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Interviews

Former Captain points Callum in the right direction

New midfielder vows to give his all for AFC Wimbledon

22 August 2019

It didn’t take long for Callum Reilly to be convinced that AFC Wimbledon was the place to play his football – and advice from Barry Fuller helped to bring him here.

At the age of 25, Callum is already closing in on 200 career appearances in the league and he told us why moving to The Dons was his number one option after deciding to leave Gillingham.

For those that missed it in Saturday’s match day programme against Accrington Stanley, we featured an in-depth interview with Callum and this is reproduced in full below.

Callum Reilly didn’t have far to turn for advice about making the move here – our former captain Barry Fuller pointed him in Wimbledon’s direction. Having played alongside him at Gillingham, Callum was quick to notice the iconic image of Barry lifting the League Two play-off trophy that hangs on the wall in the President’s Lounge. Our new midfielder has vowed to show the same commitment to the cause that made our captain such a favourite here.

“I was impressed with what the manager had to say when I met him, but I also know Barry Fuller. It just seemed to be the right fit to come here, and hopefully I can have a productive season for the team. I got a message from Baz when I left: he wished me good luck, and told me I’d really enjoy being here. He said it was a family club and I’d enjoy playing in front of the Wimbledon fans. I knew he’d had a really successful time here.

“When I came here to sign, I noticed the big picture on the wall of Baz lifting a trophy. I knew what an important figure he was when he played here and what the club means to him. He was a great leader for the team and gave everything for the cause. In his time here, Baz showed the sort of commitment supporters really want to see. You know you’re going to get 100% from him in every game. That’s exactly what supporters want from a player, especially at AFC Wimbledon.”

At the age of 25, Callum was prepared to wait for the right next step in his career, particularly with a previous move to Bury having failed to work out.

“I had quite a few options to go to other clubs during the summer, but I wanted to wait for the one that was right for me. I’d moved early in transfer windows before, and there wasn’t massive pressure on me to leave. I liked the lads there and the training was good. My next move had to be right for me, to stay in League One if I could. This option came about and I knew a few of the lads here, along with players who’d been here previously.

“After meeting the manager, it was clear that he wanted to take the form and momentum from the end of last season into this campaign. Considering the position the club was in a couple of months before the end of the season, it was a brilliant achievement to stay up, but now we want to kick on this season.

“I know Waggy and Luke O’Neill from my time at Gillingham, so I had phone conversations with the boys here. As a player, you have to do your homework on a club. You don’t want to get a few months in and discover something negative you didn’t know about before. You need to check out what the club is about. I knew that the fans here were going to be brilliant, as I’d played against Wimbledon before. I knew that the atmosphere around the club was going to be good.”

That’s in stark contrast to what Callum experienced at Bury, where the problems behind the scenes had well and truly started back in 2017/18.

“The move to Gillingham was massive for me. I’d been at Bury, but I only went there because of the manager, as I’d played for Lee Clark at Birmingham. There were troubles behind the scenes at Bury, and they’re now obviously coming to light. The problems weren’t as public back then, but it was affecting things. It’s something I hadn’t seen before. Coming through at Birmingham and during my time at other clubs, I’d been used to things being done properly. Suddenly, I was away from my family in a different place and there were issues.”

Following a successful initial loan spell at Gillingham, Callum signed for the Kent club permanently. With another year on his contract at Gills, staying there was an option, but he felt that new signings made by manager Steve Evans would limit his opportunities.

“Getting out of Bury was a must for me at the time and I needed a fresh start somewhere I was going to feel wanted. I wanted to progress in my career at a club where things were going to be done properly. I went to Gillingham, and I probably played some of my best football during my first season there. I really enjoyed playing at Gillingham when Steve Lovell was manager. We had a good squad, including  Scott Wagstaff and Luke O’Neill. It was an enjoyable time in my career.

“Last season I started off OK, and I was vice-captain, but I picked up a couple of niggling hamstring injuries, something I’d not had before. It was frustrating that I wasn’t able to help the team. When I came back after injury I scored a few goals, but it was just stop-start for me. With a new manager coming in, it didn’t help me. He was bringing in a lot of new players, and that’s when the opportunity came up to sign here.

“Pre-season had gone really well at Gillingham. I was enjoying it, I scored in the first pre-season game and I was getting a lot of minutes. I felt fit, and if something that was right for me hadn’t come up I think I could have stayed there and tried to force my way in. With the games I’d missed last year I needed to know whether I would be playing, so I had a conversation with the manager. I felt the new players were always going to have the priority. For me, it was a case of trying to make progress. I’m 25 now, and I can’t stand still in my career. I’m fully motivated to play as many games as I can.”

Callum believes he can chip in with goals for Wimbledon from midfield after hitting the goal trail at Gillingham, before injuries interrupted his progress.

“Last season I scored five goals from midfield before January, and I feel that’s something I can really build upon. If I’d played the whole of last season I think I would have done that. The aim was to get ten goals, especially after I’d got to January with five. We had a plan for my recuperation following the hamstring injuries, and we managed to get them under control towards the back end of last season. Hopefully, I can stay sound now, and I’m fully motivated to play as many games as possible so that I can do my best for Wimbledon. That’s the plan – I don’t want to stand still at any point!

“Last season was the first time I’d been away from home for a lengthy time. Dealing with that side of it and not playing due to injuries was difficult. Last season was probably the hardest time in my career. I had to deal with the mental side of it because I wasn’t playing. There have been times in my career when I’ve not been playing well, but you know you have a chance to do something about that. When you’re injured and you can’t feature in games, that’s the hardest part of it.”

Born in Warrington, Callum grew up as a Liverpool supporter, but Birmingham City quickly became his club as he was raised in the Midlands. After joining the Blues as a child, he went on to make 60 league appearances, and it’s a real source of pride for him to have played for his hometown club.

“I was seven when I first joined Birmingham City. I was also training with Aston Villa, for about a year, but I chose to join Birmingham’s academy. A lot of my friends and family are Birmingham fans, and at the time I thought it was the best opportunity for me. As a boy, I supported Liverpool. I was born in Warrington, so I have friends and family up north who support Liverpool. When I grew up I used to get tickets for Birmingham, so I had a strong interest in the club, and I still look out for their results.

“The most appearances I made were when Lee Clark was manager, but I also played for Birmingham when Chris Hughton was in charge. Both those managers were very influential for me, and Lee gave me a massive chance when I made my debut, against Sheffield United. As a young player that’s what you’re looking for as you want to make that breakthrough. I was very grateful for that opportunity. I enjoyed my time there, and as a young player it was all that I knew. Since then, I’ve had to come out of my comfort zone – I’ve tried to embrace that and progress in my career.

“When a new manager, Gary Rowett, came in, it was agreed that I needed to go out and play games. I played a few times when Gary was in charge, but soon I wasn’t getting games. You learn that it’s part and parcel of football and you need to go out and play. And I did manage to get out and play, at Burton.

“My first season at Burton was brilliant. I worked under a good manager. As a squad we were probably the fittest in the league, and that really helped us to get promotion, under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. We had a very strong squad and I enjoyed my time there, but I ended up joining Coventry on loan. I was playing every week in my first season at Burton, but in the next year with the club in the Championship I had a slight injury that set me back a bit, and I went to Coventry in the second half of that season. To be fair, I was looking to stay close to home as I’d just moved into a house with my missus. At the time Coventry were struggling near the bottom of League One and they didn’t have many senior players.”

During his childhood, Callum was also a useful cricketer, playing at development level for Warwickshire. When he scored his first senior goal at Huddersfield in a Championship match, he received a congratulatory message on social media from his old local cricket club, Olton & West Warwickshire CC. Though he showed promise as a bowler, Callum feels that he lacked the concentration to make a career of it.

“I played cricket until my teenage years. I went to Warwickshire when I was 12, and I played for the U15 development team. I was still at school, so I didn’t need to make a decision about my career until I started doing my scholarship at Birmingham City. As cricket was mainly in the summer, I could balance it with football. My dad wanted me to have as many options as possible, even though we both knew that football was the main aim. If I’m honest, I don’t think my concentration levels were good enough for playing cricket! Even the 50-overs games that we used to play when I was a kid were too long for me! I just wanted to bowl, and after that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was a left-hand opening bowler.

“I most enjoyed playing for my local team, West Warwicks in Solihull. My dad thought I could possibly make it in cricket, and some of the coaches thought I was good, but they knew I’d been offered a scholarship early at Birmingham. They thought I’d be trying to go down that route. Football was really all I wanted to do. Looking back, I think I made the right decision.”

Now on track to surpass 200 career appearances this season at the age of just 25, it certainly appears that Callum did choose the correct option, and Dons fans will certainly be happy if his peak years turn out to be with Wimbledon.


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