A Vital Stockport exclusive, as we interview Stockport County skipper and new signing Gareth Owen.
Let`s start with how you got into Football. Who got you into Football, and how were you spotted to go to your first club?
I was always playing football as long as I can remember, in the street, in the school playground or having a kick around with my brothers or Dad. I first started to play for a club when I was 8 years old and I played for Cheadle Athletic Under 12s. I saw an advert in the local paper asking for players so decided to go down. They had to get special dispensation for me to play because you had to be 9 years old in order to sign. But the league came to watch a training session saw I was quite a big lad and said it would be ok. I only played one season there before Stoke City spotted me and I signed for them straight away. I was with them then all the way through till I left at 22. It was quite a journey.
When you were younger, who did you support? Do you still ever get to go to a
few games in midweek when your not playing?
I was always a Chelsea fan. This is purely because my Dad was. He went home and away when he was younger and I just picked up the bug. My Mum has a rather embarrassing picture from when I was 3 in the latest Chelsea strip! From then on every birthday and Christmas I asked for the latest strip. My dad and me went to as many games as we could afford as the whole trip down there and ticket was expensive. We always managed to get tickets for major finals and always went to games around the area. Nowadays I go when I can, usually midweek or Sundays. I went to the cup final at Wembley, the league cup final against Arsenal and games against Bolton, Man Utd and a couple of European games. I’m not just a glory hunter Chelsea fan unlike a lot of people.
Who was your footballing idol when you were growing up?
I always liked Tony Adams for some reason, which is strange because he played for Arsenal. But I always admired him for how he played the game. Today I look up John Terry and try to model a lot of my game on him.
You started at Stoke. What was it like there? You had four years there and only started once. Do you think all young footballers have to go through this at some stage of their career to make it in the big time?
I actually came through the ranks at Stoke. I joined when I left school on the YTS scheme and I signed pro when I was 18. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute there. It was my local club and I took great pleasure in playing for them.
My youth team coach Dave Kevan who is the assistant manager at Burnley had a great influence on my career and I owe him a lot. It’s always difficult being a homegrown player and being young because managers are often looking for experience, especially if results aren’t going well or if there is a lot pressure on games.
All the managers I played for though always had a lot of time for me and would always speak to me which was good. As a young player you have to learn your trade it’s not just about playing football you have to learn about pressure, the media, looking after yourself and everything else that goes with it. Too many young players think they know it all as soon as they come into the club.
You were then loaned to Oldham, Torquay and then Oldham again. Obviously these weren’t season long loans like it was at County. Is it tough for a player to fit into the group for just a short space of time?
It can be. A lot depends on the players around you. If they are good guys you settle in quite quickly. You have to integrate yourself as well. Voice your opinions, talk to your teammates. The last thing you should do is retreat into your shell and be quiet else it can be quite a lonely place. I was lucky my loan spells were very beneficial not just on the playing front but it taught me a lot about myself as well.
Your first ever professional goal came when on loan in your first spell at Oldham. Do you still have fond memories of it? Could you talk us through it?!
I can remember it as if it was yesterday. It was in my final game of my first loan spell against Plymouth. We were 1-0 up and I went up for a long throw in. The throw came in and I went up to flick it on with 2 defenders. The defenders clashed and the ball just bounced up and as I turned it was there so I hit it as hard as I could from 8 yards on the volley and it flew into the net. This resulted in wild celebrations and running around like a mad man, as I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
From Stoke you moved permanently to Oldham. Is it tough being transferred to another club? Did you have to relocate or did you have to drive to Oldham most days?
I had been on loan at Oldham at the end of the previous season and Oldham wanted me to stay. I had a decision to make. Stoke wanted me to stay so I had to decide between leaving my hometown club or leave and get regular games. I decide to leave because I wanted to test myself in the league and see how good I was. I wasn’t a great decision as the manager brought a lot of players in and football wasn’t enjoyable. I was driving up there every day and wasn’t enjoying it. I know that sounds bad but I was in and out of the team and didn’t really like half of the dressing room. There were a lot of personal agendas and not a lot of team spirit.
Obviously from Oldham you’ve moved to County. When County were first interested in taking you on loan at the beginning of the season just gone did you think of this as a chance to finally get settled at a club and secure a first team spot?
Basically I just wanted to start enjoying playing football again. I had fell out of love with it and needed a fresh challenge. I came to see the gaffer and the club and he sold me it really. The whole place had a positive vibe about it and I thought it would be a good move. Most importantly the gaffer had faith in me. He knew about my qualities and how I could benefit the team. He was giving me a chance and it was up to me to take it.
You went from strength to strength at County, to obviously becoming the player of the season. What do you think the best memory from the season just gone by has from the players point of view?
There were a lot of highlights through the season. For me personally being named captain and winning the player of the season award is very special and is something that I will remember forever. We had some great performances on the pitch against Darlington, Wrexham, Peterborough, Walsall and Swindon. But the main highlight obviously was the league record for wins and clean sheets. It still hasn’t sunk in now and probably won’t till I finish playing. As players we were just focussing on each game but when we broke the record a sense of achievement came over us all.
Being made captain of a football club is probably a very proud moment. How did Jim approach you and did you have any thoughts of whether to reject it or not?
I had no hesitation in accepting it. I consider it a great honour to be named captain at any level and to do it professionally makes me a very proud man. The gaffer came up to me before the Boston game at home and said Tony was injured and he had had a chat with his staff about who should be captain and he said the unanimous choice was me and did I fancy doing it. Of course I said yes. I considered a great honour as I was only on loan and he could have chosen anybody else. Ironically it was the first game of our record breaking run.
The season didn’t end how we would have liked to, but considering in the past we’ve had some very unsuccessful seasons before your arrival, would you say the season was a success on the whole?
Yes definitely the clubs progressing in the right direction, it was disappointing in terms of the position we got ourselves in but if you take into consideration the start and end we had, probably 8th was our position. Next season we will be another year older and wiser and better equipped for anything that comes at us.
What do you make of Jim Gannon as a manager?
I can honestly say he is the best I`ve worked for. Personally he has been fantastic for me. He has improved my game a lot and for giving me a chance I`m very grateful. His attention to detail is second to none and before every game we know the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. We also know what is expected from us, which as players is all you can ask for.
Jim Gannon is a County legend, and was a very good central defender. Has he passed on tips to you and Ashley Williams about how to make your partnership more successful?
He has a few yes, but he does like players to think for themselves. He likes to create the environment for us to work then it’s up to us to get the job done. Ash and me worked really well together and everything just clicked. We did talk to each other about we liked to do and this created an understanding on the pitch. We knew if the ball was in the air the majority of time I would attack it, if there was a big man little man combination I would always take the big and ash the little because he is quicker than me. We had trust in each other and this I think showed in our performances.
Going onto next season, obviously Jim is building a squad. What do you think we should be looking at next season?
As a squad we should be looking at promotion and nothing else. In terms of the squad the gaffer has identified a few areas we need to improve, the main one at the minute being a goalkeeper because we haven’t got any. I think we need a couple of additions and if we get these I have no doubt we can go up.
Best mate in Football?
I’ve a few Brian Wilson at Bristol City, Andy Wilkinson at Stoke and Karl Henry at Wolves.
Best mate at County?
Adam Griffin. I was with him at Oldham and is a reason I joined County.
Best ground you’ve played at?
I was in the squad when Stoke played at the Millennium Stadium but for atmosphere Upton Park takes some beating.
Best player you’ve played against?
Probably Wayne Rooney when he was at Everton or Michael Chopra who is at Cardiff.
Best game you’ve played in?
The win that clinched the record for County 3-0 against Swindon, everything about that day was magical.
Who’s got the worst dress sense at County?
Definitely Liam Dickinson, some of the things he comes in are truly shocking.
Who’s got the best dress sense at County?
Apart from myself, Griff always scrubs up well.
Who’s got the worst taste in music at County?
I like Indie music myself so all this gangster rap I just can’t get into. Griff always has it on but to me its just noise.
Who’s got the best taste in music at County?
The physio Roger Wylde has a good taste of music. Well he should do really because he has got his own band and they play all the stuff I like.
Who’s got the best car at County?
Rosey has an X5 which is nice, I had one too before it was costing me an arm and a leg in diesel travelling up every day.
Who has the worst car?!
I don’t know if he still has it but Dicko’s VW Bora takes some beating. The window doesn’t come up and the badges are missing – it’s not in a great state!
Who is the longest in the shower?
Not that I have noticed but Ash seems to be quite long in there.
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