Scott Wagstaff is aiming to use all of his experience to help AFC Wimbledon come through a difficult season.
Now at a club accustomed to overcoming adversity, the midfielder, who could be back for Saturday’s FA Cup tie at FC Halifax after missing last night’s defeat due to a slight hamstring injury, has made a success of his career after bouncing back from setbacks.
For those that may have missed Scott’s extensive interview in the Southend programme, this is reproduced in full below.
Scott Wagstaff has come through some tough times to make a success of his career and he is aiming to use all of his experience to help AFC Wimbledon climb the League One table. Long before he helped Gillingham beat the drop on the final day of the 2016/17 season, he was told by his first club, Charlton Athletic, that he was no longer part of their plans. It was Charlton’s manager at the time, Chris Powell, now in charge of today’s opponents Southend United, who informed him of that decision, but Scott has no hard feelings towards him, as it led to the best spell of his career, at Bristol City.
“I was 23. Chris Powell pulled me into his office, and I thought I was going to get a new contract. I’d played the last ten games of the season with Chris in charge, and I thought I’d played well, but he told me that even though I could stay, I wouldn’t be in his first-team plans very much. It was a shock to me because I thought I would be staying, but it worked out for the best because I moved to Bristol City and had the best three years of my career so far.
“In football you have to enjoy it while you can and do the best you can for the club you’re playing for at the time. It’s not like other careers, as there’s not much job security. Half the time you don’t know where you’re going to be. You might sign a three-year deal, but then a new manager comes in and he chops and changes things.
“Going to Bristol was a big step in my career, and I was successful there, helping City to promotion. I didn’t realise how big a club they are until I went there. The fans were brilliant, especially with me! I really enjoyed my time there and I met a lot of good people.
“It was such a tight-knit squad. Everyone lived in the area and we did a lot of stuff together on our days off. My wife moved there with me, which was great for us both, and we met some friends for life at Bristol. It was a really good time for me as we had success on the pitch too. Promotion to the Championship with Bristol City was the highlight of my career.”
Scott was part of the City squad that won the Football League Trophy with a victory against Walsall at Wembley. However, while he was at Gillingham he experienced the other side of football – having to fight until the end of the season to avoid relegation. He knows full well that the Dons are now in a serious scrap to beat the drop, and he will call on all of his experience to make a difference.
“My first year at Gills was a tough time. I injured my Achilles in pre-season, and after that it was a bit stop-start: there was a knock-on effect as I kept on getting injured. The missus and my family got a bit of flak because I wasn’t playing, but they’ve always been there for me. It’s tough when you’re not playing, not doing something you enjoy doing.
“At the end of the season we were still struggling. It was make-or-break as it went down to the final game of the season, and it was such a relief to get over the line. After such a very difficult season I definitely enjoyed my holiday that summer!
“As a squad, you have to make sure that you all stick together on the pitch – that’s what develops a good team spirit. You need to get little things in place to make sure you’re getting it right, both on and off the pitch. Then the results will take care of themselves.”
Results certainly haven’t gone to plan since Scott joined Wimbledon in the summer. The 28-year-old midfielder is quick to take a share of the responsibility as one of the players signed for the new campaign by Neal Ardley.
“We haven’t been picking up the results when we should have been. That’s down to us, and we have to make sure we work on that. It’s disappointing that the manager has gone. Personally, I feel I let him down because he brought me in and I wanted to do well for him. But things like that happen in football. You don’t want them to, of course. But you kind of get used to things changing all the time. Hopefully, we can put all that behind us and go on a little run now.
“It’s been very frustrating, especially after the start we made to the season. The atmosphere was excellent, and the boys were playing some really good stuff in the first five or six games. We’ve not been getting the results since then. I don’t want to make excuses, but I do feel we’ve been unlucky in certain situations. We definitely could have had more decisions going our way earlier in the season. That might have made a bit of a difference, but it’s still down to us to make sure we do get over the line in games – and we haven’t been doing that.”
Scott says he will be giving everything for the cause in the coming months, as Wimbledon seek the points to earn a fourth successive season in League One.
“The fans have been excellent to me since I’ve been here. They’ve always been supportive of me when I’ve played, and I really appreciate that. We all have to stick together because we’re in a scrap at the moment. I think everyone knows that. and we have to all put a shift in for the club. We have to start producing on the pitch. I understand the situation we’re in and how frustrating it is for the supporters as they’ve really got behind us.
“The senior players have to take a bit of the pressure off the young lads. I’ve been there as a young lad when you’re going through bad spells, and it’s not nice. The senior players have to try and take games by the scruff of the neck.
“I’ve learned over the years that you have to try and get as much as you can out of every training session. You need to give your all to earn the game-time. I think everyone should always give 100% – that’s the least that should be expected of you. Even if you’re having a bad game, you should be giving 100%. If you’re playing badly and you’re not trying, it looks so much worse. I always base my game on work-rate. I may not be the best technical player ever, but I always put in a shift and try my best. I try to chip in with a few goals and assists, which helps along the way.”
Scott realised from a young age that to succeed in the game takes persistence and determination. Signed by Charlton Athletic at the age of eight, when he was spotted playing for Leybourne FC in Kent, he found himself at a crossroads eight years later.
“I started off at my local club and I got spotted out of the blue. I attended a Charlton community course and they took me on. I went to their centre of excellence and worked my way up. I managed to get right through the age groups, get my scholarship, and make my debut for the first team. It was a long, hard process, and my mum and dad sacrificed a lot to get me where I am. If they hadn’t been taking me to training throughout the week, I wouldn’t be here now. It’s taken a lot of support from my friends and family for me to make it as a footballer.
“Charlton gave me a last chance when I was 16. I had to do a two-week trial, even though I’d been there from a young age. It was only then that I got my scholarship. After that, it really hit home just how much I still had to do. I knew I had to work my socks off. Mark Robson gave me my chance, and Steve Avory was also very supportive.
“It was a tough time, having to prove myself and show how much I wanted to be a professional footballer. I knew I had to knuckle down and work on quite a bit of my game if I was going to make it. To be honest, it was probably the best thing for me. My mum and dad were taking me here, there and everywhere. I would have chats with my dad in the car after games, and he what he had to say was sometimes good, sometimes bad. But they were always supportive of me.”
Scott went on to make 142 appearances for the Addicks in all competitions. His time there included a 2010/11 season in which he scored 10 goals from midfield. He has fond memories of his time at The Valley, and playing against Leeds at Elland Road was a real highlight for him.
“I have an older brother, and he loved football too. My dad was into football and my grandparents as well. From my dad’s side, they are all big Leeds fans. I have family from Castleford, near Leeds, and my dad moved down to Sidcup for work. I grew up a Leeds fan and I still support them, but the older you get the more you concentrate on your own football. I played against Leeds once at Elland Road. I played 45 minutes, coming on at half-time. It ended 0–0, but it was a top-of-the-table clash when I was at Charlton. My dad and my grandparents were there, my auntie and uncle, and my cousins. We got quite a few tickets for that one! It was a great experience – I was only about 20, and it was nice for that to happen in front of a crowd of about 30,000.
“I made my debut in the same match as Jonjo Shelvey – Barnsley away, it was. Carl Jenkinson also progressed into the first team. Charlton had a lot of players coming through the system, even more recently with the likes of Joe Gomez. The reputation of Charlton’s academy meant that a lot of players stayed there when they could have gone elsewhere.
“In my first season in the FA Youth Cup we beat West Ham at Upton Park, which was nice. In the second year we got to the quarter-finals and lost in the last minute to Sunderland. They had Jordan Henderson playing for them. It was a good cup run, and I was captain as well. That was another important step in my career. I got into the first team, and in my third season I scored quite a few goals from midfield. We had a good team and I had a lot of confidence. It was good to play at that level at that age. It led to first-team football at Charlton, and I really enjoyed my time there.”
Despite interest from elsewhere in the close season, Scott decided that Wimbledon was the right club for him to join at this stage in his career.
“I had a few other options in the summer, but this one stuck out for me. As soon as I met the manager I thought I really wanted to play for him. Looking at the history of the club and where it had come from, that appealed to me too. I also spoke to Joe Pigott and Deji in the summer, and they sold the club to me. It seemed like a good group of lads as well. I wanted to be involved at a club that was really together and a team on the up. Those were the reasons I signed here. Obviously, we need to get the results to make that happen. We can then all start moving together in the right direction again.”