Q&A with Aaron Oakley
In the fourth of Steven Fyfe’s Q&As, former Town youth team defender Aaron Oakley was kind enough to discuss at length his rise through the youth ranks at Swindon and how his injuries impacted on his professional career.
There have been plenty of young players come through the ranks during my time supporting Swindon and few have had the hype of centre back Aaron Oakley. Sadly, injuries largely prevented him from fulfilling his potential and he was released by former Head Coach Mark Cooper. He kindly takes the time to speak to me in my latest Q&A.
Hi Aaron, thank you for talking to me. What was it like coming through the Swindon academy?
“Coming through the academy from nine until the age of 19 was an unbelievable experience. To think I made it from such a young age all the way through the age groups was a massive achievement personally.”
“I was lucky enough to have good coaches and people who believed in me, people like Jeremy Newton, John Trollope and then later as a scholar Paul Bodin.”
You were part of a highly talented youth set up, were there any players you knew were going to make it?
“From an early stage it’s hard to tell, but the obvious one is Louis Thompson, he went about his business well and was very professional from even 15 years old. That’s why he was in the first team as a first year scholar, and has got himself a great move to Norwich.
“I always thought there would be a bunch from our age group to get pro deals, so to see five or six get offered our first pro contracts was a good feeling as we had a talented group. Obviously it’s not worked out for all of us but it was a good experience to be surrounded by people from your age group.”
As fans we would always hear about your potential, you got on the bench a few times without playing but how was that experience?
“I joined the first team when I had just turned 18. I got back from Slovenia with Wales and the gaffer at the time (Paolo Di Canio) had heard that I’d played all three games and he wanted me on the bench for Crewe away (a 2-1 defeat in October 2012). From then on I was involved every day with the first team, and it was just an unbelievable experience, and I was the fittest I’d ever been because we ran a lot!”
“I was on the bench seven or eight occasions, FA Cup and League, so for me that was a great personal achievement.”
“It’s a shame I never got to play because he told me I would get my chance. Little did I know I was running on a fractured foot which started off my long term injury, and then eventually he would leave with all of his staff.”
Despite the lack of first team opportunities you did manage to represent Wales at various age groups. What was that experience like?
“Probably the best feeling ever to represent Wales, my family are all from Swansea and they were proud of me.”
“I felt just as proud and to start as a 15 year old playing in an under 17/18 match that felt very good. I then played for the under 19s when I was still 16/17 we went away to Bulgaria and I started both games, so this was probably the best stint of football.”
“Eventually making my debut for the 21’s against Iceland just topped it off and it was down near Swansea so I had family come and watch and Paul Bodin was there to support his son Billy, but also to look out for me which was a nice touch from him.”
“I’d say it was my most treasured memory to get those caps.”
As you touched on earlier injuries have seen your highly promising career significantly halted, does this frustrate you or do you take a more understanding and mature view about the whole thing?
“I’ve struggled massively, it’s not an excuse but I think I may still be playing if I hadn’t been injured. My foot, I broke twice and at one point got told it could end my career if I’d have carried on running on a fractured foot, so that was not good to hear.”
“Not many people know but I did my foot in the December, two months after being first involved with the seniors and was still on the bench another two or three times warming up etc, not knowing I had a fracture in one of my bones! Haha!”
“But that was the regime then, if you could walk you could jog and then you could run! I’ve had two other injuries since then and they’ve both been two months minimum.”
“I have had problems with my ankle but I’m back at Supermarine now so I just need to get fit.”
“I work full time at Zurich so I’ve got myself a job after going on trial at Colchester, Mansfield, Cambridge and Hull – who I was very close to signing for but they couldn’t offer me more than until the end of the season and it wasn’t worth moving everything up to Hull for the sake of a potential six month deal, I was gutted as I’d done well too.”
Despite not being involved in professional football for as long as you would like, do you have many fond memories of your career to date and still have a real hunger to get back to doing what you love to do?
“I look back and think what a good time it was. There was highs and lows but overall being at one club for that amount of time does have an effect on you. I still look out for results etc and its good to see the passing style of play I just wish it had happened earlier as that suits me down to the ground.”
“It ended a bit strangely, I was injured for four months out of my ten month pro contract or however long it is, and then they had a year option but Mark Cooper opted not to take it up.”
“I felt I was good in training after my injury but most of the young lads like me, Alex Ferguson, Mark Francis were just sent on loan after our injuries and didn’t really get a sniff. After all that time it was disappointing. For 11 years to just end and be told ‘sorry you’re getting released’, but it’s part of life I guess and it happens.”
“I remember games like the Youth Cup against Birmingham. Coming from behind to win, and then I remember Di Canio getting us in at 6am Sunday morning. To watch the whole game from the Saturday, do analysis on it and then go out and do a running session. As I didn’t play every Sunday the bench would have to run, and it was tough haha!”
“Was hard at the time but you look back and think it was probably for the right reason.”
“I want to get back into football but at the moment it’s tough after having been injured a lot and I’ve still got contacts but I’m nowhere near fit. I’ve played two 90 minute games in two years, so you can imagine my match fitness isn’t there at all.”
“I’m still very close with Leigh Bedwell, Miles Storey and Mark Francis. We have a group chat together. In my opinion, not just because they are friends, they should all be involved professionally in the game. Obviously Miles is doing well so that’s positive but Bedders is too good for Didcot and Franno has had his injuries but needs to play higher.”
“I could literally go on forever there’s plenty of other things but in a nutshell, it was a great experience and I hope I can get back into it full time.”
“I’ve just got a lot of work to do to get myself fit”
I would like to thank Aaron for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him every success in getting back into the professional game.