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Interviews

INTERVIEW: I want to be helping as much as I can

Keeper Mark Howard on his move to Cumbria

19 October 2021

Having signed for the club last Thursday, it was straight into the action for keeper Mark Howard on Saturday, and what an introduction to the fans it became as he saved a penalty and picked up the man-of-the-match award in what became a solid debut.

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Speaking about the move on Monday morning, the experienced stopper said: “It all happened quite quickly. With the manager leaving I got a couple of phone calls last week from David Holdsworth and we were just trying to get the deal done. Fortunately it was pretty quick and easy from both sides, and I was delighted to come in.

“There had been contact before, last season it was made from Chris Beech, we had a couple of chats, and I’d also met with David at that time. It just didn’t quite pan out how we’d have hoped.

“I’ve stayed in contact with the club, spoke to David over the past week, and we sorted something out that worked for everybody.

“The length of the deal was something we both had a good chat about. Where the club is, without a manager, we agreed it’s probably a great scenario for us both to say it’s a short-term deal with a view to the rest of the season, and we’ll take it from there.”

Being a free agent through the summer, after his departure from Scunthorpe, meant that he had time to consider his next move, with the Blues a good option for a number of reasons.

“I’ve had loads of offers over the summer and I was in a similar situation last year,” he explained. “It’s about picking the right time and the right contract at the right club.

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“I’m based in Preston and my kids go to school there, so that played a big part. I didn’t want a lot of travelling and I didn’t want to move the family, that sort of thing does matter, especially as you get older.

“It was just about waiting and being patient. I’ve been in training with Wigan for five weeks so I felt ready to go. It’s nice to get sorted now, I wouldn’t say it was a relief, I was just waiting for the right opportunity.

“And I obviously need to say thank you to Wigan. I’ve got a few contacts there and I can’t thank them enough really. They’ve done me a massive favour by letting me train and keep myself ready and sharp.

“I probably owe them all a bottle of wine when I next see them and I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.”

But we wondered if there had been any periods of doubt, particularly once the season got under way and the games started to tick by.

“That sort of doubt of whatever you want to call it comes more from your family and friends,” he replied. “They’re always asking if you’ve got a club sorted and things like that, and you don’t know how to answer it.

“I have enough faith in my own ability to know that I’m plenty good enough to play league football for a long time. It was just a case of staying calm and almost pretending you aren’t feeling the pressure.

“I’m the kind of person who wants to play. That’s why I’ve been waiting, some of the other options I’ve had haven’t been to play. I could have gone higher up the leagues and maybe sat on the bench, but that wasn’t something I wanted to do. I feel really good, so I just want to keep playing.

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“I’m enjoying it even more as I get older. I don’t know whether it’s saying I find it a bit easier, I just don’t think about it as much, don’t take it home as much. I enjoy the day-to-day aspect.

“I feel as you get older you don’t take anything for granted. You know your time you have left might be short, so you go in every day with a good attitude, feeling quite fresh about it.

“I’ve kept on top of things over the summer as well. I’ve started a lot of things away from football, I’m now doing a degree in sports journalism and media, and a bit of coaching on the side. At my age I am looking to the end of my career, but I still feel I’m good to go for another four or five years easily.”

Speaking more about the short-term nature of the contract, he said: “With there being no manager I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s a short-term deal.

“That suits both parties because neither of us know who the next manager will be and what the next steps will be, or anything like that. It was about me just coming in and playing games, so it’s ideal for myself and the club.

“Hopefully I can use my experience, I did a similar thing last year when I signed for Scunthorpe after eight games of the season when they were down near the bottom of the league. We ended up staying up quite comfortably.

“I’ve been brought in here to try and help the lads as much as possible, so if that’s me being on the pitch then that’s obviously what I want. I want to be in the team and affecting results.

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“As a goalkeeper you’re an individual playing in a team so as long as I go on the pitch and do the best job I can do, I can’t really affect the way the team plays. As long as I can be myself and be calm in goal, I think that can rub off on the outfielders which will hopefully reflect in their performances.

“If they have a big vocal voice behind them then hopefully that will help calm a few of their nerves. I’ve always tried to pass on that knowledge that I have.

“It’s free, and you don’t even have to be very good at it, any information you can give can be the best information. I’ve always tried to use that to my advantage.”

And on his first impressions following the narrow nature of the defeat against Tranmere, with a penalty save thrown into the mix, he spoke positively about the feeling in the dressing room.

“I said to the lads after the Tranmere game that there were a lot more positives to take from the game compared to my first game for Scunthorpe last year,” he told us. “That was away at Exeter and I think we lost 3-1, and I remember being sat on the coach on the way home going through all the different scenarios.

“I felt a lot more positive about the game on Saturday and hopefully we can continue that. Defensively we stuck to our jobs really well, we just didn’t get the rub of the green in both boxes.

“The own goal is an example. When you’re at the bottom of the league these sorts of things just don’t go for you. It’s a bit of bad luck and these things happen.

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“Tranmere have got the best defensive record in the league for a reason. You could see that when we had opportunities, they got as many people back behind the ball as possible to defend. That’s a team with confidence who know what their strength is.

“I think at the moment we’re in a different state where we’re trying to do a bit of everything instead of saying this is who we are and this is what we’re going to do.

“Penalty saves can be hit and miss but hopefully you’ll see that I am pretty good at them. I always feel more confident with penalties than most keepers and I’ve got quite a good record with them. I think I’ve saved 11 from 32 and it’s a situation I’ve always thrived from.

“It’s one of those things, a penalty save can help you go on and win a game, so it is important. We got a good lift from it and it looked like we might go on and get a result, unfortunately we just didn’t find that breakthrough.

“But from what I’ve seen there are a lot of talented players. They do lack a bit of experience and a bit of guile. You saw in that Tranmere game the way Spearing and Clarke refereed the game almost.

“That’s something we need to start trying to do and learn how to do. I said to Callum Guy afterwards you’ve got to take a lot out of that game in terms of the way Jay Spearing refereed it, won every foul and the referee didn’t really give anything against him.

“From the back I can impart my knowledge as far down the pitch as possible, but we need somebody else to take that role on outfield.

“In terms of experience, one big thing I’ve learned is that you can’t take the emotion of the situation home with you, especially when you have kids. It’s something you learn to switch off.

“When you go home your main job is being a dad. As soon as my kids came along that changed my perspective on how I played football and how much I got out of the game. I think my career has definitely benefited from my kids being around.”

“It will all click for us on the field,” he added. “The old cliché, one game at a time, does come into effect. The biggest thing we found last year was staying calm. It does get heated at times after a loss and there’s a lot of people getting down.

“You can’t actually be like that at all. You have to look to that next game and say how do we win that one, and the next. It is so simple, once you get that next result, you then think, we’ve got a bit more confidence, let’s start that again, go back to basics, earn the right to play and kick on from there.

“You end up putting a little run together. Last year we won 4 or 5 on the spin and there was talk of play-off potential. No, let’s get back to where we were, we were struggling in the league, let’s get back to where’s the next result coming from.

“As a footballer you want to play as many games as possible but I want to be part of a squad that wants to be promoted and up there challenging. That experience I had at Bolton of getting promoted, there was no better feeling. Whether it’s now or in the future I want to be part of another squad that gets promoted. Hopefully it will be here.”

And finally, we also took the opportunity to welcome his rather unique sponsor, Atticus Bennett-Newton the English bulldog.

“I’ve got a really good friend with a funny sense of humour, so before I’d even signed he rang the club to make sure he could get his dog to sponsor me,” he said. “He’s even got a picture of his dog on the website, so he’ll love that!”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Mark Howard on iFollow United now.

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