KNOCKOUT BLOW: Nathan Tyson celebrates his recent hat-trick for Chesterfield
By John Lyons
It was 20 years ago this month that Nathan Tyson made his professional debut for home-town club Reading – though it didn’t turn out the way he dreamt it.
Introduced with ten minutes left as a replacement for Darius Henderson, the rookie striker’s mistake allowed hosts Bury to rescue a point in a 1-1 draw.
“I had just signed a professional contract before my 18th birthday and to play for my home-town club and the team I supported was amazing,” he said.
“However, I didn’t clear the ball properly away and their lad has hit a screamer in the top corner.
“One of our players, I won’t name him, was screaming at me, though some of the other lads stuck up for me.
“I was disappointed in the changing room and thought it was the worst-case scenario, but it wasn’t.
“I hadn’t made a really bad mistake, the clearance just wasn’t big enough and you learn from it. I thought ‘If I clear it from the edge of the box in future, I’m putting my boot through it!
“It seems to have worked. Twenty years later, I’m still going!”
Indeed he is. This season the 37-year-old dropped into the National League by joining Notts County and is currently on loan at divisional rivals Chesterfield, making his mark by coming off the bench to score a magnificent hat-trick in a 4-0 win against Ebbsfleet in February.
It’s fair to say that he’s had to learn to take the game’s ups and downs in his stride over the past two decades.
“Sometimes I look back and think I shouldn’t have done this or that move, maybe I should have listened to this person,” he explained. “It’s easy to have a lot of regrets.
“In football you have a lot of lows, but you keep going. People who have played for a long time live and breath for the highs – getting promoted, winning games against top teams in the country, playing in front of thousands of fans at different grounds.
“It’s that buzz, and you aren’t going to get that doing something else. I’ve had injuries, but I’ve been fortunate and I’ve kept myself in good condition.”
One of the highs came when he had his only taste of international football – playing for England U20s against Germany in 2003. He scored twice as the Three Lions triumphed 2-1.
“I got called into the manager’s office at Reading and was told I’d been called up – I thought it was a joke!” he said.
“I wasn’t meant to start, but Jerome Thomas got injured. The manager Les Red was going to play me on the wing, but in training I had done really well playing up front in the middle of a three.
“He stuck me in and I scored two cracking goals in front of a home Reading crowd. I didn’t sleep at all that night – everything was a blur.
“Scoring two goals against Germany of all people was fantastic. It was great to be able to play for my country.”
After struggling for significant game-time at Reading – he was mainly used off the bench – it was at Wycombe that the speedster really started to make his name.
Thirty-nine league goals in 68 games earned him a £675,000 move to Nottingham Forest, then languishing in League One, in 2006. He spent five years with the former European Cup winners, helping them climb back into the second tier in the process. Those were heady days.
“Going to Forest was massive,” he recalled. “I had played there before for Reading, but it’s different when it’s your club.
“When you know the history of the club and pull that shirt on, it’s amazing. I was thinking ‘These things can’t be happening to a young lad from Woodley on the outskirts of Reading who had flunked his education’.
“I owe a lot to the clubs and the fans as well – they’re phenomenal, even though I did move to the dark side (Derby County)!
“I was gutted we didn’t manage to get to the Premier League. We had two big opportunities but we fell short. It would have been incredible to have done that.
“I had a taste of what it would have been like when we won promotion from League One. It was ridiculous. The scenes were phonemenal and I’ll never forget them my entire life. It lifts the hairs on the back of my neck.”
Injuries hampered Tyson following his switch to Derby in 2011 and the following few years tested his resolve. He had a loan at Millwall while at Derby and then further temporary spells at Fleetwood Town and Notts County while a Blackpool player.
It showed to him how precarious life as a professional footballer can be.
“When I first started out playing for Reading and England U20s, I thought ‘when I get to 30, I’m done’,” he said. “But when I hit 30, I felt I wanted to keep going.
“However, I did come close to hanging up my boots at one point. It was when I was at Blackpool and got shipped out on loan to Fleetwood.
“I wasn’t mentally right and went to Notts County, which was more of an escape.
“I was beginning to think ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I hadn’t played much that season and hadn’t scored either.
“I was also out of contract and getting offered 90 to 95 per cent less than what I’d been earning.
“Fortunately, Paul Dickov picked me up and I went to Doncaster. In my first season, I finished top scorer and got Player of the Year! Ever since then I’ve thought ‘I’ll see how long I can go on’.”
After a stint in Scotland with Kilmarnock, life turned full circle for Tyson when he returned south to join Wycombe in 2017.
He played his part as Gareth Ainsworth’s unfancied Chairboys won promotion from League Two in his first season back at the club.
“It was a weird feeling going back,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how the fans would take it, but it worked out really well.
“I still speak to Gareth and his assistant Richard Dobson now – they are top, top guys.
“If players have an opportunity to sign for them and ask my advice, I say ‘go and do it’.
“Their man-management is spot-on. There isn’t a fault with the way they manage the players. Even players not in the squad were behind the rest of the lads.
“The changing room was the best one I’ve been in in my career – and I’ve been in a lot! Our togetherness got us promoted.”
After a couple of seasons, Tyson was on the move to crisis-hit Notts Country, lamenting their demotion to Non-League, last summer.
He’s the first to admit things haven’t gone as well as he would have liked in his second stint with the Magpies.
“It’s been disruptive,” he said. “I’ve had quite a lot going on off the field. I just had my son who’s been in and out of hospital.
“I got ill myself and also injured my hamstring. After that it was difficult to get back in the team. The strikers were on fire, fair play to them.
“I sat down with Neal Ardley (manager) and we agreed it wasn’t working out. I said it was probably best for me to go out on loan and Chesterfield came about. It’s turned out well for me.”
He may have swapped a promotion challenge for a relegation battle, but Tyson has relished playing for the Spireites under John Pemberton, who took the reins following the sacking of John Sheridan in early January.
Before the coronavirus crisis struck, the former Crystal Palace defender had lifted Chesterfield to 19th place, two points above the drop zone.
“In my first game I could see what needed to be improved upon and, to be fair to Pembo, he’s nailed it down every training session,” said Tyson.
“When I first arrived it was a bit lacklustre, but now everyone is getting in each other’s faces and the tempo is better. Now we can see why we’re getting the results.
“The lads seemed to get a new lease of life and we were getting better and better. We were winning the vital games and I think we would have pushed out of trouble.
“It’s a shame the way things have gone. It would be nice to finish the season, but I can’t really see it happening.”
At least that hat-trick against Ebbsfleet reinforced his view that he’s still got something to offer as he approaches the age of 38.
“I wasn’t aware it was a new record,” he said. “The first player for Chesterfield to come off the bench and score a hat-trick.
“It had been a while since I scored. It’s like waiting for a bus – you wait for ages and then three come at once. It was a fantastic feeling.
“It shows what I’m capable of if I get the opportunities, which I have been at Chesterfield. Three goals and two assists in five or six games isn’t a bad return.”
Like many players up and down the land, Tyson is waiting to see how this season is decided – and what his future will be.
“My loan finishes at the end of May and my contract at the end of June,” he said. “My target is to play to the age of 40. Twenty-two years as a professional would be a huge achievement.
“I would have liked to have scored more goals (he’s netted 133), though sometimes I have started off up front and then got switched out wide because I can do a job there.
“It would be nice to rack up as many appearances as I can and to show I can still do it at 40. As long as I keep fit and keep in good shape, I feel I can reach that goal.
“I feel my wife will then want me to say ‘enough is enough’!”