25th August – Luke Ayling

Luke Ayling has been one of the best defenders in the Championship for a lot of his career and will be hoping he can make the step up to the Premier League soon.

The defender usually plays at right back but he can also fill in at centre half or play as one of the defenders when his manager decided to play three at the back. Under the stewardship of a manager like Marcelo Bielsa he will surely get better and will be hoping that this could be the manager that takes him to the top flight.

Ayling started his career at Arsenal and despite an impressive record at youth level in which he was part of their double winning team of the 2008-09 season, he failed to make a first team appearance for the club but was named on the substitute bench for a Champions League game against Greek side Olympiakos. Towards the end of his time at the club he signed for Yeovil Town on loan in March 2010. He played four times and did enough to convince them to sign him permanently.

Ayling YT

In his first full season he was a key player, making 40 appearances, however his disciplinary record was quite poor as he picked up 13 yellow and two red cards. He played in 40 games every season he was at the club and helped them win the League One playoff final on the 19th May 2013 and therefore secured them a place in the Championship. The team found it very tough in the higher division but Ayling was certainly one of the bright spots.

After relegation, Ayling decided not to sign a new contract with the club and joined Bristol City on a free transfer. It turned out to be an impressive season as he played 58 times in all competitions and Bristol City went on to win the League One title and the Football League Trophy beating Walsall 2-0 at Wembley on the 22nd March 2015. He would continue to impress in the following season as they managed to avoid relegation in the following campaign, playing 33 times at either right back or centre back.

Ayling BC

On the 11th August 2016 the right back signed for Leeds United and would play 43 times in his first season. With many changes at the club throughout his time there so far, he has managed to convince every manager that has been in charge that he deserves his place in the team. During the 2017-18 season he was also named as the club’s vice captain and was also rewarded with a new four year contract. He had to wait until the 18th August 2018 to score his first goal for Leeds in a game against Rotherham United.

Ayling LU

The final word can go to Steve Cotterill. “He’s a very versatile player and therefore offers us competition and cover in a variety of positions. He was instrumental in Yeovil’s promotion from League One and did very well in the Championship.”

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12th August – Jesper Gronkjaer

Jesper Gronkjaer should go down in Chelsea history that kick started their success in the Premier League years and will be remembered fondly by the fans.

If it wasn’t for Gronkjaer who knows where Chelsea would be these days as he scored the goal that meant they qualified for the Champions League and it became known as the ‘billion pound goal’ as their qualification meant that Roman Abramovich would definitely take over the club and the rest is history.

The Dane started his career at Aalborg and quickly became an important member of the side and was known for his incredible speed. He stayed at the club for three seasons, playing 86 league games, scoring 10 goals. His form attracted the interest of other clubs around Europe and he signed a deal with Ajax in 1997 before joining them in July 1998.

Gronkjaer AAB

Once again he settled quickly and was a fan favourite and was rewarded with his performances by being named the fans player of the year at the end of the 1999-00 season. Although he was thriving personally the club did not win much but he did help them win the KNVB Cup during his time there.

In October 2000, Gronkjaer became the most expensive Danish player after signing for Chelsea for £7.8 million. An injury meant he had to wait for his first start until the 28th January 2001 where he started an FA Cup game against Gillingham in which he scored twice and also hit the post twice in a 4-2 win. Unfortunately he never quite lived up to his full potential at the club but in his four seasons at the club he did score some important goals, including the winner on the final day against Liverpool which got them into the Champions League, he then scored against Monaco in the semi final of the competition as well as goals against Manchester United at Old Trafford and a winner against Leeds United.

Gronkjaer Chelsea

With Claudio Ranieri leaving Chelsea, it was time for the winger to move on and he signed for Birmingham City in July 2004. This move only lasted half a season and 16 appearances before moving onto Atletico Madrid. Again he struggled to settle and after another 16 games he was on the move again, joining Stuttgart.

He would only spend one season at Stuttgart after 35 games and no goals he returned to Denmark joining Copenhagen. At the end of the season he was named the league player of the year. However, injuries did limit his playing time over the next couple of years. But before retiring he did manage to win four league titles in Denmark. On his very last career game he managed to score in a 2-0 win over first club Aalborg.

Fodbold Superliga Esbjerg - FC K¿benhavn

The final word can go to Steve Bruce after some impressive performances. “There is no finer sight than when he is like that. He is used to dominating the opposition and he is used to the ball more often.”

17th July – Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom will be hoping his managerial career will go slightly further than his playing career but he needs to make sure he chooses the right career path.

Leaving Barnsley for Leeds United might be an easy decision to some but maybe he should have avoided taking the job when he did as the club don’t seem to keep their managers in charge for very long. It is good to see that he is ambitious but after just four wins in 16 games he was sacked. He still has a long way to go in his career.

Heckingbottom started his career at Sunderland but never made a professional league appearance for the club and was sent out on loan to Scarborough, Hartlepool United and Darlington, with the full back joining the latter permanently in 1999. After 126 appearances and six goals, the defender was showing his potential and joined Norwich City in 2002. However, he couldn’t break into the team regularly and after just 16 games his contract was cancelled.

Heckingbottom Darlington

Bradford City was his next destination and he quickly became a fan favourite with his wholehearted and committed performances. Despite the club getting relegated at the end of the season, Heckingbottom was named the Player of the Year, and this convinced Sheffield Wednesday to sign the defender.

In his first season at Wednesday, he played more games than any other player for the club and scored four goals as the club gained promotion to the Championship after winning the playoffs. Unfortunately an injury during pre-season meant he lost his place in the side and never regained the left back spot so on the 13th January 2006 he joined boyhood club Barnsley. Once again he helped the club gain promotion through the playoffs and scored in the penalty shootout victory over Swansea City.

Heckingbottom BC

After his move was made permanent he played a key role in helping the club avoid relegation comfortably but in the following summer he rejoined Bradford City. After a good start he would start to pick up injuries and after 53 league games he left the club again, this time he signed for Conference side Mansfield Town.

An injury ruined his pre-season and he didn’t make his debut until October 2009, 11 months after he had last played a professional game. After just 11 games he was loaned out to Gateshead who made the deal permanent in the next summer. He would only feature 22 times in the 2010-11 season and after a short spell at Harrogate Town he decided to retire.

Heckingbottom barnsley

Since retiring, Heckingbottom has already managed over 100 league games and won the League One playoffs with Barnsley as well as the Football League Trophy during the 2015-16 season which led to him being given the job on a permanent basis after two previous spells as caretaker.

The final word can go to former Mansfield Town manager David Holdsworth. “He is a class act and an accomplished player. I am delighted to have him on board.”

29th June – Andy O’Brien

Andrew O’Brien like his namesake Liam will go down in Newcastle United history for scoring a goal in the Tyne-Wear Derby.

The centre back, might not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of goalscorers in a derby but was a fan favourite for a while, not just at Newcastle but at many of his other teams.

O’Brien started his career at Bradford City and made his debut in 1996 against QPR and quickly became a first team regular. During the 1998-99 season he played 34 times, helping the club gain promotion to the Premier League. The team struggled in the Premier League and barely survived relegation in the first season but as the club were facing relegation and a lot of financial difficulties they had to sell their best assets. After 133 league appearances for Bradford, O’Brien joined Newcastle United for £2 million.

Francis Jeffers and Andy O''Brien

In one of his first games for the club he scored an equaliser against Sunderland and he followed this up by being a dependable defender in the next season as the club qualified for the Champions League. Despite the arrival of Titus Bramble and Jonathan Woodgate during the 2002-03 season, O’Brien managed to stay first choice.

O'Brien NU

His form was solid for Newcastle up until the end of the 2004-05 season when his performances took a dip and along with the club’s disappointing 14th place finish it was time for the defender to leave. Portsmouth signed him for £2 million and after a disappointing start under manager Alain Perrin, his form picked up throughout the season and was once again seen as a solid player.

In his second season he found opportunities limited and on the 13th August 2007 he signed for Bolton Wanderers. He quickly settled in at the club and impressed the fans so much that he was voted their Player of the Season. He captained the side on many occasions and on the 11th April 2009 he scored his first goal for over four years in a game against Chelsea. But after Owen Coyle took charge, O’Brien was left on the bench. Despite many clubs being interested the manager didn’t want to let him go as he still saw him as an asset.

O'Brien BW

The next move of his career was to Leeds United, initially on loan and then permanently on the 1st January 2011. Just days after signing he put in one of the performances of his career in an FA Cup game against Arsenal. But things turned sour afterwards with a few mistakes in the opening few games of the following season and the defender wanted to leave after the fans gave him a tough time. The final move of his career was to the MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps where he played 50 league games.

The final word can go to former Portsmouth Chief Executive Peter Storrie. “We have signed a first-class player who has played at the top for both club and country and has a very prominent record.”

22nd June – Stephen Crainey

Stephen Crainey was part of Blackpool’s exciting Premier League campaign that saw them become one of the most enjoyable teams to watch.

Under Ian Holloway, Blackpool played an attacking brand of football that made many neutrals excited but it wasn’t always easy for Crainey in the top flight due to this style.

The defender started his career at Celtic and would play a total of 58 times for the club and helped the team win the Scottish League Cup and the SPL title. Although never a regular he earned a move to Premier League side Southampton on the 6th February 2004 and made his debut in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. However, after just five Premier League appearances he was on the move again.

Crainey Celtic

Crainey signed for Leeds United, initially on loan and then permanently, and in doing so became the first player Leeds had paid for since 2004. Despite this, he still couldn’t hold down a regular place and after three seasons and the club being relegated to League One he was released from his contract.

Crainey LU

Blackpool signed the left back and he became a fan favourite and club hero. In his first season he would go on to score his first ever league goal in a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United and helped the club to their highest finish in the Championship in 27 years. Due to his form he was linked with moves away but instead he signed a new contract. However, an injury at the start of the 2008-09 season meant he missed the first half of the campaign but he would recover and become a key player once more.

Crainey then helped Blackpool to arguably one of their greatest ever achievements by appearing in 46 games during the 2009-10 season which saw them gain promotion to the Premier League. In the top flight their efforts were very enjoyable to watch and if it wasn’t for an injury to Crainey in January they may have been more solid at the back and came closer to escaping relegation. Everyone expected them to be one of the worst in the history of the league but they almost pulled off a shock.

Crainey Blackpool

Upon relegation Crainey again signed a new contract to ward off interest from Premier League clubs, such as Wigan Athletic, and he continued putting in solid performances in the Championship and scored his second goal for the club against Birmingham City on the 26th November 2011.

He would stay at Blackpool for one more season before deciding to move on and he did eventually sign for Wigan. This only lasted for one season and in 2014 he signed for Fleetwood Town, where he would play 28 league games before leaving for AFC Fylde, his final club.

The final word can go to former Fleetwood Town manager Graham Alexander. “He has played at the top level and is still hungry for success. We thought we needed to bring in more added quality and experience. Crainey certainly provides that.”

5th June – Stephen McPhee

Stephen Mcphee is one of the few British players to have tried to have a successful career abroad which a lot of pundits believe would improve football in the UK.

The forward started his youth career in Holland with Vitesse Arnhem which is probably part of the reason why he didn’t fear going abroad and trying out different cultures and playing styles. He never played for the Dutch side and in 1998 he joined Premier League club Coventry City.

In 2001, he joined Scottish side St Mirren on loan and was an instant success, winning the SPL Young Player of the Month. During his spell he played seven times but he did not convince parent club Coventry that he deserved a place in their team and on the 31st July 2001 signed for Port Vale.

His first season was good as he began it with a goal on his debut against Notts County and ended it as the club’s top scorer with 14 goals. This led to him being linked with moves away and Wigan Athletic had a £300,000 bid accepted, however, he could not agree personal terms. It seemed to be a poor decision as he struggled in the following campaign as he went 21 games without a goal until he scored against Oldham Athletic. He hoped this would kick start his season but only two goals followed.

McPhee PV

The 2003-04 season saw McPhee bounce back and Vale narrowly miss out on the League One playoffs with the striker scoring 27 times. With the club failing to gain promotion, it meant once again that other clubs were looking at him and Leeds United had a bid rejected. As he was out of contract he could join any foreign club for free.

Portuguese club Beira-Mar, managed by Mick Wadsworth, decided to take a chance on the Scotsman. Unfortunately the manager was sacked after just four games and many thought the striker would struggle for games. However, he proved to be a bright spot and despite relegation his consistent performances meant he was singled out for praise.

McPhee Hull

On the 19th May 2005 he returned to England, signing for Hull City. After just four games he suffered an injury and missed the rest of the season. He never fully recovered from his injuries while at the club and in his three seasons he only played 40 times. In January 2008, he signed for Blackpool, and scored three times in 19 games before the end of the season. He played his final game on the 4th April 2009 and for the next 18 months he could not get fit and announced his retirement less than a week after his club had been promoted to the top flight.

McPhee Blackpool

The final word can go to his agent David Manasseh. “Stephen thoroughly enjoyed his time at Vale, however, clubs playing at a higher level have come in for him. Stephen is an ambitious, young footballer and is keen for the chance to play at a higher level.”

2nd June – Leigh Bromby

Leigh Bromby is one of the few players that has featured both for Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United and was well liked by both fans.

The central defender seemed to be Yorkshire through and through as he also turned out for Leeds United and is currently a coach at Huddersfield Town. Bromby came through the youth academy at Hillsborough but made his professional debut whilst on loan at Mansfield Town on the 12th December 1999 in a 0-0 draw with Barnet. During the loan spell he would also go on to score his first career goal in a 3-1 win over Southend United.

In the following season, Bromby made his debut for Wednesday as a substitute and would go on to make 20 appearances in the second half of the season. Over the next three seasons he became a regular for the team but he did also spend a five game spell on loan at Norwich City during the 2002-03 campaign.

Bromby SW

At the end of the 2003-04 season with Wednesday in Division Two, he made the surprising move to neighbours Sheffield United. He was an instant success at Bramall Lane, playing in every single league game and contributing five goals. In the following season he helped the team gain promotion to the top flight and would feature in 17 Premier League games but unfortunately he could not help them secure their place in the league.

Injuries then caught up with the defender and he could not get a good run in the side and this led to him leaving for Watford on the 31st January 2008. United manager at the time Bryan Robson did not want to sell Bromby but the player wanted regular football and reluctantly allowed him to leave. After just one year at Watford, he returned to Sheffield United, initially on loan and then permanently.

Bromby SU

This move didn’t last long as just a few weeks after signing permanently, and not making an appearance in the new season under manager Kevin Blackwell, he signed for boyhood club Leeds United. In his first season he played a key role in their promotion back to the Championship but he will have been disappointed that he was suspended for their historic FA Cup win over Manchester United. This turned out to be his last season as first choice and became a bit part player and a ruptured patella knee tendon effectively ended his career on the 3rd May 2012. He retired after playign 380 games.

Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal) Leigh Bromby (Leeds). Leeds United 1:3 Arsenal, FA Cup 3rd Round Replay

Since retiring, Bromby has took his coaching badges and was part of Leeds United’s academy until he was made redundant by controversial owner Massimo Cellino. Since August 2014, he has been a part of Huddersfield Town’s coaching setup.

The final word can go to Norwich City manager, Nigel Worthington who signed him on loan. “Leigh has made a very promising start to his career at Wednesday. This move is about him having a chance to get some games under his belt. He’s a very good defender.”