In a rare break from the Saints related subject matter, I was delighted to catch up with newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday star Lewis Buxton. I am lucky enough to have known Lewis and his family for many years and have watched his career with interest.
Having learnt his trade on the Isle of Wight, a place where not many young kids make the grade Lewis is now enjoying a fruitful career with one of the countries biggest clubs in Sheffield Wednesday. Sealing promotion to the Championship under new boss Dave Jones, Lewis is looking forward to another spell at the higher level, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the Islander….
As one of the few pros to come out of the game on the Island, do you feel that it is a disadvantage for kids here?
LB ”It’s a disadvantage, everyones knows that the Island has a low population so competition isn’t as intense as the big cities. To get the best out of anyone in sport you need to be competing against the best opposition, every week from an early age, the last thing you want is a team winning 14-0 for most of the season. I don’t know what the kids leagues are like now but if they don’t already then it would give the kids a better chance with a structure that has all the current sides feeding one team playing in the Southampton league and one in the Portsmouth league which take all the best players from the existing teams. Kids develop at different rates so some would be dropped out of the teams playing in the mainland leagues and others promoted to them. This would progress the talented kids quicker and give them the best chance to get scouted for professional clubs at a young age. They would then receive the top quality coaching which they need to move onto the next level .
There was however a very good bunch of players in my age group in the Island league at the top 3 or 4 teams. We also played regularly in tournaments against mainland sides at school level, and for East Cowes from an early age we played in the national indoor final at Aston Villa. We won a Hampshire tournament at the Dell, and played at Fratton Park in a similar tournament. We were one game away from Wembley in another. We were entered into these school tournament’s by a very good P.E teacher Mr. McArther so he gave us the opportunity to progress against top opposition as young players.
The stretch of water does make even the the most dedicated kids doubt if it’s all worth it. Travelling over the water from the age of 14 three times a week leaving home at half 4 and getting in 6 hours later for an hour/hour and a half of training straight after school is not much fun. I personally did not enjoy the travelling and the waiting around for hours and contemplated giving up on numerous occasions. You go from playing in your local team with all your best mates and really enjoying it, to joining a new team that all know each other because they play in the top 2 or 3 local sides in Pompey. That is difficult as a young kid and my football struggled at this stage but again I was lucky we had a strong group from the Island that would go over to play for Portsmouth schoolboys together. On top of that, Portsmouth didn’t pay for your travel and the majority of the time you were not getting picked up as the coaches had to train the younger age groups before our age group. It was a joint taxi or the bus, and If the lads you travelled with were ill it would mean getting the bus on your own.”
How did you get involved with Pompey?
LB “I got scouted by Roger North playing for the school. He invited me and my best mate Adam Howarth to train at his soccer school in Sandown where we progressed to his side at Portsmouth’s centre of Excellence. Without the work of Roger, Andrew and Shaun North I wouldn’t have become a professional footballer.”
How big was the skill gap between playing in the Island youth teams and then being amongst the young lads at a pro club?
LB “There was a slight gap but we had a good bunch of players on the Island at that age. The best players on the Island at that time competed with Portsmouth’s best but there were just a lot of good players at Pompey.”
Having been a regular at Fratton Park, you found yourself loaned out to Exeter and Bournemouth once Harry Redknapp came in? Do you think this enhanced your career or held you back?
LB “It held me back, I had played 30 games for Pompey in the Championship, and before one game Ted Buxton (not my uncle, as I’ve been told he must have been when telling this story) told me he was trying to get me into the England youth set up and was feeling I could do anything, then I was being farmed out to Exeter a team near the bottom of the football league and low on confidence.
Bournemouth was a good grounding for me though and I had a lot to thank then manager Sean O’Driscoll for. It gave me a good platform for my career in a strong passing side. It was a great club with great staff. Portsmouth had moved on too quickly for me and Harry had turned a struggling Championship side into a Premiership side in no time. Playing in a reserve team and not training with the first team for long periods I lost my way and my focus, I lacked guidance and developed a bad attitude because I felt hard done by.”
After a decent spell with Stoke City, you now find yourself settled with Sheffield Wednesday. It must be brilliant to play for such a big club?
LB “Sheffield Wednesday is a massive club and after a bit of a struggle initially, I worked extremely hard and I’ve played well this season. We came with a strong late run to beat our local rivals to the 2nd spot. We beat them in the derby at Hillsborough in front of around 35,000, the atmosphere was electric, for players playing in the third tier of English football it’s unbelievable and all the players should be proud to play in such a game that means the world to both sets of supporters. In the last game of this season we beat Wycombe in front of nearly 40,000 fans, it was a great feeling but the club belongs in the next league up and in the next few years I hope we’ll get there.”
Who influenced your career in Island Football?
LB “I would say initially my mum and dad and the friends in East Cowes who I hung around with. Mike Parkman who gave up a lot of his time to manage our East Cowes side which was no easy task. Then obviously Roger, Sean and Andrew North for bringing me through at Portsmouth. As a kid I knew Lee Bradbury had become a pro footballer and so had Gary Rowett. Our PE teacher Mr. Reynolds would always go on about them and how Gary had won the Hampshire Cup (we made it to the final and lostl). They both went to my school so although I didn’t know them I knew it was possible to make it.”
You played for a successful East Cowes youth side. Did you expect others from that team to make it?
LB “We had a very talented group of players who were all good friends at East Cowes, we then brought in better players from Sandown such as Sam Dye and Micky Sherry who had the talent, but again were at a disadvantage being from the Island. The main one though would be one of my best mates, Adam Howarth, we were both from East Cowes and in the Isle of Wight schools sides, Hampshire and Portsmouth kids sides together, always battling to be better than each other so he could have made it given a chance at YTS level. Shaun Cooper another of my best mates who plays for Bournemouth was in the same Pompey kids team as us and was another we played against at school.”
You’ve played under a few different managers, who have you enjoyed playing for the most?
LB “I enjoyed playing for Graham Rix, as a 17 year old, he and my youth team coach Mark O’Connor gave me great confidence, I was gutted when he got sacked.
What advice would you give a young Island footballer with hopes of going pro?
LB “I would say:-
1. Move to Southampton or Portsmouth, the Island is a nice and safe place to live but if you want to be a professional footballer you are up against it. If you can’t move I would say the kids that are the best at a young age need to play for the year above to begin with. This is something Shaun Cooper and I did.
2. Work as hard as possible, if someone says your not good enough then work harder. One of the lads at Wednesday (Jose Semedo) was in the same year of the Sporting Lisbon Academy as Ronaldo and is good friends with him still. He said that the hardest working player he ever played with was Ronaldo, it is no coincidence he is the best. Well second best behind the greatest of all time (Messi). I was told the same thing about Ronaldo by the former fitness coach of Manchester United too.
3. Start sprint training early you can make it with less quality if your faster than everyone else.
4. Watch the best players in the world as much as possible.
5. Learn to be comfortable using every part of your body to control and manipulate the ball.”
Thanks to Lewis for his time.
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