“It wasn’t had for a lad sent home from Boys Club training or for a lad who used to kick a ball up the Wreck.”
As a seven year old Paul Evans used to rock up to training at Oswestry Boys Club every year, only to be turned away for being too young.
That was followed by rejections from professional clubs.
But 40 years later and the little midfielder is reflecting on a career that began in the small market town, and ended up with him making over 570 appearances in the Football League and scoring 80 goals.
He’s graced some of the finest grounds in the country, captained his sides in cup finals and even represented his country.
But he never forgets where it all began, and like the 46-year-old who is now on the backroom staff at Sheffield United says, it isn’t bad for a lad who used to kick a ball up the Wreck.
He said: “I am proud of the amount of games, but you only realise when you sit back and think about it.
“I did my first podcast at the end of lockdown and you get asked these questions, and then you’re thinking ‘bloody hell yeah’.
“I got three promotions, captained teams to two finals, although I didn’t win them!
“I just regretted not playing at Anfield as a massive Liverpool fan. But I did everything else I wanted, and I knew I wasn’t going to play in the Premier League and do that.
“So yeah it wasn’t had for a lad sent home from Boys Club training or for a lad who used to kick a ball up the Wreck.
“I remember my uncle was a good player and I used to kick him in my nans garden trying to get the ball off him.
“Then where I lived in York Street I used to go and try and join in with his team when they trained, and I can imagine then telling me to p**s off and stuff!”
For anyone looking at the record books when it comes to professionals who came from Oswestry, on paper and ability wise, Evans sits right up there if not at the top.
After rejection from Wolves as a youngster that left Evans ‘heartbroken’, he was scouted by Shrewsbury Town while playing at the Wakeman Tournament near the old Gay Meadow.
First team boss Ian McNeill and former Town legend Peter Dolby invited Evans for a trial, and within weeks he was signing forms.
And right from the start Evans was always destined for the first team.
He explained: “Me and my Dad went when I signed my forms and Ian said to Dad that I’d be in the first team at 17.
“He told me a while after and it makes you think about it. Like, was he just saying it because I had signed, you don’t know really.”
And the Salop first team boss even told Evans to knock on the front door of the old meadow at 2.30pm every Saturday, if he wanted to watch a game.
“Me and my mate did that a few times. We got the bus to Shrewsbury and I went and knocked on the door and asked for Ian McNeill the first team manager.
“And these stewards were like, who the hell is this lad. Then Ian would come down and welcome me in and we’d watch the game.
“He got sacked not long after but I carried on playing and my YTS there was amazing, it really was.”
Evans wasn’t the only Oswestry lad making waves at Salop at the time.
Darren Ryan and Sean Parrish were two others who were in the first team at the time.
But for Evans, his apprenticeship got off to the worst possible start after he tried to break up a fight in Oswestry days before he began.
Evans explained: “We were out with mates, not drinking or anything because we were only 16.
“Anyway my mate got into a fight so I tried to stop it, and a lad threw boiling hot soup over my face.
“I had burns and everything and I was told to go to the doctor, and I didn’t start at Shrewsbury for four days so it wasn’t the best start to be honest!”
An involvement with the first team came pretty quickly and before long he was thrust in against the mighty Nottingham Forest, a club Evans would end up going on to represent.
“We were playing forest and I was laughing at some of the lads about how they were going to get beat.
“And then the manager said I was playing.
“It was against the likes of Stuart Pearce and Gary Parker, and it was a real eye opener, proper football.”
A winning goal against rivals Wrexham is up there as a great moment in Evans’ 200 appearances for Shrewsbury.
He admitted the winner he scored almost got him beat up in Oswestry after by Wrexham fans, and another standout was scoring the winning penalty as he captained Salop to a cup win against Wigan.
And recalling one funny tale, Evans explained about the time one of his former Oswestry compatriots borrowed and item of clothing and then flogged it on!
He said: “There are always funny stories to tell, but one at Shrewsbury sticks with me.
“Darren (Ryan) had borrowed a tracksuit of mine and I hadn’t seen it for a couple of weeks.
“Anyway, Sean (Parrish) came in and I said, ah that’s nice mate I’ve got one like that.
“He said he got it off Darren, so I asked him where my tracksuit was and he said he didn’t know.
“He’d gone and sold it to Sean!”
Evans was to leave Shropshire in 1999 and head for the capital, as Brentford paid Shrewsbury £110,000 for his services.
He became a captain and a legend at the old Griffin Park, as he amassed over 100 appearances for his second club.
He took the club to two finals and his success in London led to a Wales call up.
“I loved it down there. It was my first move and it was to a club that was progressing a lot and we had a good team.
“I got to a play off final, we won the league and got to the LDV Vans Trophy final.
“We had some good times down there and it helped me get into the Welsh squad while I was in League One.”
Evans would go on to make two appearances for the national team, with his debut coming against the Czech Republic in Cardiff.
They are experiences the little midfielder admits he will never forgot.
He added: “I was lucky enough to come through the youth set up with like Hartson, Savage and the likes, but it was a shock.
“Steve Coppell pulled me in training and I said ‘I’m not going’. I thought they were selling me because there had been some interest.
“But he said congratulations you’re in the Wales squad, so I drove down there and played on the Wednesday, and it has to be one of my proudest moments.”
A spell at Bradford and loan stints with Blackpool and Nottingham Forest were to follow for the Oswestry lad.
Then he signed permanently with the former European Champions, something he describes as a huge honour.
But it was there he came across the one manager he never truely got along with, and it soured part of his time on the banks of the Trent.
“It was an honour and a privilege to play for Forest. You see all the cups and stuff when you’re there and I always used to get butterflies driving over the Trent bridge.
“It went well but we got relegated, and then Gary Megson came in and I didn’t play a game after that.
“I’d scored 14 goals in League One the year before and thought I could have helped Forest get back up.
“But we didn’t see eye to eye, it was horrible.
“Even when he was playing for Shrewsbury in a game, I tried to slip the striker in and it ran out and he turned to me and said ‘you’re a pub player you are, you’ll never make it.
“And we never saw eye to eye, he did it to a few boys. The atmosphere there was horrible.
“I’ve played under the likes and been coached by Des Walker, Wally Downes, Gus Poyet, Dennis Wise, but he was the only one I didn’t like.”
Evans, like many other players were banished to train with a handful of kids, banned from matchdays and told not to come to games.
Evans had enough and pushed for a loan move to Rotherham, before returning with an injury.
When he came back Megson only allowed him to get in for treatment in the evening, when everyone had gone home.
But soon after Megson was sacked, and Evans admitted that the whole club had a lift.
“He was sacked and then two coaches took over and we went from down the bottom, to just missing out on the play offs.
“It was amazing really, and I love the club still.
“I go back now and the blokes on the door remember me and it is great, it really is an amazing football club.”
Swindon was the next destination, before a spell at Bradford City was halted because the club didn’t want to activate a clause in his contract.
He went on trial to Darlington but was turned down just days before the season started, because the manager wanted a ‘bigger’ midfielder, something Evans found hard to take.
“The manager said he was going to go with someone a bit taller, and I almost said is that the best you can do.
“I’ve played 500 league games, internationally and the best you can say is someone a bit taller.
“I ended up going down to Oxford in the conference on a contract, but down there TNS players were probably on twice as much as what I was on.
“I didn’t really enjoy it to be honest.
“The lads thought they were Premier League not Blue Square Premier, and Chris Wilder who I knew from Halifax was the manager.
“He was great and that is when I started doing the sports massage stuff.”
The second part of this interview will look at the career on the other side of the white line for Evans.
But when he looks back he admits that he was good enough for the Championship, but probably not good enough for the Premier League.
And explained how is Forest prediction for top flight promotion went wrong.
“I signed for Forest on the old March deadline window, and we finished 10th I think.
“I went away and worked hard and thought we’ve got a chance next season.
“As it happens, we got relegated so what did I know!”
And as for Premier League aspirations, Evans quoted one Joey Barton when putting into perspective how his career went.
He said: “I was obviously not good enough to play in the Premier League and that is fair enough.
“But I played 580 odd games, scored 80 odd goals and got two caps for Wales.
“I had a career for 16 to 17 years which is good to look at, and it made my parents proud.
“Joey Barton used to get hammered for being an ‘average Premier League footballer’.
“His response was, do you know how hard it is to be an average professional footballer never mind an average Premier League football, and that is how I look at it.”