We asked former Luton, Charlton, Cardiff, Hereford & Forest Green footballer Stuart Fleetwood some questions about growing up, playing professionally & what the future holds.
Could you tell us a little about your life growing playing football? Was it apparent from an early age you were talented?
It wasn’t a full gone conclusion that I would play football from my early days. I was good, yes but I didn’t know anything about becoming a pro or have any interest in football as a job. I loved football, loved Rugby, Athletics and most other sports at that time. It just happened to be football/rugby I was good at. I had to choose which path to take about the age of 15 before I left to become a scholar at Cardiff City.
Anyone that played youth football will be aware of playing against that one kid that was clearly far better than them! I’m guessing you WERE that kid! Do you have any impressive stories like scoring 10 goals in a match or scoring a hat-trick whilst playing in goal??!
My local side used to clean up on the season trophies and awards and one season I scored 115 goals in around 20 games. That was when I realised I probably stood out a little. I used to play Rugby on a Sat morning, score a few tries, take all the kicks then play 2 games of football on a Sunday. (Getting changed in the car from one to the other.)
As a kid most of us dream of being a footballer but aren’t fully aware of what that actually entails. What is the typical day & work week like for a professional footballer?
I often get told I have the easiest job in the world. This grates on me! Yes it’s amazing to have a job you enjoy but it takes dedication, hard work and sacrifices. A normal week would be training 4-6 times maybe 2 games, meetings, hotels, late nights, it’s adds up to quite a full on job. But the pro’s certainly outweigh the cons, it’s a job like no other! I will try to play at a good level for as long as I can.
What is the best and worst thing about being a pro?
The best thing about being a pro is being paid and admired for doing something that would be doing anyway. I would be playing parks football if I wasn’t a pro and to do it day in day out as a job is unreal. The worst thing is the time spent away from family. The endless hours on coaches and nights in hotels. It is hard to be apart from loved ones for 9 months of a year.
Luton is a club with a long history & a large and passionate fan base. You added to this history by being the Top Scorer in 11/12 season and narrowly missing out on Promotion. How do you reflect on that season?
I loved my first season at Luton! The club/ground/fans/staff everything was right up my street. I wanted to be the top scorer and was (even though I held the record for most used sub that season.) The playoff final defeat was sickening but we didn’t turn up on the day and that disappointment will never leave me.
My fondest memories of watching you at Luton would be either you and Andre Gray terrorising the Wrexham defence in the 11/12 playoff Semi or the historic 1-0 win over Premier League Norwich. What moments stick out for you at your time at Luton?
That Wrexham semi final was my favourite game for Luton. Andre and I just clicked when we played together and that night we did things that will be tough to top again. The Norwich game was a bit surreal (especially when Chris Hughton asked us to turn our music down after we’d won.) But I think that record of being the 1st non league team to win at a Premiership club will stick for a while. It was a proud day.
You were released at the end of the 12/13 season by John Still after a disappointing 7th place finish in the Conference. How do you look back on that period & were you surprised not to be offered a new contract?
I started that season on fire. Scored 12 goals pretty early in the season and we were playing some really good football under Paul Buckle. But I found myself out of favour surprisingly and was then playing with a double hernia injury. I sort of knew, even before John Still came in that I’d be leaving in the Summer. Luton sorted my op for me and we all parted on great terms. I haven’t got a bad word to say about anyone there and I hope vice versa.
Did your life change much going from professional to semi-pro? If so, how?
It doesn’t really change your life turning semi pro but it makes you have to adapt. You will go to empty grounds, poorer pitches, more physical styles so it’s important to be mentally ready. I’ve been around the non league stage before so I knew what to expect. The extra days off are welcome but soon need to be filled with extra activities and jobs to create a suitable lifestyle for my family.
You have played well over 350+ games in your career. Which games stick out in your mind as most memorable & why?
As before mentioned the home tie v. WREXHAM for Luton was electric and the goal I scored still gives me goosebumps. Also the free kick I scored for Hereford to keep us up in League 2 on the penultimate day of the season was a special moment. My best game was probably the hat-trick I scored for Hereford against then Championship Coventry in the Carling Cup, I really felt I’d started to make people notice me then.
You are currently playing in the National League South for Bath City, sitting just outside the playoffs at the time of print. How do you see your season going?
We have a strong squad at Bath and a good manager in Gary Owers, I’m a little frustrated at the amount of time I’ve played so far but I’ll be ready when I’m called upon. People who know me, know how hard I work and the effort I put in behind the scenes. We will be in the playoff mix at the end of the season if we fulfil or potential.
You recently completed your UEFA B Coaching license alongside some other well known players. Tell us about obtaining this & was coaching/managing always something you were going to move into?
I’ve always been interested in coaching and teaching others what I’ve learnt throughout my career. I would much prefer to be a coach rather than a manager but I’m open to any opportunities. I currently coach children at a satellite pre-academy linked with Leicester City and I love every minute. The UEFA B course was an unreal experience. The Welsh FA have a superb setup and it’s easy to see why so many ex pro’s choose their course.
At 30 years old you have still have much more football to play. What does the future hold for Stuart Fleetwood?
I would love to play as long as possible and being fit and healthy I hope to have plenty more years. I want to continue learning in regards to coaching and also playing. I’m currently completing my Personal Training course because fitness is a big part of my life also. So I’m hoping I have enough strings to my bow to succeed in the future.
Quick fire questions:
Best player you’ve played with? Either Jason Koumas or Jonjo Shelvey. (Gareth Bale didn’t come close )
Played against? Kanu
Best moment in your career? Making my debut at 18 for Cardiff City at home infront of 15,000 and getting MOTM.
Best stadium you’ve played in? Wembley
Favourite goal you scored? THAT goal against Wrexham for Luton. The ball was played to Andre Gray on the right hand side and I cut inside him, he payed off an unreal back heel into my path and I knocked it past the defender first time leaving him on the floor. Then with my next touch passed the ball with my weaker left foot in off the near post. The feeling was unreal. It wasn’t my best goal but certainly my fav.
Watch that very goal below!
Strangest/Funniest moment? Signing for Cheltenham and Martin Allen. He told me to come for a bowl of Pasta to meet him but it was about 9:30. He insisted. So I made my way from LDN to Cheltenham to have this meal with him. Or so I thought. He was actually on a date night with his lovely wife and I completely gate crashed. It was so awkward but Martin just basically ignored her for an hour whilst we chatted football. He was some character.
And finally, do you FeelTheTip? A question I constantly ask my soon to be wife, but unfortunately both of our answers are no.
Thanks Stuart and all the best!