By Gateshead midfielder Russ Penn
This week, I caught up with one of my best mates in football. Having played in two league sides and represented England C together, I thought it high time to interview ‘Hazza’ as he’s back doing what he does best… scoring goals!
So Shaun, Matlock at the moment. How’s the season going?
It’s been disappointing if I’m honest, we haven’t performed to the levels expected and have been really inconsistent. A good performance would then be followed by two bad. On a personal note, I’m happy to have scored 22 goals in all competitions before my operation in March. It’s just reminded me that I can still play at a decent level and contribute to the club.
What’s the difference in the leagues the lower you go down the pyramid?
Without stating the obvious, the grounds, crowds and pitches don’t get the funding the lower you come down. What I will say though is how close-knit the clubs are at lower level. Everyone knows each other and there is a real family togetherness about the place.
The players at this level are very good. Some have had good football upbringings and some are still learning, but it’s the concentration and awareness along with discipline that is the biggest standout for me.
You’ve played in League one, League two, National league and other various leagues for a variety of very good clubs, but where was your favourite time as a player?
Without doubt it has to be my time at Burton Albion. We had a great manager in Nigel Clough who I still talk to today. The team he built for promotion in 2009 was brilliant, great characters in Darren Stride, Aaron Webster and Ryan Austin along with very good players in John McGrath, Jake Buxton and Keith Gilroy, we had a great mix.
It was such an enjoyable environment with a real togetherness from chairman, fans down to players.
Ten caps at England C level. What were your memories of them?
Back then, ten years ago, there was no age cap on England C so it was great to be recognised for your performances in the league. I loved the travelling and the mix with the lads. The Caribbean was obviously a highlight, but away trips to Helsinki (v Finland) and Napoli (v Italy) were just as memorable. I played with some great lads who have gone onto play in the Premier League and the Championship. I was also in the squad with TOWIE’S Mark Wright once – he’s not a bad player.
You used to clean my boots at Burton and Cheltenham because you idolised me, but what do you think of the youth of today?
I probably did, but that’s what you did sometimes out of respect or if you lost a game of head tennis! The game has changed now, you have to be very careful what you say and do.
A big percentage of young players take things for granted and they are the ones that only last a year or two in the game. I’ve always liked discipline and respect in a club, but I feel that is slowly growing out of football.
Best goal you’ve scored?
It has to be the goal against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup third round back in 2011. We won 2-1 that day as I scored both our goals ten minutes from time to come from behind.
The winner though will stick with me forever. As the ball is crossed I’ve bicycle-kicked it into the bottom corner with two minutes remaining, sending us through to the fourth round.
For a number of reasons it was really memorable. It was a sell out at the Pirelli Stadium against strong Championship opposition and I knew deep down it was going to be my last game for Burton as it was agreed I was signing for Northampton Town the following Monday. It was a fitting way to say goodbye to a club I still call home today.
What do you put your goal scoring down to?
I started off as a centre-half when I was a youth player at Notts County. I used to get put up front in the last ten minutes of games if we were losing. Nigel Clough signed me for Burton Albion and said, ‘You’re a natural goalscorer’. It went from there.
My biggest influence though was a striker called Mark Stallard, his standards and desire in matches and training were really encouraging and infectious. He was someone I definitely looked up to as a young 17-year-old. He worked so hard and was always out at the end of the session doing extras and constantly shooting, he was a goalkeeper’s nightmare in training.
Life after football?
I’m quite busy at the moment. I work part-time with Burton Albion in the youth set-up, which I really enjoy and I have my own coaching school ‘Shaun Harrad Coaching’ which is based around the Nottingham area. That is building up nicely to where I want it to be.
I also have a big interest in properties as that is something me and my wife have always been keen on.
You’ve recently been appointed interim coach at Matlock, tell me more?
I’ve just had an operation on my ankle, which has ruled me out for the remaining games of the season. Two weeks later the chairman called me to ask if I could help out as assistant manager after the departure of our managers. Of course I said yes and it’s been a nice distraction to my rehab. Dave Hoole and I are very happy to how the team have responded to our philosophy – we’ve drawn one and won one so far. The performances have arguably been the best of the season and I’m happy to help out in whatever capacity the club decides. But as much as I’ve loved the experience, there’s still goals in the old legs yet and I’ll be fighting fit come pre season.
Best football tale?
It was an away game in London somewhere the night before in a hotel. I was at Cheltenham Town at the time and my room mate was your good self. As you know we liked to have a bath the night before the game, but disappointingly that night our room was shower only.
We rang around the team asking if anyone had a bath and would they swap if possible. Marlon Pack (Bristol City) and roommate Darren Carter (Solihull Moors) quickly responded to agree, but asked for five minutes to pack up.
After we switched rooms and I started to unpack, I went in to run my bath and as I opened the bathroom something didn’t feel right.
Put it this way Marlon obviously thought the bath was the toilet and you can imagine the rest. I should have known better!
*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday
By Gateshead midfielder Russ Penn