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Interviews

INTERVIEW: I knew I had to roll my sleeves up

Aaron Hayden on believing in himself through some tough times

12 February 2021

Defender Aaron Hayden is another member of the squad who proves the old adage that hard work brings rewards with him having first recovered from the disappointment of his release from Wolves at the age of 22 to be snapped up by the Cumbrians, albeit after an extended trial spell with the club during the pre-season of 2019.

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Then came another tough spell, as he was made to bide his time for regular first team appearances, but the arrival of new manager Chris Beech in November signalled a change in fortunes, with the big centre half becoming almost the first name on the team sheet following a run of solid and dependable performances.

Adding goalscoring to the armoury – he now has seven from his 52 appearances – he was named as vice-captain ahead of the current campaign and has taken the added responsibility with a pinch of salt, and is often the loudest voice to be heard out on the pitch.

Speaking about his release from Wolves this week, he told us: “You know what, it was easy, very easy. I’d been released before when I was with Chelsea, and that was tough.

“I was younger, I was 15, and I questioned myself about whether I was going to make it, where I was going to go, would I even get a club. At Wolverhampton, I knew I was going to be leaving a year before. I looked at the fact the club was going to the Premiership.

“Don’t get me wrong, I had a really strong self-belief, I’d played about 50 games the season prior in non-league and felt really confident in my abilities. I suppose the disappointment was that I wasn’t sure that anything would happen. That makes you feel a little bit edgy.”

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That period on the non-league circuit saw him build up a strong reputation with Stourbridge in particular, where an 18-month loan spell saw him feature in almost every game.

“When you agree to drop down a few leagues you know it’s make or break time,” he agreed. “You see players do it and not everybody comes back. I think it comes down to the individual and how much you want it.

“When I went down into non-league, I wasn’t being monitored as much by Wolverhampton, no-one was checking if I was training. I trained twice a week with Stourbridge and it was down to me for the other three days to make sure I was fit and had the edge on everyone else, or I’d just become another player at that level.

“I think it all comes down to the individual and how much you want to go back up. At any club, whether you’re in the Championship, Premiership or non-league, it comes down to the individual, how much you want to do well for yourself. All the way through I really enjoyed being at the club but I wanted to come up and improve my situation.”

Explaining his move to the Great Border City, he said: “I left Wolverhampton that summer and I had no idea where I was going to go. I was a free agent, went on holiday to Thailand, came back, and I was fit as a fiddle because cos I was training every day.

“I didn’t have an agent, my friend put me in contact with his agent who knew David Holdsworth, and that’s how I ended up coming up here for a trial.

“I didn’t think I was going to get anything, but I knew I was going to give it everything. Gratefully I was signed and it was down to me from there.”

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But it wasn’t all plain sailing as he struggled to find chances to shine in United’s first team environment.

“I did doubt myself on occasions,” he admitted. “I started to ask myself if I was doing enough. I knew I wasn’t playing as well in the reserve games so I had to roll my sleeves up.

“I started performing better and doing everything right, to the smallest details. When it gets to that point you know if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I accepted that.

“As I accepted that, Chris Beech came in, and I knew I was prepared and ready because I was making sure I was at optimal levels when I did get my chance. 

“He’s been good for me and there’s never a dull moment playing for the manager. He’s very energetic, he gives us a lot of motivation on a daily basis.

“I think every single player in the club wants to play for Chris and that’s the most important thing – you want to play for the team and do well for the team. He has a really good knack of getting the best out of people.

“A lot of the lads are saying this but it’s the best dressing room I’ve ever been in. A big thing is that it’s self-sustaining, the gaffer doesn’t have to come in and do anything, we have a natural set of leaders who keep everyone together.

“We’ve got a real sense of family, usually in a dressing room you get groups of lads who stick together, but our changing room is a round circle of conversation and banter.

“It’s great, and I feel like if you haven’t got that you won’t be successful, it’s one of the most vital parts of a team. When you have that connection off the pitch, it makes you work harder for each other on the pitch.

“It’s been great for me and I’m almost a different person in terms of how much I’ve progressed and developed, mentally, physically, as a person. When I look back on myself, a year, year and a half ago, even when Chris came in, it’s crazy to see the progress that I made individually, and us as a team and a club, it’s amazing.”

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Having looked at the tangible progress that has been made, both individually and collectively, you begin to understand the frustration felt by Aaron and the rest of the group as they’ve been hit by nine postponements in the relatively short space of 43 days.

“It’s been quite a frustrating period for the lads and everyone involved,” he told us. “We haven’t really been able to get going, if we’re being honest. I’d say it’s a bit of an anti-climax when we find out.

“You prepare as you would, then you have an inkling it might be off but still have to prepare as a professional, do the right things, be ready to go, then it gets called off. It’s all part of the game. It’s no excuse.

“There’s nothing we can do about it and it’s just a challenge that we’ll overcome. We won’t use it as an excuse, but it will obviously affect our games going forward because we’ll have a very busy period. That will mean we have to use our squad more, but that’s why we have a squad.

“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting, but we know it’ll be tough. It won’t be easy physically, but we know if we can build some momentum it will be really good because we’ll have games coming thick and fast. All we can do is take it one game at a time.

“That’s the only way to be when you’re pushing for titles or promotion. All you can do is deal with the present. If we don’t deal with the next game in front of us then it doesn’t really matter about the ones after that. It has to be about taking one game at a time, then making sure we recover well so we can do it again.”

The recent games against Exeter and Forest Green gave the squad a brief taste of what they’ve been missing recently, with the victory against the Grecians a return to the high of that three-point feeling.

“I’ve never really played a game under those circumstances,” he said. “We didn’t play for a month then came back into an intense game against a good team, but I think that victory showed us what we’re capable of mentally when we put our minds to it.

“Exeter will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season so it was good to get back into it. Naturally, after four weeks without playing you aren’t going to be where you were if you were playing week in week out.

“I think there was a bit of rustiness but I feel like we got that out of our systems after Exeter and even more so after Forest Green. The clean sheet against Exeter was massive.

“We’ve got personal clean sheet targets we want to hit, I think we’re halfway there and we’ve only played half our game,s so we’re on track. I think clean sheets give you a solid base to go and win games. It’s crucial to us doing well.

“As for the rest of the season, I wouldn’t say I’m excited yet. But I will be excited if you ask me the same question in three months’ time. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, we’ve got to knuckle down and focus on that.

“There’s no time to be excited. We’ve got to win a lot of games and that’s what I’m planning on doing, that’s what we’re all planning on doing.”

We’ll have more from Aaron Hayden on the official website on Saturday morning.


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