Q&A with Leigh Bedwell
In the latest of Steven Fyfe’s Q&As, he talks to a player who spent 14 seasons at Town about learning from Wes Foderingham and Steve Hale and how he benefited from one of Paolo Di Canio’s strangest decisions
This week I caught up with another former-Swindon youngster who only managed one senior appearance before leaving his boyhood club: Leigh Bedwell kindly took the time to answer a few questions.
What was it like coming through the Swindon Academy?
“Coming through the Academy was great. Playing for the team you support at the age of eight was already a dream come true. When I first joined Jimmy Fraser was head of the Centre of Excellence, he was a great man. Proper nice guy who was excellent at his job, he had a tough time too because at the time the club had financial issues so just sorting the lads out with training kit was hard enough but he found a way.
“Eventually Nutty (Jeremy Newton) took over. Again another great man, he was the assistant coach in my team when I first signed and by the time I was in the U16s he was head of it all.”
We seem to have a habit of producing good quality young ‘keepers. Aside from yourself there has also been Jamie Stephens, Mark Scott and Jared Thompson in my time. Why do we have such success?
“There’s something all those ‘keepers you’ve mentioned have in common, Steve Hale. He’s played a part in coaching us all at various stages and he’s a great coach. I think he will be coaching at the highest level one day.
“Before he came to the club we had Sal Bibbo as the Centre of Excellence GK coach he then went on to be Reading first-team GK coach, I believe. I also had the likes of George Wood, Domenico Doardo and Fraser Digby as coaches. So a good variety!
“For me personally, Steve and Domenico were the best, both very passionate and helped me in every aspect.”
Were there any players in the Academy you knew would make it as a professional or some you thought might but haven’t quite?
“I don’t think anybody’s a dead cert to ‘make it’, but there’s a few who come to mind. Callum Wright is one, I’m not sure who he’s playing for now but he was unbelievable at a young age. Jimmy Fraser brought him to Swindon and when he went to Chelsea he was flying then got a serious knee injury which really hampered his career unfortunately.
“An obvious one is Alex Henshall, phenomenal player at times, unplayable. I‘d of like to see him break into the first team at Swindon because he was so close! But a move to Man City is impossible to turn down!”
Your debut came in bizarre circumstances against Preston, how was it for you?
“Bizarre is an understatement! Ideally myself or Wes [Foderingham] wouldn’t have wanted it to happen that way but it did! It remains the proudest day of my life as it was a dream achieved, despite it being a bit controversial. I‘d worked hard for that moment and looking back I don’t think I could have done much more than I did in the game so it was a proud day for myself and my family, who made so many trips up and down the country in hope that I’d get an appearance at some point.
“ My only disappointment is that I didn’t get another chance. But I played for the club I support, some people don’t get that opportunity so I’m very grateful as well.”
In your opinion, how good is Wes?
“In my opinion the only direction Wes is going is up! From the age of 17-18 training alongside him was a pleasure. He’s a proper modern day keeper, if you look at some of the best in the Premier League currently David De Gea at United and Hugo Lloris at Spurs, Wes’s style is very similar.
“He makes saves that you don’t think are possible. He’s doing fantastic at Rangers too, they’re bound to get promoted and then hopefully within another season or so he’ll be playing European football, which he’s more than capable of. If I was a Championship or Premier League manager on the hunt he’d be top of my shopping list.”
How did you feel when you were told you had to leave?
“I was devastated, I knew it was coming but it was hard to take. I now look at Swindon as an old girlfriend, you want them to be happy and have good times but at the same time you kinda want it to be with you there! Haha!”
“I’m still a Swindon fan and always will be, it’s in my family so like most Town fans I have no choice!”
What memories or highlights have you taken with you?
“I think I spent 14 seasons at Swindon and there’s not many if any bad memories at all! Highlights for me would be going to the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland, it’s an unbelievable experience and I think the supporters club donate a percentage every year and they should know it’s definitely worthwhile and appreciated by the boys.
“Winning the youth league as a scholar was good too, we had a real good bunch. Those were great days. Being a scholar was fantastic apart from all the graft of sweeping changing rooms, cleaning boots, pumping up balls. You spend all day playing football or in the gym with your mates, can’t ask for much more!”
“Then obviously making my debut was a massive highlight but I think the whole era with [Paolo Di Canio was amazing. It was hard don’t get me wrong, torture at times. Although I’ve never seen the club more united and excited about every game as fans were under that regime, such an exciting time to be at the club.”
We got to see you and your Didcot side perform a few heroics in the FA cup this year. How is it going?
“It’s going well at Didcot, thanks! Yes we had a good cup run, amazing in fact, it means so much to a club of our size to achieve that. It’s a great place to play football and I think it’s a club on the up, they’ve got big plans on the business side of things so the footballing side will benefit from that and hopefully it’ll help the club climb the leagues.
“Due to our cup run our league form suffered a little, so it looks like we’ll finish just outside the play offs which is disappointing but with the cup run it’s been a fantastic season personally and as a team.”
Do you still dream of making it pro?
“I’d love to be a full-time pro again. It’s the best job in the world, such a cliché but it is. You wake up and get to play football, get lunch made for you at the ground then maybe hit the gym and you can be finished by 2 o clock.
“I’m not sitting around waiting for it to happen, if I get the chance to play professionally again, great! If not, it’s not meant to be.”
My thanks to Leigh for taking part.