Joe Pigott talked about emerging through tough times to carve out a professional career with Wimbledon - and now he's passing on his experience to our younger players.
For those supporters that may have missed it in Saturday's matchday programme, the extensive interview with Joe is published in full below.
Joe Pigott describes his time at Wimbledon so far as a “roller-coaster” ride. He recently passed the 100 mark for club appearances, and he’s doing what he can to help our young players cope with the highs and lows of professional football. At the age of 26, “Pigs” is one of the senior members of the first-team squad and is certainly well placed to pass on advice to our fledglings. He scored on his senior professional debut for Charlton back in 2013, but struggled to build on that euphoric moment and was eventually allowed to leave The Valley. Following a move to Cambridge United that didn’t work out for him, he reignited his career in non-league with hometown club Maidstone United. And then, two years ago, Wimbledon came calling.
We spoke Joe to about his two years with AFC Wimbledon, which started with a debut goal against Blackpool. “I feel I’ve contributed to the team during my time here so far. Coming here was a good move for me, and I’ve enjoyed my time at Wimbledon. It’s a roller-coaster playing for this club – and I’m sure it is for the fans as well. But I’d say we’ve had more highs than lows during the time I’ve been here. It goes without saying that it’s an exciting time to be at the club, with the new stadium coming up. We’re aiming to make things better on the pitch, too.”
On a personal note, Joe has experienced real highs here at Wimbledon. He has a goals-to-games ratio of one in three, and his prolific spell at the end of last season earned him a Sky Bet League One Player of the Month accolade. From a team perspective, he’s played a major part in consolidating Wimbledon as a League One club, his goals in 2018/19 contributing massively to our Great Escape. It’s not been as productive a campaign for Joe this time around, but he believes that his all-round game is improving all the time. Having taken the captain’s armband during the absence of Will Nightingale and Scott Wagstaff, Joe is thriving on the responsibility that his senior role brings. Eighteen-year-old midfielder Jack Rudoni recently talked in an interview about Joe being his mentor as Jack makes his way into first-team football.
“Fora young footballer, there a lot of hurdles that you have to overcome. You’re adapting to the professional game, both on and off the pitch. Whatever people say, the game isn’t easy, and sometimes it’s hard for fans to see that. It’s really tough mentally when you’re a young player trying to make it. You need to become accustomed to the pro game and mentally grow as a person. You start the game playing as a kid, and soon you find that there are a lot of ups and downs in becoming a professional footballer. Those experiences shape you as a player and shape your career. That’s something the young players are learning here now. It’s a very tough journey.
“Jack is a great kid. He may think I pester him too much, or that I’m harsh on him. I care about all the lads here. I don’t exactly give them a kick up the backside, but I will say things to them that I think are worth learning about for their careers. That’s why I’m always on their case!”
“Sometimes I felt when I was coming through that the older players didn’t have as much time for me as I thought they might. As a young player, you probably have more setbacks than you do highs. It was tough because I felt I was ready as a player for a pro career, but I probably wasn’t mentally. I needed help, but I didn’t feel that I was receiving it at what was an important stage in my career. When you get dropped, you wonder why you’re not playing, and you need someone to talk to about it. But I didn’t really have that. Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I feel I’ve got a part to play in helping the younger players in their careers.”
Joe recalled that it all looked so easy for him when he took his first strides into professional football at Charlton seven years ago, but what followed was completely the opposite.
“It was a great moment when I scored my first professional goal from the penalty spot [against Oxford in the League Cup]. It was my first start in professional football. It meant a lot to me at the time, but when you score on your debut you think it’s going to be easy. You’re unaware of the trials and tribulations that you’re going to have to cope with afterwards, which I’ve obviously had to since. It was the first step on the massive journey and learning curve that my career has been. It was a real high for me to score on my debut, but it was far from easy after that and I had to get my career back on track by playing in non-league with Maidstone.
“My time at Charlton helped a lot, as the ups and down I experienced ultimately shaped me as a player. Steve Avory, the academy manager at Charlton, helped me. He’s a coach who’s had a positive impact on a lot of people, including players who are now playing in the Premier League. I got to play in an FA Youth Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford, and that was a great experience. Jay Saunders, my old manager at Maidstone, also helped me. He’s now manager at Margate, and I’m still in contact with him.”
With the new stadium at Plough Lane on the horizon, Joe is determined to keep Wimbledon in League One for when the big move back home happens, and he is full of praise for supporters for their fantastic efforts in raising funds through the Plough Lane Bond.
“I’m proud to reach 100 appearances, and I’m proud of what the club has achieved during that time. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this season. And it should be an incredible experience to play at the new stadium. There’s still a lot of football to be played between now and then, so we have to concentrate on our jobs on the pitch. We will have it in the back of our minds slightly, but we want to keep the momentum that we will hopefully gain at the end of this season and take that into Plough Lane. It should be a very exciting time ahead.
“It’s been a fantastic effort from the fans, with the money that they’ve put into the stadium recently. The whole story of this club is unique, and it’s gathering pace now. The club is going to be in a very good place, and that’s credit to the fans as owners of our club.”
Joe rates his debut goal against Blackpool – he scored with virtually his first touch after entering the fray as a second-half substitute – as his favourite Wimbledon net-buster.
“I’ve scored quite a few important goals since I’ve been here, but I’d say my debut goal was my favourite. I hadn’t been on long as a substitute, and I took one touch to control it before finishing it off. It meant a lot to score so quickly after making the step up from non-league football. I had a couple of other clubs after me, but I met Neal Ardley and it all moved on from there. I haven’t scored as many goals as I’d have liked this season, but I feel that my overall game is improving. I’m more of a team player now than ever before in my career.”
As a teenager, Joe had to make a choice between two sporting codes, as he played cricket for Kent’s Academy team. He still takes a keen interest in cricket, keeping in touch with players he knows who have reached the top in that sport, but he says there is no turning back now after choosing football.
“I don’t regret it at all! A player I played with at Kent’s academy is now at Sussex, Ollie Robinson, and he’s doing very well. I’ve kept in touch with him. He’ll probably play for England soon as he’s doing very well. I’m always interested in Mark Wood due to the Wimbledon connection. I have a friend, Dom Sibley, who plays for England, and Mark mentioned to Dom about following Wimbledon and “feeding the Pig” – but Dom didn’t say that he knew me!
Maybe Dom will start spreading the word about his friend’s striking ability when Joe is banging in the goals in front of bumper crowds at Plough Lane in the future.