Ludlow to Man United and back – A tale of superstars, nutmegs, injuries and bad luck

“How many blokes can say they played for Man United, or were on the same pitch as Giggs, Scholes, Rooney, Hargrearves.”

Every young kid who grows up watching football dreams of playing for the club they love.

99.9% of them will never get anywhere near a life in professional football, and realise quickly that they’re not good enough and they have another calling in life.

But some do make it to the top, play with the best and go all the way and have a huge career.

The first part of that sentence is relevant in the case of Shropshire’s Sean Evans, but the latter part isn’t.

Due to a combination of injuries, other issues and a lack of luck at times the midfielder, destined for great things when he was plucked by Manchester United as a teenager, never made a full career out of the game.

But the experiences he has and the stories he can tell will never be taken away from him, as he explains in an honest interview reflecting on his playing days.

Evans, who hails from Ludlow, always had a special footballing ability from a young age and from seven years old, he was part of the Shrewsbury Town Centre of Excellence.

At the age of 15, clubs came sniffing, and one club in particular, but as the midfielder explained, he couldn’t tell any of his friends – and at the time the then Shrewsbury manager Jimmy Quinn didn’t even know who Evans was.

“I would have been 15 at the time and I knew of the interest but I just couldn’t tell anyone until something happened,” said the midfielder, now manager of Ludlow Town.

“Shrewsbury said I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, instead of supporting me after I had been there for eight years.

“It had been sorted out and I went to see Jimmy Quinn the manager back then, and he didn’t have a clue who I was. I went into his office and he said ‘I need a left winger’.

“I’d been going on trial at United, going up in the week and it was a hell of a commitment from my mum and dad.”

After leaving Salop at 16, he signed a two year YTS at Old Trafford in the same age group as Jonny Evans, Ryan Shawcross, Frazier Campbell and Darren Gibson.

A move for someone from a rural Shropshire to the biggest club in the world could have been a daunting one, but that wasn’t the way Evans viewed it at the time.

“It was not an eye opener really, because I had a right to be there and I was good enough.

“Yes it was daunting in some respects, but once inside the complex everyone is the same there.”

Jonny Evans was one of the graduates of that United age group

Soon Evans was playing with the big boys at the time, and he recalls one memory where Ruud Van Nistlerooy, a legend at the club, threatened to kill him after a cheeky trick in training.

“One of the first experiences was when eight or nine of the first team came to train with us.

“I was backed into a corner and had nowhere to go and I managed to pop it between his legs and go around him the other side.

“I never said anything I just got on with it, and after training he pointed at me and said ‘was that you’.

“I said sorry and he grabbed me and said he was going to kill me, but he started laughing after it.

“Cristiano Ronaldo was there at the time trying to show me tricks in the gym which I just couldn’t do.

“One player that scared me was Roy Keane, but that was in a good way because he wanted everything done right.

“Keane would hammer you, whereas someone like Gary Neville would explain to you what was going wrong.”

Evans, who spent four years at the club and was on the cusp of the first team squad on a number of occasions, is able to rattle off tale after tale from inside the United inner circle.

From Sir Alex Ferguson laying down the law to the new boys, or copping a two footed tackle from Wayne Rooney, Evans experienced everything during his dream move to Old Trafford.

As most say, he singles out one player as a cut above the rest.

“Football wise Paul Scholes was just a different level to everyone else. You couldn’t get near him.

“He didn’t have any tricks but his brain was above anything, he had little dummies, passes, shimmies, and no one could get near him.”

A few months before he officially left United, Evans knew his time was up when Anderson, a younger left footed player arrived for £20 million.

The arrival of Anderson spelt the end for the Shropshire youngster.

Looking back on the four years he spent alongside the world’s best, Evans says he has zero regrets, but admitted if things had gone slightly different he could have registered a first team appearance.

“I was unlucky twice as I got a hamstring injury before a game at Crewe and then Coventry.

“And I was in the provisional squad for a Champions League game against Roma where Rooney scored, but I had a disagreement with a coach called Jim Ryan about not being picked.

“He said it was Man United and I have to wait my chance, but Brain McClair, another coach, understood I was not showing an attitude but I was frustrated.

“It cost me a place in the squad, and with the other injuries it shows you need an element of luck.”

And so in 2008, four years after United paid Shrewsbury Town a fee for Evans, then 16, he was back into the real world and out of the United bubble.

The next few years, as he describes, was a tough one that left his confidence shot to pieces as he desperately looked for another club.

But with no first team experience to his name, the clubs were not lining up despite the fact Evans was an ex United youngster.

“Clubs were not lining up and it was a bit surreal. You’d think smaller clubs would want to take you but you haven’t got the experience.

“They don’t want to be risking it on a 20 year old lad who, yes has been at Man United, but on the other hand has no first team experience.

“Clubs thought I wouldn’t want to get my hands dirty, washing my own kit and stuff and that was frustrating.

“I had a trial at Cheltenham and the players said I would be signed on, and then the manager said they couldn’t afford my wages before even asking me what I wanted.

“I got a trial at Accrington Stanley and it was a shambles. I wasn’t made welcome, you had to get your own kit, there were no warm up tops, lads were just booting balls into goals.

“I went to Inverness and had a trial game and loved it, but the game was a derby and they kicked lumps out of each other and the chairman was reluctant to sign me.”

The midfielder enjoyed a good spell in Wales but injuries caught up with him

After rubbing shoulders with the stars for almost half a decade, Evans was without a club and with the season starting he signed for his local side Ludlow, playing two games before getting a shot elsewhere.

He had approached Shrewsbury through his agent in a bid to train with them, but he is still baffled as to why his offer was rejected.

“I asked Shrewsbury to train at no expense to them and through our links I thought it would be okay, but apparently they said I wasn’t better than what they had.

“In hindsight looking back it was done through my agent and it didn’t make sense really.”

By now Evans was at a low ebb, and the stark reality of life outside professional football was starting to hit home.

“My confidence was shot to pieces. I went on trial with Kettering and I wanted to come off after 20 minutes, I couldn’t control the ball, I didn’t want the ball.

“That’s only one of two times that has happened on the pitch.

“I don’t think, certainly back then, enough was done for lads coming out of the game. United rang me two or three weeks later and said they would pay me a month over and that was the last I heard from them.

“This is why, when I hear of lads earning stupid amounts, I say fair play to them because I’ve been on the other end when you’re kicked out of the back door.”

After two games for Ludlow, a move to Aberystwyth Town followed through a link with Evans’s father, but after a falling out with the manager he moved on to Cinderford Town, before Stourbridge came calling.

It was to be the first of two spells with the West Midlands’ outfit, and the first one set Evans on a path which he thought was taking him back to the professional game.

“In both spells there, the manager Gary Hackett was great. He was honest and that’s all you ever want.

“I was getting my confidence back and enjoying playing and I remember we got into the FA Cup first round against Walsall.

“At the time clubs were looking, Sheffield United were in League One and were keen as were Grimsby, but I told Gary I didn’t want anything to happen and I just wanted to play in the cup game.

“I went to Grimsby on trial which was an eye opener when we didn’t have a pre-match meal and I had to get a sandwich from the services.

“I had scored 14 from 18 from the wing at this point, and Farnborough had come in and offered me stupid money.

“But Gary said to me he didn’t trust them and I trusted him, that’s why I didn’t go.”

A move to Telford was now on the horizon, with the Shropshire club keen to take Evans as he tried to make his way back into the full time game.

He admits in hindsight the move was wrong, but at one point he was flying and looking back he believes he was only a few steps away from professional football again.

“The club was in Shropshire and got big crowds and that was the pull for me.

“Rob Smith signed me but he wasn’t my type of manager. He wanted me to be more aggressive, but my game wasn’t mashing people up.

“Then Andy Sinton came in and it was the best I had felt, I was confident and probably the best player in pre-season, and I was getting back to full fitness.”

With the season approaching and Evans destined to begin the season in the Bucks XI, he was on the bench for a friendly against Wolves before being thrown on late in the game.

But what unfolded just seconds after taking to the field ended Evans’ hopes of ever being a full time professional again, and it is an agonising story that other players who have dropped out of the game will understand.

“I came in and he said just have a run ready for Saturday.

“I was wing back, the ball came over from kick off and it was an innocuous challenge, and I broke my leg. I had been on the pitch 11 seconds.”

Evans had to have his leg pinned and saw all his work and football money plummet as he faced a lengthy lay off, that led him down the road to a bout of depression.

“I had an operation and was advised not to play again but I said I will play again, that is how I dealt with it.

“I was struggling. I had been working at a stables which was owned by a friend of my Dad’s as I love horses and coaching in the afternoon, so all in all I was on about £500 a week.

“Then I was on £73 benefits and I had no help from the club. I even had to make a comment on social media, before the chairman rang me and said why have I said what I said.

“They gave me some money and some fans raised some money for me.

“This is a funny story looking back, because I got my car back on the road and I was driving back from the game where they had raised the money, and my car broke down.

“£600 it cost, so the money was in one hand and out the other.

“This was the first time I suffered depression. I was in the same seat at home for days, I smashed a TV because I couldn’t get the right channel on.

“It put a real strain on my family, I had no money or job and had no knowledge of what was going to happen next or if I would be a pro again.

“Looking back this is what stopped me. I was playing so well that I think I would have gone back into it.

“I had gone through ups and downs and I was on the up again before this.”

Evans did eventually recover, but never played at a the level he should have done.

He went back to Stourbridge, and scored in a famous 2-1 win over Plymouth in the FA Cup, a game in which he suffered a broken toe.

This went undiagnosed for months and all but ended his second spell at the club.

Evans enjoyed a good spell for The Robins

He left for a new challenge in Welsh football at Newtown AFC under then manager Bernard McNally.

But his spell at the club was almost a carbon copy of the script that had been written at other stages in his career.

After hitting form he suffered a serious knee injury in a game against Rhyl, and despite being part of two European squads for Newtown, he never hit the heights he was once at.

He then played for Caersws and West Midlands side Shawbury, before taking charge of Ludlow Town, who he will manage going into the new campaign.

Evans’ story will not be alien to others.

Others who have had the world at their feet, but have had the luck tip against them or have had their careers snatched away by a big injury or a catalogue of little ones.

Looking back, the mifielder doesn’t have any regrets but does wish things would have gone differently.

But as he admits, he has experienced some things in the game that others can only dream of.

“Regret is the wrong word, hindsight is a massive thing because the game I broke my leg in my knee was sore and I didn’t tell the manager because I wanted to start on the Saturday.

“But if you were going 55 instead of 45 then you wouldn’t have crashed a car for example.

“I wish I’d have played in the first team at Shrewsbury before Man United, because that experience may have helped me find a club after United.

“And I wish I had put a bit more effort in in terms of stuff like the gym at United, but then it wasn’t as big as it is now.

“But I have no regrets. How many blokes can say they played for Man United, or were on the same pitch as Giggs, Scholes, Rooney, Hargrearves.

“People can’t say they played with one of the best footballers that ever lived.

“I appreciate what I’ve done more looking back now. One thing I will say is that I’ve made a hell of a lot of friends in football. And some enemies – mainly in Wales!”

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