By Jason McKeown
Sequels rarely seem to live up to the original, but the early signs regarding Nathan Doyle’s second coming to Valley Parade suggest he is capable of playing a leading role in a blockbuster story.
Six years on from enjoying a highly impressive loan spell for Colin Todd’s City, Doyle’s much-celebrated return this summer has seen the 25-year-old fit back in superbly. Doyle’s central midfield partnership with Gary Jones is proving integral to the Bantams’ prospects, and he has caught the eye with a series of outstanding displays. None more so than at Rochdale on Tuesday night, where he ran the show during the second half especially.
It’s always a little disconcerting when you hear that a player has read your website, but when Doyle’s best friend Matt stumbled across Alex Scott’s outstanding reflection piece on the 25-year-old from the summer (written long before he had re-signed), he recommended Nathan take a look. Doyle was apparently pleasantly surprised by its accuracy and described it an “emotional” read, where the stats about him in particular caught the eye.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Width of a Post asked Nathan if he’d be willing to be interviewed about his return to Valley Parade and his career to date. The results are below, but first let me publically say thanks to Alex for writing such a great piece on Doyle in the first place, to Nathan’s friend Matt for his help arranging this interview and to Nathan himself for his time.
WOAP: How did you come to join Bradford City during the summer?
Obviously I was out of contract, and it was getting towards the stage where I needed to sign for a club. I had a few options, but Bradford was the one that appealed to me the most. I had been here before of course, and I knew the place well. So I thought I’d love to come back to this place and play here again.
WOAP: People often say “never go back”. How much of a factor was the successful loan spell for City six years ago in your decision to re-sign?
It was a big factor. You hear so many things about what the fans are saying as well, about wanting me to come back. And that was a big influence in my decision. Obviously I have been here before and so I do know the place. I knew a few of the current players as well. When I met the gaffer he told me his plans for the club, and what kind of players he had in the team, which was a big factor really.
WOAP: You’re here on a one-year contract – was that your choice or the club’s?
It was a bit of both really. I was out of contact and I need to prove myself to the gaffer in order to stay on and get another deal. So it’s in both parties’ interests really – sometimes you just have to sign what’s in front of you.
WOAP: Everything seems to be going brilliantly for you so far. What have you made of your first few weeks back at the club?
Yeah it’s been good. I’m really enjoying it and the people here. As well as the players, who have been great, the staff, the manager and the assistant manager have been amazing. I knew the assistant manager before, and he was a massive influence in why I came.
It’s been great meeting old faces again, but it’s also great experiencing the aura that we’ve built so far this season.
WOAP: I imagine you’ve never played alongside someone as age-defying as Gary Jones…
When I was at City before, I played alongside David Wetherall and he wasn’t young either! I learned so much from playing alongside Wetherall at that time.
Jones has been good, he is a really good lad. He keeps himself fit, he has great experience and it feels good to be playing alongside him.
WOAP: I don’t know if you ever watch American Football, but to me you almost play like an NFL Quarter Back in terms of sitting deep and dictating the play. How would you describe your playing style?
I like to get around the pitch and I’m not scared to put my foot in and have a tackle. But I like to express myself on the ball as well. If the ball does come to me, hopefully I can play those passes that get up to the strikers, or play the winger into good positions where they can cross it first time. I feel confident; I do like to get on the ball a lot and create things.
WOAP: It seems that your loan spell under Colin Todd was the only time you’ve really played right back in your career to date – is central midfield your preferred position?
Yes it is. To be fair, when I started off at Derby as a schoolboy I was a central midfielder and I played central midfield for England in the youth teams as well. It was a bit of a change when I came into full time football and the Derby gaffer at the time, George Burley, wanted me to play at right back. It was a new position to me and I had to learn quickly if I wanted to stay in the game.
I do prefer central midfield to right back, because you’re more involved. But I don’t mind playing anywhere, as long as I’m playing really.
WOAP: Going back to your first spell, what are your memories of that period?
I loved it! It was a bit of a shock at first, because of the driving from Derby that I used to do with Lee Holmes, when at the time we were only 19-years-old.
Playing with people who had played in the Premiership, like Dean Windass, David Wetherall and Richard Edghill, it was amazing to be sharing a dressing room with these calibre of players. But at the time you just think to yourself ‘I’m here to do a job’, and so I had to put that aside and try and help the team progress.
WOAP: The team was flying early on back then but began to lose their way. Was there any particular reason for this?
I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s different for every team; but when teams stop doing as well, it could be because of the players or it could be because of the opposition teams start figuring certain things out after you’ve played a lot of games. At that stage of the season, everyone knows each other and opposition managers could have picked up on certain things and worked out how to stop you playing.
WOAP: Barely a month after your loan had been extended until the end of the season Derby sold you to Hull City. How did you feel about leaving?
I was gutted to be fair. I was scared about the move, because at the time I was only 19. I was moving away from my home town, was expecting my first child and had to move my family to somewhere that we didn’t know – to have all that on my shoulders at a young age was scary. I had to make new friends, and meet new team mates, and the Mrs didn’t know anyone there at the time. It was hard, and it was all a new experience.
WOAP: What did you think when you found out you had won Player of the Season despite leaving months ago?
I was delighted. I had got a call from Wendy James, who was the liaison at the club, and she said that we want you to come to the awards. I said ‘do you really need me to come?’ because I already had other commitments, and she said ‘yeah, yeah we really need you’. Eventually she had to tell me why I had to be there!
I was really delighted that I had been voted for the award by the fans. I was gutted when I had to leave Bradford. When I went to Hull I always looked out for the results, as I did over the following years as well, and I was just amazed to win the award really.
WOAP: Your time at Hull coincided with an exciting period in that club’s history, but you didn’t figure too often…
I knew Phil Brown from my Derby days and I knew the type of manager he was. He wears his heart on this sleeve, and he is a good man. Obviously I was still only 19 at the time, coming into my 20s, and it was really hard to get into the team. I was playing right back at the time, like I did for City, and Sam Ricketts ahead of me was a Welsh international. He was a tough team mate to budge.
It proved difficult and it was frustrating – but at the same time when you have players of the calibre that Hull City had at that point, you could learn a lot as well.
WOAP: At Barnsley you started to enjoy regular football. How much of a factor was Mark Robins’ departure on the way your Tykes career went?
It did have an effect on me. We got on well and I played a lot of times games under Mark Robins. But that’s how football is nowadays, no manager’s job is safe.
However, if he hadn’t have fallen out with the Board, or whatever happened between Robins and the club, obviously I wouldn’t be at Bradford City now. For every door that closes another one opens. So you’ve just got to thank your lucky stars that things happened the way they did.
WOAP: Has Bradford City changed much in-between leaving six years ago and returning?
I don’t think the ground has of course. But in terms of the people there, we’ve got great coaching staff now. For example the fitness coach, the assistant manager and people like that – they are all magnificent to work with. The staff back then were also great to work with, but six years is a long time in football and things do change a lot.
I do think that, in this division, we have got the best people doing these kinds of jobs for us.
WOAP: I’m sure every City fan agrees you’re too good for League Two level. How do you feel about playing in this division?
I feel privileged really. I’m still getting to go out and play football week in week out, and that’s not an easy task to do. You see the amount of people who have got more experience than me and who are out of contract and who still haven’t got a club. You think to yourself ‘wowzers, I’m still playing week in week out for a professional outfit’. So it’s not the fact that I’m in League Two and stuff like that, it’s about going out, being thankful and enjoying it – because I’ve got a job to do.
WOAP: Obviously you’ve played for City before and seen what the support is like, but this season fans have really turned out in numbers home and away. Has this level of support surprised you?
Well I’ve been following City’s results after I left, and you looked at the attendances and think ‘wow’.
The fans do turn out in force. Against Port Vale they were amazing even though we did lose. Then to see how many turn out away on Tuesday night, even though everyone has had a long day at work they still come out in force and it’s amazing to see. I was at a Championship club in Barnsley and we would only get 6-7,000 people come along to a Championship game. They would only turn up for the big games like Leeds or Sheffield United.
It’s wonderful that City fans come out, express themselves and get behind the team. There are no negative vibes towards the team from the fans. It really is nice that so many come along and support the lads. We really do appreciate it.
WOAP: Couple of final questions on current matters. We’ve just seen two excellent performances go rewarded with only one point. Is there a concern amongst the players?
No, I mean if we were playing badly and lost it would be a concern. But we’re playing some good football and we’re creating a lot of chances in games. We get the statistics after each game and you can see from them that we are creating a lot of chances.
It really helps also when the fans don’t get on your back. I’ve been at certain clubs where – if the last two results would have happened – the boos would be ringing out. But there are no easy games and you’ve got to think to yourself ‘we’ve lost to Port Vale where we created loads of chances and we didn’t deserve to lose’.
The lads will continue to go out and be as confident and as brave on the ball as they were against Port Vale, before the result. And hopefully on another day we will turn someone over like we did against Wimbledon. I think that if we weren’t creating chances or we weren’t playing as well as we are now, we would need to be concerned. But I think at this present time we are playing some great football, we’re creating chances, and it’s just a matter of time before we are handing out four, five-nil beatings.
WOAP: Finally, what do you think City can achieve this season?
I think that the club itself and the players we’ve got in the dressing room can achieve anything that we want to. But only for as long as we keep taking each game at time and don’t look too far forwards in the future. I think that is the thing with some teams that have expectations; they can have that thing where they start looking too far ahead and set goals. Why set goals? You can’t look too far ahead at three, four months’ time.
We’re focused on Dagenham on Saturday, and hopefully we can go down there and get a result. If we get a result there then we go up to Hartlepool in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and hopefully get a win there too, because the more we win the more momentum we take into the league.
Whether it’s the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, we get promoted or get into the play offs, the games are something to look forward to. As a player you look forward to these moments and hopefully we can take the club to Wembley and progress that way. It’s every boy’s dream to play at Wembley and winning is a great experience as well, as I experienced at Hull.