I’d already made a start. While still playing at Kidderminster, I was coaching in communities, in local schools. Trying to help kids enjoy football like I had.
I saw it as an opportunity to start learning the ropes with my FA Level 1 badge. To see what coaching was all about. I felt it was important to start right at the bottom of the ladder. I was embarking upon a potential new career at a very young age and I wanted to embrace the challenge in the right way. To make the right move.
From there, one thing led to another.
By 19, I had passed the UEFA B Licence, which allowed me to secure my first role in an academy. That was at Stoke City, where I was working with the Under-11s.
I had an excellent time there. But when Derby County approached me about a return, it was a no-brainer for me to go back to a club that I knew so well – and work with players who were in a position I had been in only a few years earlier.
“I was keen to work with players at an older age level. To work with footballers on a full-time basis, and test everything that I had learned”
I spent six years at Derby, during which time I was made head academy coach of their schoolboy system.
I was 23. Still very young, I suppose. But I never thought about my age. I’ve always focused on making sure I do the best possible job I can in whatever position I’m in. Helping people, developing players, improving them – that was my ambition then, and it still is now.
At 15, 16, 17 years of age, these young players were probably a generation behind me in football terms – but I felt like I could relate to them, and they could relate to me. Looking back, too, I was working with some of the best youngsters around at that time – lads who have gone on to play at the highest level since.
But I was keen to work with players at an older age level. I had desires to be a youth team coach, to be around and work with footballers on a full-time basis, day to day, and test everything that I had learned.
So I took a punt, and moved to Exeter. To work with the Under-18 team at Exeter City.