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Interviews

Yorkshire grit paved the way from the Co-op to Wembley

In-depth interview with James Hanson

6 September 2018

It was a big summer of change for James Hanson as the born-and-bred Yorkshireman headed south and he's determined to revitalise his career at Wimbledon.

For those that may have missed it in the recent Sunderland programme, we featured an in-depth interview with James Hanson and this is reproduced in full below.

Having worked in a supermarket before his big football break, James Hanson certainly doesn't take his profession for granted and he's eager to make the most of a fresh challenge at Wimbledon.

In his early 20s, James was still combining playing for non league Guiseley with a job at the Co-op and he thought a career in professional football had passed him by. However, Bradford City offered him his first professional contract and that paved the way to promotion with his hometown club. There was also a Wembley final appearance in the EFL Cup, plus helping Bradford to famous cup upsets over Arsenal, Chelsea and Leeds United.

"Working in the local Co-op in Bradford suited me at the time because I could do my hours and combine it with playing at Guiseley," James recalled. "I was quite content with my life at the time as I was scoring goals for Guiseley in the Unibond League. I thought I could play at that level for 18 years, making good money on the side, while having a regular job. I was also at college doing a B-tech in Sport, so that could have led to something. When I was offered a pro deal by Bradford I actually had to take a pay cut! The money I was offered was not great and I talked it over with my Dad, but we decided to take the risk."

Now aged 30, James felt he was at a crossroads in his football career during the summer with an uncertain future in prospect at Sheffield United. The striker was eager to get his future resolved and after speaking to Neal Ardley about his plans, a new challenge down south really appealed to him.

"I had quite a few options with other clubs at this level interested in me. I thought it would help me to do something different because I've always been up north and living within 15-20 minutes of my home. I quite fancied coming down here. I could have joined Millwall a few years ago, but I didn't feel it was right for me at the time. I want to get back to the scoring form I was in 18 months ago and the manager said how much he wanted me to sign. The manager talked to me about how he wanted to play, getting crosses into the box, and he just said a lot of the right things. He had kept in touch with me all summer and after we spoke I told my agent that I was not bothered about any other options. I wanted to speak to Sheffield United, get my situation resolved and come here. I wanted to start pre-season from day one with Wimbledon.

"There is a lot of excitement around this club at the moment. As a squad, we definitely feel we can be pushing for the top half and you never know after that. With the club also moving to a new stadium, everything is progressing year on year and I want to be a part of it. You come into training every morning and you have to enjoy it. You could be doing something else and ex pros will tell you that the end of your career comes around quickly. You need to make sure that you enjoy every minute. There are bad times in football, but I've had a lot of highlights in my career."

As a tall target man who made his name by terrorising centre-backs during his Bradford days, James feels he is now on the right road to recapturing his best form after a difficult 18 months.

"I went to Bury on loan earlier this year, but it was probably the wrong decision. I had missed the pre-season before and picked up niggling injuries when the season started. In my head I could not wait to get out there and play games, but I should just have trained and upped my fitness levels at Sheffield United. Bury wanted me to come in and make an instant impression, but I wasn't ready. If I am honest I was probably a little bit overweight, but I've worked hard on my fitness since.

"I feel that if I can get through the next couple of weeks with all the games coming up, I will definitely be in a better place and a lot sharper. I didn't really have a break in the summer because it felt like I'd had time off due to missing a lot of last season. At Bury I got niggles because I was overweight. This summer I've been thinking, 'get yourself back fit'. I wanted to do a pre-season from day one. There are lads at Sheffield United that are out of the picture and training by themselves, but I did not want to be in that position. I wanted to get sorted with a club, train hard, and lose the weight. I want to be as fit as I can be. I did a lot of gym work during the close season so that I would have a good base fitness when I joined a new club.

"I feel that I could still play in the Championship, but obviously I have to establish myself in League One again. I need to get back to what I do best and get back to the form I was showing 18 months ago when I was scoring regularly in League One. With the way that the team has started this season, we have no reason to fear anyone. I believe we can do a lot as a squad this season."

James has certainly achieved plenty in his career, but he said that being released by Huddersfield at the age of 15 was the best thing that could have happened to him. James was a late developer in terms of his stature and he did not enjoy being selected to play full-back in his teenage years!

"I went to Huddersfield as a striker when I was nine years of age, but as I was left-footed they played me at left-back. I played there for about five or six years and it was a blessing in disguise when I was not kept on. I wanted to enjoy my football and that was not happening at Huddersfield. I was actually quite happy when they decided to release me! I just wanted to go out and enjoy playing football again. I played Sunday League football with my mates at Eccleshill United and around the same time they got a Saturday team and started playing at a higher level. When I was 16 I played on Saturdays for Eccleshill for about a year and then we played Guiseley in a cup game. After that game Guiseley put in a seven-day approach for me!

"I signed for Guiseley and Terry Dolan, the former Bradford City manager, was in charge then. His assistant was Mark Ellis, who played with Stuart McCall at Bradford in the 1980s. Mark recommended me to Bradford. I signed a two-year contract. I remember saying to my Dad that if I could make 10 or 15 appearances in my first season I would be happy. I made my debut as a late substitute at Notts County when Sven-Goran Erikksen was in charge. We were losing 5-0, but with 78 minutes gone the manager decided to give me my debut. For the next three games I was on the bench, but then I got my first start at Cheltenham. We won 5-4 and I scored one of the goals, so it was a dream debut."

That was not the signal for an upturn in fortunes for Bradford, but James played a major part in revitalising a proud club that was in danger of being relegated from the Football League.

"The first couple of years at Bradford were tough. Stuart McCall got sacked, before Peter Taylor came in, but he only lasted a year. Then Peter Jackson from Huddersfield was appointed. I had played under three managers in two years and we only just about stayed in League 2 with a few games to go. There was a lot of pressure at the club, but then Phil Parkinson came in. He steadied the ship in his first season and in his second season we had that unbelievable cup run and went up in the play-off final.

"We had a real squad togetherness and we played in a particular way that not everyone enjoyed coming up against. It was not pleasing on the eye, but we were good at what we did in League 2 and it also caught out Premier League clubs. I played the full 120 minutes against Arsenal and I don't think they expected to come up against such an approach. I got Per Mertesacker's shirt after the game. I loved playing against him and maybe it was the equivalent of players from the Conference South coming up against us now.

"Phil Parkinson was my manager for five or six years and I felt I developed a lot during his time at Bradford, both mentally and physically. He was a very good manager and I was playing every week. I would say he was the biggest influence on my career. A big highlight was when we went to Stamford Bridge and won 4-2 in the FA Cup after being 2-0 down. For me being a local lad, beating Leeds in the cup was special. We hadn't beaten Leeds for a long time and I managed to get a stoppage time winner."

No one in blue and yellow will be complaining if James can rediscover some of that old magic in front of goal this season.


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