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Sean Clohessy interview

Sean Clohessy in action at Wingate and Finchley

From life in the Arsenal youth team with Cesc Fabregas, to success at Southend, Leyton Orient and Kilmarnock, and dropping down to non-league to look after his kids, the 32-year-old right-back spoke to Jamie Cutteridge and Taimour Lay about the ups and downs of a life in football.

You are one of three “survivors” from last season in which you played under three different managers. What’s the atmosphere in the squad compared to last season?

It’s a completely different place now. I was signed by Leigh, played one game for Brennan and then finished the season under Kim Harris. Kim wanted people to be happy. He tried to play football. The results didn’t improve much but the mood improved and training was better. The board have been top drawer all along, they are good men, honest people, and that’s not always the case.

The gaffer (Hayden Bird) has obviously brought in a lot of players that he knows and they have an identity, a way of playing and it’s about buying into that. We’ve looked good in spells.

It’s good you weren’t put off K’s for life!

No! I’ve been at some crazy places. Some of the stuff that has gone on – not even at non-league clubs either. Search the clubs I’ve been at and you’ll have an idea.

Bird has praised you a lot and says it’s important to the system to have you providing width down the right.

That’s the way I’ve played most of my career, and we can use Benno coming inside, that’s a key partnership in that area of the pitch.

You arrived midway through last season on an 18-month contract so what brought you to K’s?

The main reason to sign was I live down the road, 20 minutes away, near Purley. I don’t want to be travelling anymore. I was happy to sign and know that I’d also be here this year. I had offers in the summer but I was more than happy to stay.

It suits my life really. I look after my kids during the day. I dropped out of full-time football after my son was born. Childcare costs are disgusting. My wife has a career as a businesswoman. Do I stay full time and pay thousands of pounds in childcare having someone look after my children or be part-time and look after my children myself?

That’s why I went to Leatherhead [in 2017-2018] cos I knew Sammy Moore, and then I followed him to Concord.

It’s just about being happy in your family life because when I was up in Scotland, for instance, I spent a year on my own and I was borderline depressed being away from family. My wife was finishing her HR degree, she couldn’t transfer it to Glasgow, so I was flying back and forward two three times a week, then flying up first thing in the morning for training so I was paying for flights and my apartment.

No late nights in Glesga then?

The main thing at Kilmarnock at the time was they brought in a lot of Dutch, Nigerian, Danish players. Take the players at K’s. We would go for a Nandos or go for a coffee. But no one went out with each other. There was no team chemistry.

What was the standard like in the Scottish Premier League?

People belittle the SPL but a lot of English players are going up there now. I thought the same when I went there from Southend in League Two.

Ah yes, Southend. Tell us about life with Phil Brown. He was at Witham v K’s the other year running his eye over some of his loanees. 

Phil Brown’s a “character”. He’s got Sam Allardyce stories for days. He was his assistant for years. He locked us in the dressing room at Rochdale once. I think it was 2012/2013. We lost 3-0 on a Tuesday and we didn’t leave till 11.30pm. The year I left he locked them in the changing room at Swindon too.

The joys of full-time football. How do you feel about non-league? Are you able to maintain your own standards in often difficult circumstances?

I’m 32 now. I keep myself ticking over. I go to the gym at 4.30am to do my stuff and then come home for the kids. Since I’ve been part time, I’m still in the mindset of gym work and preparation.

And you had the best training at Arsenal surely. Sometime K’s sympathiser Nick Ames used to write for the Arsenal matchday programme and recalls you featuring in it back in the early to mid 2000s.

I think I have it at home! My mum definitely had it. Every home game they did a thing on a youth team player. I wasn’t one of the main hitters to be honest. I’ve made a career through working hard.

And you always read about talented young players who somehow disappear.

Yeah, so many. Kerrea Gilbert was in the first team, played in the Champions League, went on loan to Cardiff and Southend and gradually dropped and dropped, went out the game, so many did that, now they’re Personal Trainers or whatever. My whole youth team was full of starlets who played for England Youth and none of them are anywhere now.

Is it temperament or luck?

So much is luck. I left Arsenal and went straight to Gillingham, the manager didn’t think I was good enough at the time and said ‘I want to put on a third year YT’, I hadn’t even signed the contract yet and a week later the main right-back was injured and the manager wanted me to start in League One against Walsall! As it turned out, on the Friday the contract didn’t go through in time and I thought that was my opportunity missed. But they had a game on the Tuesday and I started and that was that.

Speaking of talent that fell by the wayside, what was Nicholas Bendtner like? And was he more or less wacky than Phil Brown?

In my Arsenal youth team, we had three foreign strikers who they brought in. There was him, Anthony Stokes and Arturo Lupoli. They all wanted to be the main man in the reserves. And they all hated each other! They would kick the crap out of each other in training, never pass to each other, Lupoli used to go out the back and smoke… but Bendtner had everything, I remember the first training session when he was tearing people apart. Tall, fast, strong. He should have done a lot more with his career. Sometimes it’s given to people too early and that’s happening too much now. Once you go down the leagues, the facilities get worse, you can’t believe it. Arsenal pitches were carpets and there had been days when we’d moan about them. You go somewhere else, the ball is harder, everything is more challenging and people find it harder. Look at some of the players from today’s game, who were raved about as youngsters and now they’re playing Ryman Prem [Very pleased that Sean here used “Ryman Prem” – Interviewers].

As for myself, I know I’m talented but I’m not a world beater. At times there were Championship clubs interested, but I don’t think I would’ve been good enough week in week out. Maybe I left Southend too early. I didn’t want to leave but there were financial problems and they were being difficult. I was player of the year and they offered less money and wanted to sign a more defensive right back. I was upset at how it was left.

Crays’s goalkeeper today was in the Spurs youth team with Harry Kane.

They drop down and it’s hard for them. It’s a hard fall. But I always say to people: Non-league life is not that bad you know. Akinfenwa did an article recently – the average league two player is on 40k a year. A non league player can take home more, with football and a job, but he’s not wearing a league two tracksuit. I spoke to a player at Eastleigh this summer who had League Two offers for worse money. And if you are ambitious for higher football, there’s just as many scouts at this level.

And there’s still the chance of glory. You were in Leatherhead’s team for that amazing FA Cup fun two years ago.

We had favourable draws. We beat Margate away. And we beat Billericay.

The non-league nation was backing you for that one.

I remember we were 1-0 up and then Sammy Moore gave a penalty away, and 10 minutes to go, they were going to get a goal, the way the game was going, but their chairman told them to take the tempo down because he wanted the replay on TV. After the game, he said they’d smash us in the replat. We beat them 3-1 on a manic night. And we should’ve beaten Wycombe in the next round, we went a goal up. They made £150,000 from that run.

And that was the season you lot kept leaving us a terrible bog of a pitch at Fetcham Grove!

Actually it was worse for you lot. When you lot had a midweek game, it was awful. I think it was always bad midweek.

Will you go to football with your kids once you’ve hung your boots up?

I won’t go to any games. Maybe at Arsenal. I do watch football on TV. I’ve got a lot of respect for fans who come here and pay their money but I just wouldn’t do it. Especially on a Tuesday night.

BUT TUESDAY NIGHT AWAY GAMES ARE WHAT WE LIVE FOR. Ok, finally, we have to ask about you playing with Cesc Fabregas.

He was very very good. When he first trained with us, you wouldn’t have thought ‘he’ll be world class’, but when he made the step up to the reserves he was like a different player, he moved up each level when he needed to. Then you’d suddenly watch him in the first team controlling the tempo at 16/17 years of age.

When you watched the World Cup final in 2010, and Cesc played that last pass to Iniesta for the winner, did you turn to your family and remind them ‘I played with him’?

Ha. Well, now they’d probably say ‘the little man’s crying, go deal with it!’

This interview originally appeared in the Walton Casuals programme.

Published Wednesday 11th September 2019