With Harry Pell's swashbuckling midfield display against Northampton last night having earned the man of the match award, we decided it was good timing to reproduce Saturday's programme interview for those who may have missed it.
In an in-depth interview below, the January transfer window signing talks about why he chose the Dons, how he has settled in so quickly, and fulfilling the promise that once had Arsenal interested in him.
Having turned down interest from other clubs to join Wimbledon, Harry Pell is now competing for a place in the midfield with a former Charlton Athletic team-mate who helped inspire his professional career.
Harry, a towering 6 foot 4 inch midfielder who has made an impressive start to his Wimbledon career, could have been forgiven for thinking that he had stepped back in time almost a decade after linking up once again with Stacy Long.
As a young player with the Addicks, Harry and his team-mates were sat down and offered words of encouragement by a professional player at the club who had just signed his first contract – and that turned out to Stacy Long, then a teenager aiming to make the breakthrough at Charlton.
“Stacy had just got his first professional deal at Charlton and he was giving a talk to us young lads about how it felt to have signed a senior contract and the hard work that had to be done to get there,” recalled Harry. “I was only about 12 and I can remember thinking how much I wanted to be like him and become a professional footballer. It is a bit strange that we are now in the same squad, but it has helped me settle in having players I already know at Wimbledon. Toks (Rashid Yussuff) also came through at Charlton and I know Alan Bennett from when I played for Hereford against Cheltenham. We had a couple of games when we really got stuck into each other and I think there is a little bit of respect there from when we had those battles.”
Harry, who was raised in Tilbury, Essex, joined Charlton Athletic at the age of just seven, but he was released at the age of 18. After a promising spell at Bristol Rovers, which included winning the Young Player of the Year award, Harry decided to join Hereford United. In his first season at Edgar Street, the Bulls were relegated from the Football League, but Harry’s performances in the Blue Square Premier attracted interest from several clubs, and last month it was Wimbledon that won the race for his signature. So why did Harry decide to join Wimbledon and sign-up for another relegation battle?
“I had a chat with Hereford and they told me a number of clubs had enquired about me. “But the manager, Martin Foyle, said I had permission to speak to Wimbledon and I decided it was the move for me. First and foremost, it is about the team here as we are in a relegation dogfight, and it is not about me being back in the Football League. I have been in this situation before and it is important that we do not feel sorry for ourselves. The gaffer, to be fair, is not allowing anyone to mope around, and he knows what he wants. If everyone in the squad pulls together then we can survive this season.
“It was frustrating to pick up a booking on my debut against Burton and then be suspended, but it is probably for the best that I have got that out of the way now. I did not think it was a yellow card, but at least it now means that I will be available for the run-in.”
Harry’s performances since then in the centre of the park suggest he is now beginning to fulfil the promise that once had Premier League giants Arsenal interested in him. But Harry decided to stay at Charlton Athletic as a 12-year-old with the Addicks pulling out all the stops to keep him. Though he subsequently progressed through the Charlton youth system alongside the likes of Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, Harry was released by the club as an 18-year-old.
“When I was 12 Charlton had a bid from Arsenal rejected for me, but I decided to stay because Charlton looked after me and my family. I also thought that I had more chance of making the grade at Charlton. If I had my time again, I would definitely go to Arsenal because I think it would have helped my development to progress alongside the likes of Jack Wilshere, who’s the same age as me.
“I played alongside several really good players at Charlton, including Jonjo, Josh Wright (now at Millwall), Harry Arter (Bournemouth) and Carl Jenkinson. I think it was because they offered Jonjo a professional contract that I wasn’t offered anything.”
However, a loan spell at Hastings United in the Ryman League prepared him for men’s football though, and he was picked up by Bristol Rovers in the summer of 2010.
“I went to Hastings to gain experience and I had the time of my life there as I scored four goals in 16 games. It offered me an opportunity to show what I could do in senior football. That really helped me and I got a move to Bristol Rovers. I was Young Player of the Year when they were in League 1, and they offered me a new contract, but I decided to go to Hereford after a loan spell there.
“Hereford is such a great family club and they really looked after me. They knew I was away from home and struggling a bit, so they basically took me in. One of the club’s directors even invited me around for dinner on Boxing Day and a couple of my sponsors also made similar gestures.”
But though he enjoyed his time at Edgar Street so much, Harry felt it was time to move on for the sake of his career – and he has a steely determination to make his mark at Wimbledon.
“I am here to do a job and that is to help Wimbledon stay up. I have settled in great here and I want to get going properly now after suspension. We have 14 games left and the team has to be focused for every one of them. I am not one of those players who is going to lie and say that I want to be at Wimbledon for the rest of my career, because I want to play at the highest possible level I possibly can. Hopefully, we can survive in League 2 and then push on next season.”
All Dons supporters will agree with those sentiments and no one would begrudge Harry moving onto bigger and better things if he plays his part in establishing Wimbledon as a League 2 club.