Sam Hird has been at Chesterfield since 2012
For Chesterfield, who are unbeaten in their last five league games, the match offers up an opportunity to escape the relegation zone for the first time in exactly three months.
Central defender Sam Hird, now in his sixth season at the club, has known both this season’s despair as well as the joy of Chesterfield’s League Two title-winning promotion campaign in 2013-14.
Hird also spent five years at Doncaster Rovers after beginning his career as a schoolboy with first Aston Villa, then Leeds United.
The 30-year-old is the subject of this week’s Sky Bet EFL Q&A. He confesses to eating chocolate every day, recalls idolising David Beckham as a boy and argues that a winter break would benefit players in League Two as well as those higher up.
Were you always a central defender?
I’ve played centre-back for most of my career, but as a kid I was a centre midfielder, up until about 16. And then as all good centre midfielders do, they get moved back into defence. That was at Leeds when I was in the youth team under Greg Abbott and Neil Thompson. I think Greg Abbott is now head scout for Bradford. Neil Thompson was head of the academy at Sheffield Wednesday the last time I knew. They moved me to central defence and I’ve been playing there ever since, apart from playing as a defensive midfielder now and again.
I found it natural to move back into defence after the first six months. Even when I was in midfield from the age of 10 to 16, I was always a more defensive midfielder anyway, so I suppose it’s only 10 yards deeper on the pitch.
Chesterfield were relegated last season
Best moment on a football pitch?
I’ve got two. One was winning the League One play-off final with Doncaster beating Leeds, which was the club where I hadn’t broken through. Unfortunately Leeds had a great squad at the time.
For a team like Doncaster, we did have great support at Wembley that day (they beat Leeds 1-0 in May 2008), but the fact is that Leeds United is a much bigger club and they have a Premier League fan base and so they filled most of the stadium. But as a player you don’t really notice who’s singing what. It just makes for a better atmosphere and we won, so it made it even sweeter.
We had a really good squad at Doncaster at the time put together by Sean O’Driscoll and we controlled most of that game. We didn’t have an awful lot to do in defence. Our midfield and strikers were brilliant that day.
And then getting promotion with Chesterfield from League 2 (in 2013-14) and winning the league. We won the title in the last game of the season against Fleetwood. I scored with a header and I assisted for Gary Roberts’ winning goal as well.
I felt as though I played a bigger part in that promotion whereas at Doncaster, although the final was a brilliant moment for me, that season I had only played a handful of games. I had only broken into the side six or seven games before the end of the season.
Is there one regret you need to put right?
It’s hard to put anything right now, but as I’ve got older, I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses more, so probably my biggest regret is that I wish I had learned them sooner. But then that sort of thing comes with experience and time as well.
If I had learned my strengths and weaknesses a bit quicker, maybe I would have done better than what I consider to be a decent career so far.
At Doncaster I played over 150 games when they were in the Championship and I still don’t think I reached my full potential there. It was probably when I got to 26, 27 that I started feeling confident. Obviously any player at our level will always make mistakes, but I felt a lot more confident in my game and a lot more consistent.
I consider playing 150 games for Doncaster as an achievement by itself but if I had learned it earlier and put that consistency in my game at 21 or 22, then it could have been different. Maybe I could have played in the Premier League or at another Championship club. It is a regret really, but it’s not something you can control because some things do come with experience and games.
In professional football I would say John Carew at Aston Villa, for obvious reasons. He was big, physical, he could run, a good solid Premier League striker. He seemed to have arms and legs everywhere. That was in a cup game for Doncaster. It was a tough game. I think we lost 3-1 (in an FA Cup fourth round replay in February 2009) and we were up against Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor at the time when he was flying as well. They were a tough partnership to face.
Sam Hird enjoyed success at Doncaster Rovers
But my toughest opponent was in training at Leeds and that was Aaron Lennon. He was a couple of years older than me, but as a young lad he was a striker. I’d come up against him whenever I was lucky enough to get moved up and had the privilege of training with the first team.
I saw his strengths as a striker, but since then he has had an unbelievable career at international and at Premier League level.
Least favourite away ground?
Accrington Stanley. In my opinion, it needs a lot of updating, let’s just say that. But I suppose it does make for the type of feel and atmosphere that it has for them. Yes, it needs a lot of updating – that’s the nicest way of putting it.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate. Dairy milk chocolate. McVitie’s chocolate biscuits. Anything chocolatey. I treat myself every night. I’m not saying I have a lot, I’m saying I have to taste chocolate every day, whether that’s one piece or one bar.
I think my body’s so used to it by now that if I came away from chocolate, It might affect my body fat a bit more than if I keep having it.
Funniest thing you have seen in a dressing room?
I’m not going to name names, but the funniest thing I’ve seen is one of my own players come in absolutely fuming at half-time, storm through the door to kick a bin and get his foot stuck in the bin. It was one of these big plastic black bins. He booted it as hard as he could and got his foot stuck in it, so you can imagine him shaking his foot around in the changing room and the bin’s holding his foot. That was for a good 10 seconds, which is obviously a long time when something like that happens.
David Beckham was Sam Hird’s hero
That was in my first season at Chesterfield. The other lads collapsed in laughter. The person himself knows who it is but I’m not going to name any names. All the players from that team have gone now so it’s not something I can have a laugh about in our dressing room now.
Boyhood sporting hero?
David Beckham. As a young lad looking up to him as a footballer, icon, it was him. I remember getting taken to watch Manchester United once and it was just the awe of watching him as a person really. He comes across as a really nice fella.
I was a United fan at the time, but that was only up until about 12 or 13 and then the more I played for Leeds, the more I supported Leeds from then on. So as it stands now, the team I follow is Leeds United. I was at Aston Villa before I joined Leeds at 10 or 11, but I couldn’t travel. The club wanted to keep me at Aston Villa but it just wasn’t right having a nine, ten-year-old lad travel that far, so they helped to get me in at Leeds.
If you had the power, what one thing would you change about the game?
I would introduce a winter break a few days before Christmas until a few days after New Year.
I don’t think there are that many games that get called off nowadays compared to what there used to be. The level of pitches has improved and while I know that postponements also have to do with the surrounding areas, I do think that a winter break would benefit us as a country. Other countries have done it and it seems to benefit them. For the good of the country on the international scene, I do think it would benefit.
It would only mean losing two or three games, so you’re talking about either moving the season forward by a week or moving it back by 10 days. I don’t see that being an issue at League 2 level.
Sam Hird playing against John Carew
On a personal level, we don’t get international breaks during the season – or rarely – so it would give you the chance to recharge your batteries and give everybody a break. It can be a gruelling season for lower league footballers.
Most embarrassing moment in football?
I had a penalty for Leeds in a Youth Cup quarter-final against Ipswich to keep us in it and I missed. It was a sudden death penalty. That was a really embarrassing and upsetting moment for me. I was 16 or 17 at the time. You’re still learning life lessons at that age, still growing up, so it was a good learning curve for me and my mental toughness.
I just remember saying sorry to everybody and apologising. At the time it was upsetting. As a young lad it’s not nice to miss a penalty.
Funnily enough, I took a penalty last week to win the Checkatrade Trophy game against Manchester City to get us through, but unfortunately we got knocked out this Tuesday night by Fleetwood.
That was the first penalty I had taken since the Youth Cup penalty. I scored this time so I put all my demons away with that one penalty. It’s funny because my dad messaged me after the game to say: “I can’t believe you volunteered to go at number five.”
In that youth team at Leeds, there were Jonny Howson and Simon Walton, but that was it in terms of players who made it from that particular side. The likes of Aaron Lennon, Andy Keogh, Scott Carson and James Milner were a couple of years older than me and then there was a good crop coming up behind me in Danny Rose, Fabian Delph and Michael Woods. But not many made it from my actual age group.
Which player in history would you like to play alongside?
If it was a one-off game, it would be Sergio Ramos. Obviously he’s a great defender and good on the ball, but also he’s an all-action defender. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding him. Some people look at that in a bad way, some people look at it in a good way, but the career he’s had speaks for itself. It would be a real eye-opener to see the way he defends. I was going to say Pepe as well.
If you asked me who would I like to play alongside for a season, the answer would probably be John Terry, but if I had one game to enjoy playing next to a real character, it would be Sergio Ramos.