Even a brief experience of non-League football was enough for Gavin Massey to know he wasn’t going back there when Leyton Orient were relegated from the Football League in May.
It has been quite a turnaround for Massey who started out at Watford, having been brought up in the shadow of the club’s Vicarage Road ground, before pursuing his career in the lower leagues.
Gavin Massey (right) is targeting an FA Cup upset when in-form Wigan face Bournemouth
‘It’s been a crazy eight months,’ admits the 25-year-old winger. ‘In that time I’ve gone from virtually coming out of the Football League to being at the top of League One and maybe looking to play in the Championship.
‘Whatever happened at Orient, I enjoyed my time there. It gave me the opportunity to get the move to Wigan and showcase my stuff back in League One.’
Massey certainly can’t be accused of staying in his comfort zone. As well as joining Yeovil and Colchester on loan while on Watford’s books, he had a three-month spell with Isthmian League club Wealdstone United at the age of 18. It was a harsh learning curve, and one that began with the youngster forgetting to bring a towel to his first game.
‘I asked where mine was and they said I had to bring my own,’ recalls Massey.
‘My youth-team manager at Watford said it would be good for me to go there and play with men and learn about the game. I learned the hard way.
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe will be wary of Massey and League One Wigan on Saturday
‘It wasn’t the prettiest of football but it was a good experience for me. Now I’ m in League One, I appreciate that even more.
‘If you took extra time on the ball you were getting smashed. There wasn’t any protection from the refs, you just got on with it.
‘Being around that environment was an eye-opener, but the more games I played I got used to it and found my feet.
‘There are boys playing in non-league who have got raw talent. Jamie Vardy is a great example. I think it’s helped me become the player I am today.’
Massey made the bold decision to leave Watford and join Colchester on a permanent basis when a takeover by the Pozzo family and an influx of players from sister club Udinese convinced him that his opportunities would be limited.
He had been at the club for 12 years since the age of eight and worked under both Sean Dyche and Malky Mackay.
‘It was a big call but I knew that if I wanted to play first-team football it wasn’t going to be there,’ says Massey who made nine appearances as a substitute for his hometown club. ‘You could see the way the club wanted to go with bring in foreigners.
‘They were good times in my career but I had to move on. I took the chance to go to Colchester and I played over 150 games there so I look back it as a great decision.’
Massey scored 21 goals in 178 appearances for Colchester in League One and then four goals in 36 games for Orient in League Two following a £200,000 move in June 2016. When the club were relegated from the Football League, he joined Wigan as a free agent last summer.
Wigan beat Manchester City in dramatic fashion at Wembley in 2013 to win the FA Cup
The 2013 FA Cup winners have hit hard times in recent years, but Massey is hoping to play his part in helping the Lancashire club back towards the Premier League. Paul Cook’s side are two points clear at the top of League One and pushing for a return to the Championship.
‘You can’t take anything for granted in football,’ says Massey. ‘Wigan were the FA Cup winners a few years ago and now they’re in League One. We’re looking to kick on. There are 21 games left in the league and we know what our aims are.
‘If we get into the Championship it’s a great achievement. I’ll take it step by step and see what happens. But I’d like to think I can play at the top level and that’s something I want to do in my career.
‘I’ve had to learn my trade in the lower leagues. I’ve worked my way back up and I’m grateful to where I’ve got to at the top end of League One.’
A winger who can also play anywhere across the front three, Massey’s four goals and assists have helped Wigan become the top scorers in the division this season. Bournemouth should beware in Saturday’s third round clash at Dean Court.
‘It’s a big game against a Premier League side that like to play football but we’re looking forward to it,’ says Massey, who played in the victories over AFC Fylde and Crawley in the earlier rounds.
‘We like to base ourselves on playing the right way as well. The way we’ve been playing of late, we go there full of confidence.
‘We won’t really change our game plan. We’ll try and play the same football we have in the league and give it a right go.
‘It’s the FA Cup so anything can happen and we’re looking for an upset.’