The following is an article about Paul McCone which I contributed to the AFC Telford United match day programme for their March 7th fixture in the 2016/17 season, against Brackley Town. Sadly, the curse of being the player featured in the programme interview struck, and Macca was sent off, on what was a pretty horrid night for all at the club. Nevertheless, I’d like to share it, as his contribution to the club had far more positives than negatives, and I hope it gives those who haven’t met Paul a feeling for what a really good man he is. When the Bucks don’t have a fixture then a visit to Stourbridge’s War Memorial Ground, to see him in action (and also to enjoy a cheese and black pudding cob!) is definitely on my agenda. Thanks for your contribution over two difficult seasons, Paul; my favourite memories of your time with the Bucks would have to be:
- Simply seeing how much effort you put into getting back to playing, and letting me look after your bulldog, Oscar as physio Tom Fream worked with you at training.
- The club’s visit to the Princess Royal Hospital children’s ward at Christmas. Driving back from a day on a building site in the Vale of Evesham to then spend time distributing gifts showed you understood the club’s community work and its value.
- Scoring the winning goal against Tamworth and frustrating Danny Newton at the other end of the field in a vital victory.
See you at Stour sometime soon!
They used to claim that a Mars bar a day “helps you work, rest and play”. Popular Bucks’ defender Paul McCone is a big confectionery fan, but somehow the ‘rest’ part of that trio doesn’t seem to feature for him. Put simply, he doesn’t stop.
As Bucks’ fans will know, McCone missed the best part of a year with a knee injury that involved surgery and a lengthy spell of rehabilitation. Having returned to the side in October, he’s now got 3-4 months’ worth of playing time under his belt, so was he still feeling the injury? “No, not now. Just after Christmas, into the New Year, I wouldn’t say I was feeling it, but I was thinking about it. I don’t think it was affecting me, but I had it in the back of my mind, that if I went into a tackle I knew what the outcome could be. I’ve put that out of my mind know, and I think that’s what’s helping me play better, if you know what I mean”.
His determination to get back to playing saw McCone spend a chunk of his own money on surgery, a sum that he admitted he “didn’t want to add up, it’d scare me”. Having seen McCone’s dedication to getting back to the game at first hand, the sessions spent doing solo work with physio Tom Fream when the rest of the team were kicking a ball, his desire to play again shone through. “I was talking to Prycey (Andy Pryce) the other day, and he asked me if I liked going to the gym, because we did it on Tuesday”, referring to the team’s visit to new sponsors Nuffield Health. “It’s not for me, because I’ve been on my own in there too often, and it’s a lonely time”. Seeing the other players train made McCone feel “part of it, without feeling part of it”, hence playing again felt good. “The first game, I don’t think I remember much of it, it was just adrenaline that got me through it. I didn’t even think about the money (spent on his surgery) because obviously if I had I wouldn’t have wanted to go on there. I think I had one tackle, a little 50/50 that luckily for me the other player backed out of, so I didn’t have to make any crunching tackles or anything, which was the worrying part”.
It’s not hard to see that work ethic that got him back to fitness in everything McCone does. Not only would he run through brick walls, he puts them up too. A builder by trade, he is known in the Bucks’ dressing room for being one who finds it difficult to stop working. So, what does his working day look like? “It’s manic. Believe it or not I work from six until six, come here (for training), and I’ve been known, not to go home and work exactly, but to finish things off. I get home to Halesowen on a Thursday night and my missus hates it, because I clean my van. It’ll be pitch black, and I’ll be outside with a floodlight on, cleaning my van. I like to give an impression of being a clean builder; I always keep everything nice and clean so I’m outside cleaning my van at 10.30 at night and she’s not best pleased, but she puts up with it”.
I’d even heard suggestions that McCone has, in the past, worked on match days – is that true? “Believe it or not, a few years ago, I worked on a Saturday morning, played football and then went back and finished the driveway off I was working on. It was quite local to my old man, a couple of doors down; I left for football, got there just on time, then got home and finished the drive off at about 7 o’clock”. McCone works with his father, who has been in the trade for 20 years, so was it an obvious choice to move into that when his spell as a junior at Wolves didn’t work out? “Not really. I was going to go to university, to try and get back into full-time football, but I’m not very good at studying, I’m more practical, so that put me off the idea. My old man just said “you can work with me” but I had to go to college, we got in touch with a few people and I started that”. He clearly displayed an aptitude for it; in 2011 he won the Derek Spencer Award as the best Junior Bricklayer in the West Midlands, for which he had to undergo a 5 hour long assessment of his speed, accuracy and the overall appearance of a feature piece of brickwork (a welsh arch). “It was the first time anyone from the college I was at had every won anything, but I never did too much work at college because I had already done the work on site, I’d built a couple of houses already”.
Not making the grade with Wolves as a teenager must have been a blow; did McCone have any inkling that decision was coming? “Yes and no. Again, I was injured. I was there for two years as a full-time youth trainee, my first year was fine but in the second year I was injured for about six months. I didn’t really give myself a good shot at it, but you can’t always time these things well, can you?”
As well as supporting his off-field career, McCone’s parents are enthusiastic and vocal supporters of their son’s football career. “They come to every game. You’d hear my mum before you could see her! Stourbridge played Plymouth in the FA Cup (in 2011) and the week before we had an FA Trophy game, one we didn’t want to draw because it would have been something like a four and a half hours journey for the replay (NB – McCone thought Truro, it was in fact Kendal Town). Anyway, we did draw, my Mum and Dad drove all that way to watch me on a Tuesday night, but it worked out alright as we won 6-0 and I scored”. McCone’s enforced injury absence hit his parents too. “Yes, the weird part was when I wasn’t playing, they didn’t know what to do with themselves on a Saturday, because it’s normal to go and watch a football game. They’d come and watch the games when I wasn’t playing”.
The Buck’s recent 1-0 win over play-off contenders Tamworth featured a winning goal from McCone, that must have been sweet? “I’d forgotten how it felt, I hadn’t scored in a couple of years. I used to score a few goals, though I can’t remember scoring off anything other than a corner, to be fair. I’d forgotten how to celebrate.” Aside from the goal, McCone put in a terrific defensive performance too. “Yes, we kept Danny Newton quiet, and managed to keep Danny Rowe (from AFC Fylde) quiet the week before, so definitely happy with how it’s going at the moment. It’s a bit of consistency, that’s what it is. We seem to be getting, well, not the rub of the green exactly, but luck’s making things go in our favour”. I asked what McCone attributed it to – is it simply down to working hard? The response was instant. “It’s got to be. I can’t see what we’re doing that’s any different, so it’s got be down to carrying on doing what we’re doing, rather than changing anything”.
As for the rest of the season and beyond, how does McCone see it? “All we can do is look after ourselves, get the points on the board. You can’t listen to those people who say “you’re not going down”, I don’t believe in that. You still have to go out and get the results”. And is the New Buck’s Head somewhere McCone would want to be next season? “Definitely. I’ve had a few times where I get back fit, feel like I’ve worked hard to get there and then something knocks me back, but this year I hope to stay clear of that”. With Smith and Chambers renowned for their tough pre-season, does work keep him fit? “To be fair, I look after myself, and believe it or not I probably come back for pre-season fitter than when I leave. I do little bits of running, though not in the last couple of seasons because I’ve been on crutches, but I’ll take a little bit of a rest, because I do work constantly”.
And, if you’re wondering where McCone gets his energy from, then a look in his pockets will likely reveal the answer: sweets. McCone is renowned for his sweet tooth, and always seems to have a bag to hand. “I’ve done it for years. It started when I was at Stourbridge; I brought a bag of sweets and it just seemed to go on from there.” So, we finish on the big question: what are his favourites? With no hesitation came the reply: “Strawberry laces”.
The man with the candy has proven more than handy for the Bucks this season, and he certainly gives opposing forwards something to chew over…