American Football Focus Podcast #3

Calvin Johnson and his recent exploits are up for discussion on this weeks AFF podcast

This weeks edition of the American Football Focus podcast is up, and you can listen to it by clicking here. I’m joined by Bill Burton, my former teammate with the Sussex Thunder and we discuss a number of topics including the future of the NFL in London and Europe, the Jacksonville Jaguars futility, Calvin Johnson and tonight’s Thursday Night Football match-up between Cincinnati and Miami. Let me know what you think in the comments and be sure to follow my Mixcloud account (where I upload the podcast every week) to receive future updates as and when I release podcasts on that site. You can also tweet me: @fredjstanley to have your say on the NFL and even register an interest in appearing in future episodes of the podcasts.

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What’s Next for the NFL in London?

Copyright Vikings.com

Following another successful International Series game at Wembley last night between Jacksonville and San Francisco the future of American Football in England looks promising, albeit uncertain, beyond the three games scheduled for next season. This year saw the first time that two regular season games in the same season were held in London, and with the amount of International Series games gradually increasing it’s become reasonable to ponder what the natural progression for America’s biggest sport is on these shores.

While there has been much speculation as to what might transpire in the future lets first take a look at what we already know about the situation.  One thing for certain is that the demand for football in England is there, as shown by the fact that the eight International Series games held at Wembley have all sold out since the first one took place between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins in 2007. The fan base over here is growing and have shown a willingness to keep coming back for more, regardless of the teams in action. It’s also worth noting that the games played at Wembley haven’t featured the most attractive match-ups nor have they been particularly exciting contests. Although the first game in 2007 featured the eventual Superbowl champion Giants the Dolphins were on there way to a 1-15 season, while in recent years UK fans have been subjected to watching terrible teams such as this years Jaguars (currently 0-8) and the 2009 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13) in action.

One aspect of the International Series’ future that has been set in stone is that the Jaguars will be back to play a ‘home’ game at Wembley in each of the next three seasons. Jacksonville may not be a good team, in fact the 2013 edition could be remembered as one of the worst in recent NFL history, but one positive is that they’ll likely earn the top pick in next April’s draft and be in a position to draft a Quarterback from what is considered one of the deepest classes in memory. An exciting prospect such as Teddy Bridgewater would not only give the franchise hope for the future but also increase British supporters interest in watching the Jaguars play. With Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan having acquired Premier League football team Fulham F.C over the summer he has established strong ties to the city, which may or may not precede a push for the Jaguars to relocate to London in the future.

Last week the six contestants in next years three International Series games were confirmed, as well as the specific match-ups that will take place. The Jaguars will host the Dallas Cowboys, one of the leagues most iconic teams and a big draw for those interested in attending the game. I’d argue that of the 14 previous Wembley contestants only New England has the same kind of pulling power in the UK as the Cowboys, although San Francisco certainly have a large fan-base themselves thanks to their success back in the 80’s. The second confirmed match-up pits Detroit against Atlanta with the latter designated as the home team, while the third game sees Oakland ‘visit’ Miami. Both have the potential to be intriguing encounters, although it goes without saying that there is still a lot of time between now and next season, meaning plenty can change for each team in the way of on and off-field personnel. Detroit currently look like the best of the four teams and boast stars such as Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, yet both Oakland and Miami have the potential to be good teams and have shown flashes this year so that game could be a contest between two contenders. Atlanta may have been a let down so far in 2013 but as long as they have Matt Ryan at Quarterback they should remain at least somewhat competitive and a bounce-back season in 2014 is far from unlikely.

Looking at the situation from a more long term perspective, Peter King (he of Sports Illustrated and Monday Morning QB fame) revealed in his column today that the NFL is considering a number of options at this moment in time, including moving an existing franchise to London or creating an entirely new one as part of the venture. Another option was increasing the number of games hosted annually in the UK to eight, with a rotation policy installed in an effort to ensure that no team was at a disadvantage. Of the three options I firmly believe that the first two comfortably trump the third. I don’t like the idea of having eight near random games at Wembley each season and there are a number of reasons why. I think that by not presenting the fans in England with a consistent product there is little chance of the current fan base expanding, primarily because supporters won’t develop an affinity for any one team. Having one or two games a season at Wembley featuring a mixture of teams is fine because supporters treat the games as a one off event where there is an element of novelty involved, and as a result they are willing to outlay the money for a ticket once per annum, even if their team isn’t playing. However I strongly believe that if there are as many as eight games per season the same fans are more likely to pick and choose which games they attend due to a combination of factors, primarily financial. As a West Ham United F.C supporter I go to watch them a dozen or so times a season, but I’d have no interest in paying £50 to go and watch two football teams who I have no affinity with playing against each other. I think the same logic applies to British NFL fans, who are far more likely to keep coming back if they have the opportunity to watch “their” team develop, even if that team doesn’t initially achieve success. It’ll be interesting to see how well the Jaguars are supported against the Cowboys next season and again in 2015 and 2016, and whether or not their following swells with each game could well dictate whether their future lies in North Florida or North London.

Moving an existing franchise to England will be difficult for the league to do, not least because of the negative press the move would receive from the American press and the inevitable backlash from tenants of the teams previous location. That’s understandable; after all, imagine if the Premier League discarded an English team to make room for a side from across the pond. As a result adding an expansion team could be the best option, however that would leave the league unbalanced at 33 teams and cause fresh problems. The leagues current structure is ideal, with the 32 teams split evenly into eight divisions across the two conferences. An odd number of teams in the NFL is undesirable, yet the creation of a London franchise could also give the league the perfect reason to add another team in America’s second largest television market after New York – Los Angeles. Roger Godell appears to be set on increasing the NFL’s revenue streams wherever possible, and by adding two franchises to two burgeoning markets he has the opportunity to do just that and kill two birds with one metaphorical stone. None of the cities that currently own an NFL franchise would lose out as a result of the move, and though travel logistics remain an issue for a London based franchise after eight International Series games you’d to figure that particular problem could be easily overcome.

The NFL is entering uncharted territory with its overseas experiment, and with the passionate UK fans so far passing every test thrown at them the league looks set to expand the International Series program even further. Which direction Roger Godell and co eventually choose to go remains to be seen.

What do you think of the prospect of London having its very own NFL franchise? Have your say in the comments or by tweeting me: @fredjstanley

Week Eight NFL Picks

Suh and the Lions will attempt to hold off the Cowboys in Detroit

After going 8-6 with my picks (minus the Thursday night game) last week, I’m back with predictions for week eight of the NFL season including the second London game this year, where Jacksonville “hosts” San Francisco at Wembley Stadium. It’s the first time the NFL has held two regular season games here in England with three scheduled for next year, and a successful weekend could go a long way to bringing a franchise across the pond further down the line. Without further ado, here’s what I think will happen this weekend in the National Football League.

Dallas @ Detroit

Although both teams sit at 4-3 the Cowboys, thanks to the frighteningly weak NFC east, are sitting far more comfortably in the play-off race than the Lions. The Dallas defense stifled the high octane Philadelphia offense last week, and they’ll have to be equally on their game this Sunday against the likes of Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson. The Lions are coming off a disappointing loss against the Bengals so they’ll be looking to bounce back at home in one of just two games this weekend that pits teams with winning records against each other. Unfortunately for Detroit while I think their offense can match the Cowboys for talent I have doubts that their defense can do likewise. It should be close, but I’m going for a road win. Cowboys 27, Lions 24

San Francisco @ Jacksonville

The London faithful are unlikely to witness a close contest in this game with the 49ers looking like one of the best teams in the NFC while these Jaguars may have struggled to win a game in NFL Europe. San Francisco appear to have reverted to running some of the things on offense, such as the read option, that they did last season on their way to the Superbowl and Colin Kaepernick has clearly benefited from the move. The Jaguars defense isn’t as bad as their offense; however it’s still mediocre and if they can keep this one close into the second half I’ll be surprised, as will 85,000 people inside Wembley. 49ers 31, Jaguars 13

Cleveland @ Kansas City

Andy Reid’s men look set to move to 8-0 against the struggling Browns, who have now lost two in a row after they had been 3-2. Jason Cambell gets the start at Quarterback for Cleveland after Brandon Weeden once again demonstrated he’s not a starter in the league, though the Browns problems are more widespread than the identity of the man under centre. The Chiefs also have one of the best homefield advantages in football, not that they’ll need it this week, so expect another efficient victory from KC as they extend what has been a remarkable winning streak. Browns 10, Chiefs 24

Miami @ New England

Following a contentious loss in New York last Sunday Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will know the Patriots need to bounce back against the Dolphins if they’re to  reassert their supremacy in the division. Miami are coming off a poor loss themselves, in their case against the Thad Lewis led Buffalo Bills, but at 3-3 a win puts them just half a game behind New England in the standings. I’m tempted to pick the Dolphins and the upset, however New England could get Aqib Talib and Danny Amendola back from injury and combined with the fact they’re playing at home I’ll side with them this time. Dolphins 23, Patriots 24

Buffalo @ New Orleans

The Bills face a tough task this week as they head into the Superdome to take on the 5-1 Saints, who appear to be firing on all cylinders again this season with Sean Peyton back in charge. Thad Lewis has been a pleasant surprise for Buffalo since he took over for the injured E.J Manuel, however the Saints defense is much improved under Rob Ryan and combined with their high powered offense that combination should be more than enough to handle the Bills and strengthen their grip on the NFC south. Bills 20, Saints 34

New York Giants @Philadelphia

In the win column thanks to their Monday night win over Minnesota, the Giants head to Lincoln Financial Field with the opportunity to somewhat amazingly haul themselves back into the NFC east race. Philadelphia is without Nick Foles at QB and Mike Vick is questionable with his hamstring injury, so if Matt Barkley is forced into action the Giants would fancy their chances after he threw three picks in limited action last Sunday. The Eagles won the return match in New York earlier in the season and their defense has been improving, but without a competent Quarterback all of that is irrelevant. All signs point towards Vick giving it a go, and even if he can’t run at full speed the fact that Philly has DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy who can move makes them favourites in a game between two flawed teams.  Giants 24, Eagles 30

New York Jets @ Cincinnati

The second of tonights games featuring two teams above .500 pits both of the Patriots conquerors so far this season against each other. I do think that the Bengals are a better team and Andy Dalton’s encouraging play is a big reason why; although Geno Smith has performed well himself throwing and running the ball for the Jets. It’s difficult to pick against the Bengals in this one, especially at home, but the Jets unpredictability makes it a game that could go in either direction. Jets 20, Bengals 23

Pittsburgh @ Oakland

Having started the season 0-4 the Steelers have won two straight, all of a sudden making them relevant in the AFC again. While Oakland have the same record as the Steelers they appear to be heading in the opposite direction, however Terrell Pryor has played well enough to inspire hope for the Raiders down the line. Whoever loses this game is likely done for the season, and despite them having homefield advantage I think it could be Oakland’s players who are booking tee times for January while the Steelers live to fight another day. Steelers 27, Raiders 21

Atlanta @ Arizona

 Despite having a ten day break since they were taken apart by the Seahawks the Cardinals are underdogs this weekend at home to the Falcons, who just about beat Tampa Bay last Sunday. Atlanta’s status as favourites is largely based on the fact that they have Matt Ryan under centre while the Cardinals have Carson Palmer at QB, although without Roddy White and Julio Jones Ryan is short of options out wide. Steve Jackson could return which will aid the running game and ensure the Falcons have enough offense to outscore the impotent Cardinals. Falcons 27, Cardinals 20

Washington @ Denver

Two weeks ago, the Broncos were the toast of the NFL with a perfect record and the best player in the game at Quarterback. Now they’re coming off a harrowing defeat in Indianapolis and Peyton Manning has two sprained ankles, although he is fit to play against the Redskins. Washington just about held on against Chicago minus Jay Cutler and despite Denver’s recent wobble they should have a field day against one of the worst defenses in the league in the thin Colorado air. Redskins 24, Broncos 38

Green Bay @ Minnesota

Christian Ponder replaces the injured Josh Freeman as the Vikings attempt to rebound from their inept showing on Monday night against the Giants, unfortunately they probably won’t find cooperative opposition in the form of the Packers. Green Bay look every bit the play-off team at this stage of the season – Minnesota don’t. Unless Adrian Peterson has one of the best games of his distinguished career this one won’t even be close. Packers 28, Vikings 14

Seattle @ St. Louis

This NFC west tussle became more predictable the moment Rams QB Sam Bradford was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL. Even though Percy Harvin probably won’t return to action this week the Seahawks have a well balanced offensive attack that hasn’t missed him too much up to this point, and even if Seattle can’t crack 20 points I have a hard time seeing the Rams scoring two or more touchdowns with Kellen Clemens making his first NFL start in over two years against one of the leagues best defensive units. Seahawks 26, Rams 10

 So there are my picks for this week, let me know what you think in the comments or tweet me @fredjstanley. I’ll be back during the week with the American Football Focus podcast. To all of those fans at Wembley, just think: you too could play for the Jaguars!

  

What the World Series Means to me

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Carlos Beltran finally gets his shot to leave his mark on a World Series

As a summer sport it seems somewhat ludicrous that the finale of the baseball season, the showpiece event, takes place towards the end of October when the air is crisper and the days are shorter. It’s not uncommon to see supporters wearing gloves and scarfs as baseball’s elite duel it out on the diamond; yet there’s something symbolic about a pitcher blowing on his hands to warm them up while in the midst of a shut out, or a hitter in long sleeves belting a crucial, career defining home run. The World Series is a week long feast of drama and sport rolled into one, and it’s an event which has provided me with a host of memories over the years, both good and bad.

I was just two years old when the Philadelphia Phillies lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in heartbreaking fashion in 1993, on Joe Carter’s famous walk off home run. Thankfully I’m not old enough to recall that memory, but I’ve been informed by my Dad and my Brother that while they were watching that series I was in front of the television with them at some ridiculous hour, so I guess you could say that was my first exposure both to baseball and the World Series.

Thankfully I caught the bug and became hooked, and the first October classic I vividly recall watching was the post-9/11 duel between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees in 2001. New York as a city was grieving following the terrorist atrocities of September 11 and its people had gained tremendous respect for the way they had fought to rebound from the attacks,  showing the terrorists that  they would not be beaten. However despite the fact New York was mourning the Diamondbacks were the neutrals choice for the series, a franchise spawned in 1997 who were enjoying their first taste of baseballs grandest stage. Although Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim blew two consecutive saves in games four and five the Diamondbacks won the series 4-3, with Luis Gonzalez hitting a walk-off single off Yankees legendary closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of game seven. In game four Derek Jeter had hit a walk-off home run for New York after the clock had passed midnight and October had been left behind, earning him the nickname “Mr. November” in a tribute to former Yankee great Reggie Jackson whose post-season excellence saw him labelled “Mr. October”. The 2001 series would go down in history as one of the best ever, in equal measure because of the emotional backdrop and the unparalleled drama produced on the field.

In 2003 the Yankees were back in the classic, this time taking on another newly created franchise; the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. This was the series where a then 20-year old Miguel Cabrera hit a crucial home run off of Roger Clemens, at the time regarded as a lock for the hall of fame. Clemens’ reputation has since been tainted by admissions of PED use, nevertheless Cabrera’s blast has remained iconic. The Yankees went on to lose the series again, this time by a score of 4-2, with the underdog Marlins heavily favoured by anyone who wasn’t a Yankees fan. By this series I had established that the Yankees aren’t very well liked outside of New York, mainly because of their unrelenting success and the bandwagon jumping fans their success had created. In many ways they’re the baseball equivalent of Manchester United. The team themselves haven’t done much, if anything at all, to inspire such loathing. However the fact that the majority of the teams support exists outside of their respective cities makes them easy to despise.

Five years later was the pinnacle for me personally as a baseball fan, when in 2008 the Phillies won their first World Series since 1980 and their first championship in my lifetime. Cole Hamels was magnificent, earning MVP honours for his pitching prowess. Pat Burrell drove in the series winning run with his last ever hit in a Phillies uniform. And closer Brad Lidge completed his flawless season by striking out Eric Hinske, sinking to his knees in euphoric celebration. The Phillies came up short of a repeat the following year, being denied by those damn Yankees in six games. However I still have fond memories of that years classic, almost as fond as the previous year, including Cliff Lee’s two gems and Chase Utley slugging two home runs off of New York ace C.C Sabathia in game one at the new Yankee Stadium.

The World Series has produced heroes. It’s produced villains. It was even the scene of a natural disaster in 1989, when an earthquake hit California as the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants were about to square off in the ‘Battle by the bay’. This years contest between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals is an opportunity for a new generation to be inspired by some October brilliance, whether it’s an awe inspiring catch by Boston’s Shane Victorino or a complete game shut out spun by St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. One player I’m particularly rooting for is Carlos Beltran, the Cardinals slugger who owns one of the best post-season resumes in baseball history. In a quirk of fate he’s never made it the the fall classic before, and at 37-years old this could well be his one and only opportunity to make his mark on the biggest stage of all. Beltran’s in the midst of a borderline hall of fame career – if he rises to the occasion like Gonzalez, Jeter and Cabrera before him there’ll be no borderline about it. The drama starts tonight. Don’t miss out.

Game One is live on FOX at 19.30 ET in Boston.

Arsenal V Borussia Dortmund Match Preview

Mesut Ozil could make the difference against Borussia Dortmund tonight

Mesut Ozil could make the difference against Borussia Dortmund tonight

Kick-Off: 7.45

Champions League Group F

Television Coverage: Live on ITV

Following the international break and the weekends slate of domestic games tonight sees the return of the Champions League. With it comes a mouth-watering tie between last years finalists, Borussia Dortmund, and the current Premier League leaders Arsenal at the Emirates stadium in North London.

While Arsenal sit top of the group after victories in each of their first two games the visitors are three points behind courtesy of their shock 2-1 defeat to Rafa Benitez’s Napoli side. A home win would almost guarantee the Gunners passage through to the knock out stage, but Dortmund will prove tough opposition especially with Polish hit-man Robert Lewandowski leading the line.

Arsenal are coming off of a thumping 4-1 win over Norwich on Saturday where big money summer signing Mesut Ozil scored twice and Jack Wilshere netted what many observers consider to be a goal of the season contender. Mathieu Flamini suffered a concussion during the game and as a result misses out tonight. However there are no fresh injury concerns for Arsene Wenger’s men and the Frenchman should be able to name a near full strength line-up. The German’s were also successful at the weekend, earning a 1-0 victory over Hannover 96, and are just one point behind Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga after nine games.

Having earned rave reviews not just for their style of play but also their results Arsenal will be keen to impress against one of the big guns of European football in this marque tie. With a rematch in Dortmund still to come both sides will want to lay down a marker, and while Arsenal will want to justify the praise they’ve received recently Jurgen Klopp knows that if his side are to top the group and avoid the top seeds in the next round they must avoid defeat at the Emirates Stadium, which promises to be rocking.

Match Odds: Arsenal 7/5, Borussia  Dortmund 15/8, Draw 5/2

All odds courtesy of Ladbrokes.

 

Walking In A Wheeler Wonderland

All photographs courtesy of Exeter City Football Club

Former Lewes idol Wheeler in the distinguished red and white stripes of Exeter City

The sight of David Wheeler breezing past defenders is a familiar one to Lewes fans, and one that Exeter supporters have also grown used to seeing during the 23-year-old wingers flying start to his time at the League Two club. In this exclusive interview Wheeler reveals how he signed for ‘The Grecians’ and what the differences are between professional and semi-pro football, as well as discussing his time at Brunel University and how it helped him develop both on and off the pitch.

Brought up and educated in Lewes, Wheeler became a fans favourite during his spell with the Rooks which began in 2007 following his release from Brighton and Hove Albion. During his time at the Dripping Pan he earned trials at several clubs including Southampton, whose academy is famous for producing talented youngsters like Gareth Bale, Alan Shearer and Theo Walcott. But it was during Wheelers time with Staines Town that he was spotted by Dagenham & Redbridge and Exeter, training with both before the latter eventually signed him. But how did these opportunities arise? Wheeler explained “There was this guy I’d played against a few times, he plays for Bath, and he’d played for Bristol and Exeter [in league football] and he called me after one of the games I played against Bath. He said ‘I think you’re capable of playing at a higher level, would you like a trial at Exeter?’ That’s how it came about, on [his] recommendation and I went down for the trials. I was at Dagenham for five days and it was a good experience, it enabled me to compare the two teams”.

Despite signing with Exeter just a day before the start of the new season Wheeler went straight into the opening day line-up, and his performances were so impressive over the next few weeks that he won the fans player of the month award for August. Wheeler was also popular with Lewes and Staines supporters and he spoke of the benefits of having the fans onside, revealing “Obviously it makes life a lot easier when fans aren’t getting on your back! It’s nice to know you’re well thought of. I can imagine it being even more stressful if the fans aren’t behind you on match days. I’m not really sure what I’ve done to deserve it [the support] but I’ve been quite lucky”.

Wheeler in action versus Dagenham & Redbridge

In action versus Dagenham & Redbridge

The midfielder was also keen to stress the differences between league and non-league football, and when asked what stood out he immediately highlighted the physical side of the game. “Pretty much everyone is fitter, stronger and sharper and I think that just comes from training every day”. Wheeler added “One of the main differences is the care players take on the ball. It’s very rare you see someone pass it off the pitch accidently or have a bad touch three yards in front of them. If you make mistakes like that you get punished a lot more [at this level]. It’s also a lot more thorough and a lot more tactical. The managers seem to have more influence on the game in League Two than they do in the Conference South, and players seem to know what they’re doing and where they should be a bit more”. Wheeler also praised the impact veteran players such as Matt Oakley and Sam Parkin have on the squads’ younger members. “It’s like an education every day [playing with them]. Watching them play, they’re doing the right things all the time. They’re always there to give you advice and pretty much all of them have helped me out with my game”.

One thing that sets Wheeler aside from the majority of professional footballers is his education. After his release by Brighton he was able to attend Sussex Downs Sixth Form College in Lewes as a full-time student, before later enrolling at Brunel University in Middlesex. When asked about the impact his education has had on his career Wheeler was unequivocally positive about his experiences. He said “It’s helped me become much more of a rounded person. It’s made me form ideas and opinions that perhaps if I’d stayed in football I wouldn’t have. Obviously you get to meet a lot of different people with different interests, and you have to learn to look after yourself, cook for yourself and do all the household chores. It definitely gives you perspective on what’s important. Football is stressful at times, particularly if you’re not playing very well, and if you’re playing every day you get immersed in it. It can get you down when it feels like the only thing you’ve got, whereas I think having been to University it helps you with putting life in perspective”. So would he recommend the same path to others who are in a similar situation to the one he was in after Brighton let him go? “Definitely. Just in the sense that you know after your career’s finished there are other options. You find out you’re good at other things and not just football. You can go into other areas. I think it’s a good thing in terms of psychological health because you know your whole self isn’t defined by just how good you are at football”.

On the ball against Fleetwood Town

On the ball against Fleetwood Town

Unfortunately for Wheeler, although the overall University experience was positive for him the decision to move so far from home meant that he had to make a choice about where his footballing future lay. During his first year he continued to play for Lewes, but he admitted “I probably stayed a year longer than I should have done”. He added “It was difficult [to commute]. I probably should have gone for footballing and practical reasons. I didn’t because of the sentiment I had for the club, I had a really good time there and they’re the main reason I recovered from being let go by Brighton. I owed a lot to the club, particularly individuals like Steve Ibbotson and Jason Hopkinson. Ibbo wanted me to stay on for another season and I felt that I owed it to him”. However despite eventually moving on the 23-year-old was keen to stress just how important the club had been to his development as a footballer, saying he “couldn’t have asked for anything better” after he left Brighton, while also praising the coaches for “keeping standards high despite financial difficulties and poor facilities”.

It’s easy to forget that Wheeler is only 23 when you consider what he’s already accomplished. 113 appearances for Lewes. 90 for Staines. He’s already turned out 13 times for Exeter and he has a degree under his belt to top it all off. After a fast start to the current campaign you could forgive him for being a little complacent, but that isn’t the case. “I’m just trying to stay in the team at the moment by training hard every day. We’ve got such a good squad that I’m having to fight for my place. At the moment I’m just looking to improve my skills and technique in training every day and trying to get the start every week”. He’s also positive about ‘The Grecians’ chances of maintaining their form in the league. “I’ve had season after season after season where I’ve been at the wrong end of the table, so it’s definitely refreshing to be at the opposite end for a change. Obviously it’s still early days but I get the feeling we could reach the play-offs. There’s different sorts of pressures now, rather than worrying about relegation you’re trying to keep your standards as high as possible”.

Not all footballers are given a second chance to make a living out of the game. But then again there aren’t many players who’ve benefited from the experience of higher education. David Wheeler is a unique footballer, and having worked hard to get to this point it’s clear that he isn’t about to let his latest opportunity pass him by.

With thanks, all photographs are courtesy of Exeter City Football Club.