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.”

24th February – Kevin O’Connor

One club players don’t come around too often and Kevin O’Connor has progressed right from the youth team at Brentford to now being part of their coaching staff.

He is only 33 but it seems like he is focusing on the next stage of his career as he has had limited playing time this season but he will be happy to still be involved at Brentford. They are definitely a team on the up despite the uncertainties around the managerial position. Since signing for the club he has played in every position and is currently fourth on Brentford’s all time appearance list.

O’Connor first signed with Brentford as a striker and after a run of 23 goals in 30 reserve games he was given a professional contract in 1999. He went on to make his debut on the 15th February 2000 as a substitute in the Football League Trophy defeat to Exeter City and went on to make his first start in a draw with Wycombe Wanderers a few days later. An injury slowed his progress and he had to wait over a year to score his first goal in a 2-1 win over Bristol City.

OC Brent 1

After Steve Coppell became manager in 2001, O’Connor became a regular in the side and made 32 appearances helping his club reach the playoffs, unfortunately they were beaten in the final by Stoke City. New manager Wally Downes was impressed by his performances and he was an ever present in the side for the following campaign and was now seen as a winger and contributed nine goals.

During the 2004-05 season O’Connor was moved to right back and was given the captain’s armband on the 19th October against Hartlepool United. The season again ended in disappointment as they were defeated in the playoffs, this time by Sheffield Wednesday. He would go on to suffer even more heartbreak in the playoffs in the 2005-06 season but he did manage to score eight times in 38 games. Even worse was to follow as the club were relegated in 2007 after finishing bottom.

OC Brent 3

Relegation meant another position change for O’Connor as he played predominantly in the centre of midfield in League Two. He started off well in his new position by scoring goals against Notts County and Barnet in August 2007. But he only added one more goal over the course of the season as the club finished midtable. In the following season Brentford won the league and O’Connor was awarded a new contract. He was impressive once again in League One and made 49 appearances over the season and was given a testimonial at the end of the campaign.

The 2010-11 season was the last one that he featured regularly for the club as injuries stopped him from playing. But he was on the pitch for one of the most exciting endings to the season ever against Doncaster Rovers in the final game of the 2012-13 season. Brentford were awarded a penalty in the last minute and Marcello Trotta took the ball off O’Connor but missed the spot kick and Doncaster ran down the other end and scored, winning the game 1-0 meaning Brentford and O’Connor had to go through the playoffs. Once again they failed to get promoted after losing against Yeovil Town.

OC Brent 2

Finally in the next campaign they would get promoted to the Championship and on the final day of the season O’Connor made his 500th appearance for the club. Since promotion he has not played a league game but he has been an important member of the coaching staff, helping the team challenge for the playoffs and will be needed now more than ever with Mark Warburton expected to leave in the summer.

The final word can go to Mark Warburton. “Kevin has seen so much change at the club and yet has maintained his exceedingly high standards throughout and it is this outstanding quality that we need to keep at Brentford. I am delighted that Kevin O’Connor will be extending his stay at the club.”

26th October – Steve Howey

Being born in Sunderland but going on to play for Newcastle United is what birthday boy Steve Howey did in his career and he will have been delighted that his former side got a win away to Tottenham Hotspur.

The central defender is 43 today and he went through a number of emotions during his time at Newcastle and will know exactly what the fans are going through at the moment as he endured some good times and bad times during his career. He will also be remembered as one of the defenders in Newcastle’s very attacking team under Kevin Keegan that reached the very top of the Premier League and should have won a title, however this didn’t quite happen but Howey still managed to earn himself four England caps because of his performances.

Howey started his career at Newcastle and signed his first professional contract on the 11th December 1989 and would go on to be one of the most popular players amongst the fans over the next 11 years. He was originally a striker when playing for the youth teams and reserves before the manager of the time Ossie Ardiles decided to use him as a defender. He did not become a first team regular until Kevin Keegan took charge and became an important member of the side during the club’s First Division title win in the 1992-93 season. Unfortunately Howey didn’t quite get to live up to his potential as injuries disrupted his time at the club but he still helped the club finish runners up in the Premier League during the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons and was involved in some dramatic games. He also helped the club reach the final of the FA Cup in 1998.
Howey NUFC
His time at Newcastle finally came to an end in August 2000 as newly promoted Manchester City paid £2 million for his services. It would be a very tough start to his career in Manchester and on his debut the team went on to lose 4-0 against Charlton Athletic. Things would not get better and the club were relegated from the top flight at the end of the season. However, Howey decided to stay at the club and helped them secure an immediate return to the Premier League as they won the First Division. Howey would stay at the club for one more season and this time it was a much better effort as they finished in the top half of the table. While at City, he had a decent goalscoring record and found the back of the net 11 times in 94 games, including a late equaliser against rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford, unfortunately for Howey though the game is more remembered more for the clash between Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland.
Howey MCFC
In 2003 the defender moved to Leicester City for £200,000 however he only stayed at the club for six months and after just 13 games he joined Bolton Wanderers. After just three appearances for the club he was released and had a short spell in the MLS with New England Revolution before returning to England to play one game for Hartlepool United.
Howey LC
The final word can go to Micky Adams who signed him at Leicester City. “I’ve been looking for players with Premier League experience and Steve fits the bill. He can still do a very good job. It’s pleasing to get the first signing out the way and at such a good price. He is a former international and will be a good addition.”

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.”

13th September – Francois Zoko

Blackpool picked up their first point of the season and were helped by birthday boy and one of their summer signings Francois Zoko to finally get their season started.

After coming on as a substitute in the 72 minute, Zoko ensured that the score remained 0-0, however he will be hoping to make more of a positive impact going forward in the coming weeks. Everyone knows about Blackpool’s problems during the summer and they did not even have a full squad with only a few days to go before the start of the season. But with their first point on the board they should gain more confidence.
Zoko Nancy
Zoko started his career at French club Nancy and spent four years with the club, scoring eight times in 70 league appearances before moving onto Stade Laval in the summer of 2004. He played fairly regularly for the club over the next two seasons but he did not hit the back of the net for his liking, with him only scoring nine times.
Zoko Laval
In 2006 he then moved to Belgium and signed for Mons where he started building his reputation and was starting to be linked with bigger clubs. After 55 games and 11 goals he decided he wanted to try a new challenge in a new country and joined Turkish club Hacetteppe Spor Kulubu. However, a lot of off field problems meant he never lived up to his potential and ended up moving back to Belgium with KV Oostende. He made an instant impact at the club and in the second half of the season he played 11 times, scoring four goals and assisting a further five.

Ahead of the 2010-11 season Zoko joined Carlisle United on trial and after impressing he signed a one year deal in July 2010. He made his debut in a 2-0 win over Brentford and after leaving the field he was given a standing ovation and was praised by the management and his teammates at the club. It did not take him long to be linked with other clubs which led to Carlisle giving him a new contract after less than 10 games.

He stayed at the club for two seasons and after scoring double figures in all competitions in both years he decided on the 6th June 2012 that he wanted to play at a higher level and did not sign a new contract. He was described as one of the most talented players to have ever played for the club in recent years.
Zoko CU
On the 3rd August 2012 he signed a two year deal with Notts County. He made his debut against Crewe and also scored in 2-1 win for his new club. He only had to wait three days for his next goal as he scored against Hartlepool United, he could not keep up this goal rate but he still managed seven goals in 39 appearances. At the end of the season his contract was cancelled by mutual consent and he joined Stevenage on the 4th October.

Once again he scored on his debut in a 2-1 win over MK Dons and then scored twice in his next game in another 2-1 victory, this time over Brentford. He was a consistent goal scorer for the club and he ended his only season at the club with 16 goals in 40 games which convinced Blackpool that he could make it in the Championship and signed the attacker.

He has so far played five times but has been unable to find the back of the net.

The final word can go to the manager that brought him to England, Greg Abbott. “I know how big an impact he has made here. He is an important player for what we are doing and has been very impressive so far.”

25th August – Marlon Harewood

Marlon Harewood has been a consistent goalscorer all through his career and now coming towards the end of it the 35 year old is trying to help Hartlepool United achieve their aims.

Although Hartlepool have had a slightly disappointing start to the season they secured their first win of the campaign away to Wimbledon with Harewood scoring the winning goal. If the team are to be successful then it may come down to how effective Harewood can be and that is not just in scoring goals, it will be his experience helping some of the younger players develop.

Harewood started his career at Nottingham Forest and made his debut in 1998 but to gain further first team experience he joined Finnish side Haka on loan and his three goals in 18 games helped them win the league and the Finnish Cup. In the following year he joined Ipswich Town on loan and scored once against Bury in his six appearances before going to become one of the most lethal goalscorers in the Championship with Forest. His best season for the club was 2002-03 as he scored 21 goals and formed a brilliant partnership with David Johnson which helped the club reach the playoffs. After 51 league goals he left for West Ham in November 2003.
Harewood Forest
They paid £500,000 for his services and repaid them in his first full season at the club as he was the top scorer as the team got promoted to the Premier League with 23 goals in all competitions. And he also then played a huge part in keeping them in the top flight with 14 goals in the Premier League, including a hatrick against Aston Villa. He was also a big player in their run to the final of the FA Cup that season and scored the winning goal in the semi final against Middlesbrough.
Harewood WH
His next season was difficult and it was clear that he would be leaving at the end of the season as he was no longer first choice. On the 17th July 2007 he joined Aston Villa for £4 million. His time at Villa was interesting because he was very influential when he was on the pitch but was largely used as a super sub. Despite only playing 23 times he scored five goals in his first season. But he played even less in the following season and joined Wolves on loan. He played five times for the club and failed to score.

His next loan spell was much more successful at Newcastle United as he scored five times in 15 games and helped them secure their place at the top of the table in the early months of the season. At the end of the season he was released by Villa and signed for newly promoted Blackpool. He scored on his debut in a 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic and had a fantastic record in the Premier League scoring five times in just 11 appearances, and strangely he was loaned out to Barnsley for the second half of the season and scored four goals in 10 games.
Harewood Barnsley
On the 8th July 2011 he joined Chinese side Guangzhou R&F and stayed there for half a season, playing 10 games and scoring four goals. The next few seasons were difficult for Harewood as he returned to Nottingham Forest but could not recapture his earlier form and then also to Barnsley where he struggled again and after just one league goal at Bristol City it seemed like his career was coming to an end.

Now at Hartlepool he seems to be enjoying his football again and with him being one of the key members of the squad he will be hoping for a much more successful season than his previous few.

The final word can go to Martin O’Neill. “I couldn’t be more pleased with him. I think he has been really excellent. The crowd have taken to him. Some people come on as a substitute and never get a kick. He has been able to force his way into the game, and make a big impact.”

23rd August – Steve MacLean

Steve MacLean was already a legend at Sheffield Wednesday but when he convinced striker Stevie May to join the club he became even more of a hero to their fans.

On the day that May scored his first goal for Wednesday, MacLean was at St Johnstone also doing what he does best and scored the only goal of the game against Aberdeen. MacLean will now have to be the main striker at St Johnstone but it is something that the 32 year old is used to and at times in his career he has been prolific and helped his clubs achieve their aims.
MacLean and May
MacLean started his career at Forres Mechanics in Scotland before being signed by Rangers. He stayed at the club for two seasons but spent the whole of the 2003-04 season out on loan at Scunthorpe United and earned the nickname ‘The Loan Ranger’ as he scored 23 league goals in 42 appearances. Despite this effort and his good goal record he was deemed not good enough by Ranger manager Alex McLeish and was placed on the transfer list.

On the 7th July 2004 he joined Sheffield Wednesday on a three year deal and it would become arguably his best time of his career. He hit the ground running and in his first season he hit 20 goals, including a hatrick against Doncaster Rovers which made him the first Wednesday player to score an away hatrick for 32 years. His impressive goal return also made him the first Wednesday player to hit the 20 goal mark in one season since Mark Bright in 1994.

But his greatest moment in a Wednesday shirt was in the League One Playoff final when he held his nerve to score an equalising penalty to take the game to extra time against Hartlepool United which they then went on to win. Many believed he wouldn’t be fit for the game, but he was there when he was needed most.
MacLean Wednesday
The following season was much tougher for MacLean as he suffered a broken leg just before the start of the Championship season and only played six times, scoring twice. But the 2006-07 season was a much better year, despite a few more injuries he finished the season as joint top scorer alongside Deon Burton with 13 goals.

After 35 goals for the club he joined Cardiff City on a free transfer on the 22nd June 2007. The striker got off to the worst possible start by missing a penalty on his debut in a 1-0 defeat to Stoke City. However, he made up for this by scoring in the next game away to QPR. Unfortunately injuries and the manager going for other options meant this would be his only goal for the club.

After short spells at Plymouth Argyle, Aberdeen, Oxford United, Yeovil Town and Cheltenham Town, it seems like he has finally found a new place to call home at St Johnstone. He became a club legend at the club when he scored the second goal in the 2014 Scottish League Cup final to secure a 2-0 win, helping them win their first ever major competition in Scotland.
MacLean SJ
The final word can go to St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. “He’s a big character in the dressing room. On and off the pitch he’s a leader for us, he’s someone that gets people going. He’s a good footballer, he’s a good number nine.”