Defender Joel Senior went straight from signing his 18-month contract to his first training session with his new teammates on Monday afternoon as he completed his move to Cumbria from Altrincham after what had been a prolonged period of interest from the Blues.
The 22-year-old has been courted by a number of clubs, having notched an impressive nine assists from 26 appearances this season, but he confirmed that conversations with manager Keith Millen had swung the pendulum in the favour of Brunton Park.
“The detail he went into in terms of how much he’ll be coaching me to make me better, and the full-time aspect of being able to do that at such a big club was really appealing,” he told us. “Under his management I believe I can take my game to the next level.
“I think he’s brought me in to help us get up the pitch with my ability and pace, and it’s then about putting crosses in. Hopefully that makes chances for our forward players. I’ve scored one goal for Altrincham, and that’s something I want to add to my game as well.”
“Getting it done this early in the window is brilliant, to be fair,” he added. “I’ve known about the interest for quite a while.
“To get it over and done, and to be able to get going at my new club is perfect for me. Hopefully it’s a good finish to the season and we can all kick on.
“I’d heard that I was being watched, and it is added pressure knowing that people are doing that because you know you have to be at your best in every game.
“Anybody could be there, but I suppose you accept that if you want to come to places like this you’ve got to take it in your stride. In any game I play I want people to be watching, so it’s an opportunity that I’ve got to relish.
“I do feel like I’ve been doing well at Altrincham and that my performances have deserved people to be watching me. Knowing that they were doing that has only given me confidence.”
The step back into league football obviously brings its own benefits and opportunities, but had United’s current league position given cause for second thoughts?
“You think about all aspects when you come into a new club, but I spoke to the manager and a couple of the players and they believe they shouldn’t be in this position,” he said. “I obviously know Lukas [Jensen] from my time at Burnley, so I spoke to him, and I also had a chat with Corey [Whelan].
“I’ve watched a lot of our games as well and I believe the squad is easily good enough to push up the table. That’s something we’ve got to turn around.
“I think you do get a bit nervous when you’re going somewhere new anyway. Last night [Sunday] I was a bit nervous about meeting new people, but it’s starting the new year off in a good way, so there’s nothing to be worried about, it’s all good.
“I’m excited to get going and prove myself in this league. Hopefully with the performances I’ve been putting in this season I can come here and kick on from that.
“The gaffer has told me there are no guarantees and I have to earn my place. I think competition for places is one of the main things you need in football.
“I obviously want to play, but competition and learning from other people will always help me and my game. I think I’ll enjoy trying to get into the team.
“At Altrincham it maybe got to the point where I knew I had my spot, so it got a bit comfortable. I know I’ve got to fight for every opportunity I get now that I’m here.
“But I want to prove myself in this league and help the club kick on and push up the table. I believe I’m good enough to do that.”
As for the dreaded ‘so what type of player are you’ question, he commented: “I like to defend, I’m right footed, and I’m proud of my assists.
“That’s part of my game as far as I’m concerned. One of the biggest parts of the way I play is about getting forward, getting up the wing and putting crosses in.
“What you want from a full back is for them to be getting assists and creating chances when they get up the pitch, and that’s one of the main things I bring to the team.
“I have played at left-back, that’s something I have in my armoury, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite position. It’s not my preferred side but if I’m asked to take a role there then I can definitely do the job.”
The focus and determination to do well shines through as the interview goes on, and he revealed that being released by Oldham Athletic at the age of 15 had become a positive in his life, thanks to the support he received from his family.
“I’ve been taught from when I was young that you always have to believe in yourself, whatever happens,” he explained. “When I’ve been let go I’ve always been told to keep playing, and that I was good enough to carry on.
“My dad said that if you work hard you can go wherever you want, so I have always believed in myself. You have to have that when you go to different clubs anyway, because you have to stamp your mark on the team.
“Believing in yourself means you work harder and I think that takes you places. But, I wouldn’t lie about it, being released by Oldham was tough, really tough.
“When you’re that age all you want to be is a footballer and it’s horrible when you get told you’re leaving. My parents picked me up off the floor straight away and they were on at me to go and play and to keep doing what I enjoy.
“I started working even harder, I kept believing in myself, and I’m here today feeling thankful of what happened back then, because it’s helped me to be who I am.”
“My mum, dad, all of my brothers and my sister, one hundred percent they helped me through the tougher times,” he continued. “They could see I was upset but they picked me up and told me to get going again.
“They took me to where my brothers used to play football and they’ve all been my rock through my career so far. They watch every game they can when I play.”
The club that had looked after his brothers was Maine Road FC, where men’s football was on the agenda from the moment he put pen to paper.
“At that age you don’t really know what’s going to happen in your career, and it was my dad who told me to get on with it and play men’s football.
“That’s what my brothers did and when you get going, and you’re doing well at such a young age, you do start to think about the next step up.
“Once that came I realised, and loads of people say this, that playing men’s football had helped me to grow up in the game. It really does develop you massively.”
The short hop up the road to FC United of Manchester brought a smooth transition into regular good performances, and the first signs of interest from higher up the ladder.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” he confirmed. “I had a few trials and there were people talking to us from other clubs, and I got a lot of advice off different people, my family again, and my agent, because I was really enjoying it there at the time.
“I did well and I knew that I’d keep playing games if I stayed, which is what I wanted to do. That was the main thing for me, and there was the chance that if I was to go another few steps up I might not be playing, or I’d be in an under-18 team, or something like that.
“Again, with my age, playing men’s football made me stand out because I was so young. That’s why I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, it’s a great club.”
But the subsequent move to Curzon Ashton brought levels of interest that couldn’t be ignored.
“None of the trials I had with FC United came to anything, but soon after getting to Curzon I heard that the Burnley interest was there, along with some other clubs, and that was something to get really excited about,” he told us.
“I went to Burnley and I trained with them for a few days, and I agreed to go. It was something I relished when I was there, and I really look back proudly on it.
“It was a bit of a crazy season though. I was out injured from the first game until January, then I was coming back and building my confidence again just as Covid came. That obviously ended the season.
“It was tough, but it’s part of the game. You’ve just got to pick yourself up when you’re low and keep grounded when you’re high.”
His release in the summer of 2020 preceded a move to Altrincham, and his first taste of the blood and thunder of the National League.
“I’m from round the area so it was good for me to get that sorted,” he said. “I had to be patient, but as soon as I got in the team I knew it was a case of making sure I played well and seeing where I ended up.
“I played really well last season and I feel like I’ve started this season well too. It’s an experience I’ll keep with me forever.
“Being honest, coming from Burnley, it did feel like a step back initially. When you’re at a Premier League club with facilities like they had, and training every day, it always would feel that way.
“The first thing you think when you get released is that because you’ve been at a Premier League club, you might have to go a bit lower, but not as low as I ended up.
“My agent told me to go there and play games, and I loved every second of it. The manager, backroom staff and players really helped me and gave me confidence.
“I’m so pleased I went there, it’s a fantastic place to play football, and I’m proud of what I did there.
“Phil [Parkinson] is really experienced at that level and he gave me the chance to play and express myself, which is the biggest thing I can thank him for.
“That’s what’s got me here and I’m so thankful to Altrincham for giving me the opportunity. But I’m here now, and we have a game right away, which is good.
“It’s a good introduction if I’m selected to play against Harrogate. I’ve never played in that competition so I’m looking forward to it.”
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