after coming on as a substitute. He made his full debut a few days later against Leeds United and scored the only goal of the game after a free kick had hit the post. Before the end of the season he managed to score another nine goals, including an injury time winner against Carlisle United.
Barnard Southend
The 2008-09 season was not quite as good as the striker would have hoped, however he did still manage to get to double figures but he could have got a lot more had it not been for injuries. The next season started much better with him getting four goals in the first three games and this included his first professional hatrick against Leyton Orient. Over the next few months he scored last minute winners against Gillingham and MK Dons and also scored a brace against Hartlepool United which helped his team win 3-2 after they had been 2-0 down. He scored once more for the club in his first spell which took him to 37 goals in 85 games.

Barnard signed for Southampton in January 2010 and he scored his first two goals for the club in a 2-0 win over Norwich City and a week later he scored another two goals against Walsall and then three days later he scored in a 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town. The 2010-11 was also successful as he scored 16 goals for the club but missed the last few weeks of the season through injury.
Barnard Soton
Unfortunately he didn’t get many more chances at Southampton but enjoyed loan spells at Bournemouth, Oldham Athletic and Southend. After his contract expired at Southampton he rejoined Southend on a permanent deal.
Barnard Bournemouth
The final word can go to Southend manager Phil Brown. “Hopefully we can get him back playing how he was during his first spell with the club. He’s an out and out striker who knows where the goal is, so I’m sure he can rediscover that sort of form.”

6th June – David Connolly

David Connolly has had a remarkable career that has seen him be the highest paid player in Holland, score an international hatrick for the Republic of Ireland and score over 150 club goals.

At the age of 37 he is still playing in League Two and had a decent loan spell at Oxford United last season where he scored four times in 11 games and this just shows that he will always know where the back of the net is. Connolly began his career at Watford and he burst onto the scene in the 1995-96 season by scoring eight goals in just 11 appearances which led to him being linked with a move away from the club.

In 1997 he got a move to Dutch team Feyenoord and was the highest player in the country but after just 10 games he was loaned back to England to play for Wolves where he scored four goals in one match against Bristol City. He returned to Holland at the end of the season but was once again loaned out, this time to Excelsior and he really hit top form, scoring 29 times in just 32 matches and he followed this up the next season with 13 in 16 before returning to his parent club. He got more of a chance this time around and played 15 times and managed to get himself five goals.
Connolly AFC
But his adventure in Holland was over in 2001 as he moved to Wimbledon and became one of the most lethal strikers in the Football League. His first season was impressive enough (18 in 35) but he was even better in his second year and almost had a goal a game record as he scored 24 times in 28 games. This form convinced West Ham to pay £285,000 for his services in August 2003 and he scored on his debut against Preston North End in a 2-1 win. He only stayed for the one season as they failed to gain promotion to the Premier League after losing in the playoff final despite Connolly’s 14 goals.
Connolly Leicester
He signed for Leicester City for £500,000 and proved to be a success as he finished the season as their top scorer and then at the start of the next season he scored a hatrick against Stoke City which increased speculation he was going to be sold to a Premier League club. And on deadline day he signed for Wigan Athletic for an initial fee of £2 million and he once again scored on his debut in a 2-1 win over West Brom. However, it was a difficult season as he struggled with injuries and did not score another league goal for the club and in 2006 he left for Sunderland.

At Sunderland he played a vital part in getting them promoted by finishing the season as their top scorer and scoring the final goal of the season which made them champions of the division. However, over the next two seasons he only played five times and was then released.

His next move was to Southampton and he scored on his debut against Oldham Athletic and then followed this up with another against MK Dons. He earned a contract extension and was vital in getting Southampton promoted as he scored in crucial wins over Brighton, Brentford and Walsall. Connolly started the Championship season in fantastic form scoring four goals in the first month of the season. After the club made a few signings in the January transfer window he was pushed down the pecking order and was released at the end of the season.
Connolly Soton
Connolly decided to stay on the South Coast and signed for Portsmouth and although he scored seven times in 17 games he was unable to stop them getting relegated to League Two. At the beginning of the next season he was a starter for Portsmouth but was loaned out in January to Oxford United where he scored on his debut against AFC Wimbledon.

The final word can go to the manager that signed him for West Ham Glenn Roeder. “He is fiery and strong mentally – a tough boy and he lives for scoring goals. He is one of those lads that keeps a mental note of exactly where and how he scores.”

22nd May – Stuart Tomlinson

Stuart Tomlinson retired from football in July 2013 and then embarked on a very unique career change and one that surely has never been done before.

In July 2013 he retired from football because of scar tissue damage and a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament meaning that his left knee was in poor shape and he was advised to retire by surgeons. After injuries it can be tough for footballers and the man that was nicknamed ‘The Tank’ decided to go for something new and in December 2013 he travelled to America to sign a developmental contract with the WWE and become a wrestler.

This is something that he probably didn’t expect to happen when he graduated through Crewe Alexandra’s famous youth team. His football career was good and he was a talented keeper which began on the 25th January 2003 when he came on as a substitute for Danny Milosevic in a 3-1 win over Oldham Athletic. At the end of the season he signed his first professional contract and the club were promoted to the First Division so it was a very good start for him personally.
Tommo Crewe
After a few more substitute appearances it was in January 2006 when he finally made his first start against Preston North End in an FA Cup Third Round game which they went on to win 2-1. Tomlinson then got his first start in the league in a 4-2 win over Millwall in April. But it was not until the 2008-09 season that he finally got a decent run in the first team. On the 25th November he was given a start away to Leicester City which they won 2-1 and then played six games over the next month and kept four clean sheets. However his performances were not good enough to convince new manager Gudjon Thordarson to give him a new contract and he left the club.

He dropped out of the Football League to join Barrow even though there were clubs interested in him that were playing in higher divisions. But it gave him the opportunity to play first team football and also win a trophy at Wembley as they won the FA Trophy. In total he played 27 times in his one season at the club but he chose not extend his contract.

Tomlinson signed for Port Vale and manager Micky Adams was very pleased with his new signing. “Signing Stuart means we have real competition for the number one jersey. He is a good shot stopper and is a physically imposing keeper. He’s a good age too, and has time on his side.” Tomlinson started the season in fantastic form keeping five clean sheets in the first 10 games and was linked with moves away from the club because of his good form.
Tommo PV
After playing 81 times over two seasons he decided once again to not sign a new contract with Port Vale and joined Burton Albion. He kept a clean sheet on his debut in a 1-0 win over Rochdale. Unfortunately he suffered a knee injury that kept him out for several months and this was the start of his injury problems that would eventually lead to his retirement.
Tommo Burton
The final word can go to his last manager Gary Rowett who when saying this probably didn’t expect him to go on to be a wrestler. “His retirement is naturally sad news, however I have no doubt that he will succeed in whatever he decides to do next and we wish him all the very best.”

9th May – Adam Proudlock

Not many players can say they have been in teams that have won the playoffs in the Championship, League One, League Two and also the Conference North.

Adam Proudlock is 33 today and has continually been part of successful squads which is why it is so frustrating that he has never been able to stay at a top team for long and has now drifted into non league football. Proudlock joined first club Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1998 and at the beginning of the 2000-01 season he had a taste of first team football on loan at Scottish club Clyde, where he scored a hatrick on his professional debut against Falkirk.
Soccer - Matt Murray Testimonial - Matt Murray Wolverhampton Wanderers XI v All Stars
After he was recalled by Wolves they handed him a new contract and became a regular in the side. He scored 11 goals before the end of the season and was the club’s top scorer. However, he started the next season on the bench after manager Dave Jones decided to bring in more strikers. In October 2001 he scored yet another hatrick, this time against Bradford City and Jones praised the player saying. “He has kept his head because things had not been easy for him in front of goal, but he has got his rewards.” Unfortunately these were his only goals of the season after he suffered a knee injury.

After loan spells at Nottingham Forest and Tranmere Rovers, Proudlock then joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan and impressed for them scoring twice in five games. He was once again recalled by Wolves and spent the rest of the season coming on as a substitute for them and helped them win the Championship (known as Division One then) playoffs.

In September 2003 he joined Sheffield Wednesday permanently after scoring 17 times in 84 appearances for Wolves. He scored nine times for the club during the 2003-04 season and started the next year very impressively by scoring six times in 14 games however a broken leg in November 2004 put an end to his season, but these goals helped the club secure a place in the League One playoffs which they went on to win. He barely played again for Wednesday and joined Ipswich Town initially on loan for three months before signing for them permanently.
Proudlock Wednesday
After only playing a total of nine games for Ipswich he joined Stockport County and scored six times in his first season. His second was more successful as he helped them reach and win the League Two playoffs with seven league goals. However, a week later his contract was not renewed by the club.
Proudlock Stockport
Proudlock then joined Darlington for a short spell but was quickly shipped out on loan to Grimsby Town. His best moment for the club came when he scored a hatrick against local rivals Lincoln City in a 5-1 win in March 2009. He finished the season as top scorer and was vital in helping the club avoid relegation from the Football League.

The next season he and the club could not repeat the trick as they were relegated so Proudlock left the club and joined AFC Telford who in his first season he helped to win the Conference North Playoffs, however an injury ruled him out for the majority of the 2011-2012 season.

Since he has played for Chester, Market Drayton, Newport Town and Whitehawk. The final word can go to his manager at Sheffield Wednesday Paul Sturrock who summed up his career perfectly. “Either he is very good or very bad – there seems to be no middle road with him. It’s something he has to get out of his system because there is a footballer in that laddie.”