|Sponsor||Jones Lowndes Dwyer LLP Corporate insolvency advisors - Left click to link to website|
|Date of birth||15-11-1980|
|Place of birth||Ashton-under-Lyne|
|Previous clubs||Manchester United, Mossley|
Turn the clock back a few years and the footballing life of FC United�€trade;s newest recruit Josh Howard was somewhat different from today. Released from Old Trafford in the summer of 2000, he was a victim of the �€�Fergie�€trade;s Fledglings�€trade; wonder story, with the pacey midfielder turning from respected youth player at United to a man of 21 disillusioned with the ways of modern football.
It was fitting, therefore, for the Manchester-born Red to sign for a club which stands for everything he stands for �€“ on and off the pitch. Speaking last week, on his 25th birthday, Howard talked of a rosy future with his new club, after explaining where his own football journey began.
Howard was just nine years old when he first kicked a ball in anger for a local team in East Manchester after gaining inspiration from his granddad, who was himself involved with Oldham Athletic and played for Droylsden. He was then fortunate enough to land a place in the Manchester United School of Excellence after impressing with Dukinfield Tigers junior team.
�€�I just loved to have a kick about and then playing in a team was fun. I liked the competitiveness. All of my family were pretty good in helping me out, my granddad especially. He would take me to training as my mum couldn�€trade;t drive. It was a big help and I knew I had my family�€trade;s support.�€�
�€�It was just brilliant to be involved with United when I was 11. They got me in a year too early so I played with lads in the older age group until I was 14. I was training alongside the likes of Wes Brown and Ricky Wellens.�€�
�€�I enjoyed playing with the older group, but we were at an age when physical superiority tends to show, so it was tough. I was only a small player too and it became apparent then that I would have to work harder to keep up with the bigger lads.�€�
Howard spent all his teenage years playing alongside Brown, Wellens (now at Oldham) and other youngsters like John O�€trade;Shea, Luke Chadwick and Michael Stewart and although he enjoyed relative success behind the scenes, the big time under the Old Trafford lights just didn�€trade;t beckon.
�€�As I got into my late teens you could see the changes around the club unfolding with training getting a lot better and the facilities developing a lot. The youth team were doing well and the first team was on fire. Everyone wanted United to do well, but it wasn�€trade;t good for me personally and some of the other lads.�€�
�€�Things became more commercial. It got to a stage where the boss was signing foreign players for �£1million and they would just languish in the reserves and never get a game.�€�
�€�You had players like Karol Poborsky, Jordi Cruyff and Jesper Blomqvist doing nothing, while Beckham, the Nevilles, Scholes, Butt and Giggs were playing to sell-out crowds across the country.�€�
�€�As a midfielder it was difficult to see a future at United. The middle of the park was the strongest department and those players were all so young �€“ they had at least ten years in them.�€�
So after captaining the youth team and making 22 reserve team appearances, Howard moved on �€“ reportedly after he signed up with Alex Ferguson�€trade;s least favourite agent Mel Stein.
He ended up half an hour up the road at Preston North End after catching the eye of current Everton boss David Moyes. But things never really took off at Deepdale, as Howard explains:
�€�I got pretty homesick up there, living in a bed and breakfast. You could say it was a big culture shock after spending so long at United. There, everything was done for you in the right way like, you would even get a meal cooked for you after training, whereas the set up wasn�€trade;t as organised at Preston. I left the club without even telling David Moyes.�€�
It was at his next club that Howard got his first �€“ and not his last �€“ taste of bitty football reality away from the top flight. He signed for Stockport County and got off to a superb start under manager Andy Kilner, scoring three goals in three games from midfield.
�€�I got off to a flyer and then it came to seeing whether I would stay on. Andy told me I was one of the best footballers he had at the club, but unfortunately it wasn�€trade;t footballers he needed, it was battlers, so he had to release me.�€�
�€�Eventually I did become disillusioned with football. I had been taught the United way �€“ pass and move �€“ so I don�€trade;t see the point of hoofing it long, it�€trade;s just not football.�€�
Moving further afield, Bristol Rovers was Howard�€trade;s next port of call, but the financial climate in the game at the time put paid to any hopes he had of rebuilding his career.
�€�I had moved around quite a lot in the space of a year and Bristol was fairly good, but things were bad back then as ITV Digital had just gone out of business, so they weren�€trade;t able to offer me a contract.�€�
�€�A lot clubs were struggling so it wasn�€trade;t the best time to be looking to get back into the game for me.�€�
It wasn�€trade;t until Christmas 2000 that Howard found his footing again, earning a call-up for near-to-home Stalybridge Celtic, while training on and off with prosperous Rotherham United. Stalybridge won the Unibond Premier League and Howard�€trade;s confidence rode high again, though Rotherham felt unable to take him on after winning promotion to what is now the Championship.
�€�It was unfortunate, I could�€trade;ve gone back to Stalybridge, but I decided I needed to get into work and ended up playing for Hyde United as well in October 2001.�€�
�€�The manager was pretty good at the time, but then they brought in a new guy who I didn�€trade;t get on with, so I decided to leave.�€�
After a brief spell with Barnet, Howard returned north and made a shock decision to give up football altogether.
�€�I wanted to knock it on the head because the standard of football in the non-leagues didn�€trade;t motivate me enough. My family supported me because they knew I was happy with it. I had messages of support from John O�€trade;Shea, who offered to get me into one of the teams over in Ireland. It was thoughtful to know that a United first team player would take time out to think of me and I knew people were on my side.�€�
It was former Coventry and Stoke City player Ally Pickering who inspired Howard to make his return to the field in mid-2002 with Mossley, getting in touch with him through ex-United star Lee Martin.
�€�I have to say that if it wasn�€trade;t for Ally I don�€trade;t know where I would have ended up. He invited me down for training and I loved the set up there. He is an ex-player so he knows how things work and his style of play was brilliant. We had some good times.�€�
There, Howard battled injury problems to enjoy three successful seasons at the club, scoring 24 goals in 122 appearances and eventually earning the captaincy.
�€�We won the club�€trade;s first trophy in 12 years and everyone was buzzing. The first I heard of FC United�€trade;s interest was just over a week before I played the first game against Colne. I went down to watch the Eccleshall game and I was absolute blown away by the crowd. A few of the players had told me what it would be like but you had to see it to believe it. And playing in front of it at Colne was even better.�€�
�€�We have got a really talented group of young players at the club who have got bags of potential. Every one of them should be playing at a higher standard and I am sure we will go far, especially with Marginson�€trade;s guidance.�€�
�€�He is another former player who believes in getting the ball down and passing and I am just hoping I can impress.�€�
�€�I know it won�€trade;t be easy because there is a lot of competition for places. One mistake and you�€trade;re out. But that will only push me on to try harder. I want to be part of it as much as possible, especially for the fans.�€�
�€�This is their club and I like this element of fans mixing with players. We have such a bright future and promotion must be our aim for next summer.�€�