Name: Aaron Downes
Date of Birth: 15/05/1985
Club: Torquay United
Previous Clubs: Hampton and Richmond, Frickley Athletic, Chesterfield, Bristol Rovers (loan).
What do you remember about your first ever match?
I made my league debut for Chesterfield against Milton Keynes Dons. I came on in the 25th minute, something like that. I ended up scoring, so had a pretty good game. The match finished 2-2. We were 2-1 up and I was a bit annoyed with myself for the second goal, so in a way it was a mixed experience because we should have won.
Who was your childhood hero?
I grew up in Australia and there weren't many football icons over there at that stage. I remember I went to West Ham United when I was about 15 for a month's training and Rio Ferdinand had just joined Leeds United. I was a Leeds fan and played with his brother, so I'll say Rio.
When did you realise you had a chance to progress in the game?
In my teens I was playing for fun and was preparing for life beyond football. I was actually planning on going to university and becoming a PE teacher. I never thought I'd play professionally because I was living in a small country town in Australia. I had two years at a sports institute back home and through that I got the opportunity to come over to Bolton Wanderers. I suppose then I thought I had a chance. It was then, when I was around 17/18 and getting offers from England, that I thought 'yes, this is what I want to do for a living'.
Which coach has had the biggest influence on your career?
There are two. I made my league debut under Roy McFarland at Chesterfield, but there was also a coach in Australia, Steve O'Connor, who I played for - he taught me a lot.
What did you spend your first wage packet on?
I can't imagine it was much. I reckon it would have been a takeaway. I can't imagine picking up my pay packet and thinking 'wow', so it would have been something like a nice bit of food.
Does your squad number have a special meaning to you?
I was at Chesterfield for eight seasons and I wore the number 15 shirt the whole time. I wouldn't say it had any added value to me, but I suppose as the years went on it just became my shirt. And I was born on the 15th. I was offered 15 or 21 when I first signed and I went for 15 because it was my birthday, so I suppose there was that significance. I'm number four now.
Who did you last swap shirts with?
Believe it or not, I've never given anyone my shirt - no-one has ever wanted it I don't think. The last one I got was Richard Dunne's. We played Aston Villa in the FA Cup while I was at Bristol Rovers and after the game I got chatting to him and I just asked him for it.
How has the game changed for the better since you became a pro?
It has changed a lot. Since I first joined Chesterfield at 18 there has been a bigger European influence on the English leagues. The game over here still has that rawness, pace and power but there are more technically-gifted players about. Coaches realised 10 years ago that they couldn't just have quick, strong and powerful players and so they started coaching differently. So there's more technique around the leagues and that's even among the younger players.
I also think with more players coming over here, younger English players are filtering down the leagues. So it's harder for young English players to get opportunities at the top, but they're raising the standard of the lower leagues, which in turn makes it harder for young players coming through in those divisions.
If you could have coached yourself when you were a teenager, what advice would you have passed on?
You've got to be a good player to start with, but it's not just ability - you have to be mentally tough. It's 50/50 regarding the mentality. You have to be strong, determined and driven and I think you either have that or you don't. You can't replace hard work. If you're willing to do anything to achieve your goals, nine times of 10 you'll achieve them. That was drummed into me at a young age by parents and coaches - it's just a way of life in Australia. I've seen a lot of technically-good players who have fallen by the wayside because they didn't have it mentally. You have to give yourself every chance to be a professional. With hard work and luck you'll get there.
If you stay in the game at the end of your career, what will you do? a) Manager b) Coach c) Scout d) Physio e) Pundit?
I've done a sports journalism course, but I want to start doing my coaching badges. I'm only 27, so there's plenty of time and I really fancy coaching and management. Luckily I have the journalism as a back-up, so maybe that might lead to punditry.
What do you want to be best remembered for at the end of your career?
Just a good bloke - a nice fellow.
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