Cheltenham star Will Boyle is the EFL Interview of the week
The likeable 22-year-old central defender has made an impact at Cheltenham Town, too, contributing at both ends of the pitch as Gary Johnson’s side have eased themselves away from any relegation worries.
This weekend Boyle has the delights of ‘El Glosico’ – a meeting with local rivals Forest Green Rovers – to savour.
In the meantime, he has taken our weekly Sky Bet EFL Q&A. The Leeds fan is happy to admit that his sporting idol was Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, names Hamilton Academical’s New Douglas Park as his least favourite away ground and recalls a slapstick moment at Barnet this season when the ball headed his face.
Were you always a central defender?
No. I started off in seven-a-side football as a left midfielder, then gradually went into central midfield and even had a little spell up front before I eventually got shoved to centre-half when I was 12 or 13. Initially that was when I was at Sheffield Wednesday. They said: “We think you’d be a good centre-half.” I was a centre forward when I first went there but I must not have been pulling my weight up top because they shoved me at the back.
Then I got released from Sheffield Wednesday and started playing local football again in central midfield because that’s where I enjoyed playing at that stage. I got picked up by Huddersfield, went there and they said: “We’re going to sign you but you’re a centre-half,” so ever since then I’ve stuck with it. I still like to go forward. I got my fifth goal of the season on Saturday, so that’s not too bad.
Best moment on a football pitch?
My first league goal. It was away at Luton last season (in January 2017). It wasn’t a particularly great goal, but just to get that moment ticked off and know that I’d scored in the EFL was a nice feeling. It was a big game for us because Luton were up at the top and we were down at the bottom scrapping. We ended up winning the game 3-2.
A cross came over five or ten minutes into the game, their keeper came for it, flapped a little bit, the ball dropped down in front of me about three yards out and I just poked it in. You need a little bit of luck to get you off the mark, I guess. It was the first goal of the game, which made it special, too.
My mum and dad, my sister and my girlfriend like to come to a lot of the games. My mum and dad travel down to Cheltenham from Leeds near enough every week, but none of them were there that day which was disappointing for them, but I’ve scored a few since that they have been there for.
Is there one regret you need to put right?
To be honest, I haven’t got a regret and I’d like to think I won’t have one ten years down the line. Hopefully I’ll have another ten years in league football, although you never know what can happen in this game.
Will Boyle (right) joined Cheltenham in 2017
(My dad’s) a Celtic fan, so I followed them when I was younger – as well as following Leeds
I was released from Sheffield Wednesday when I was 14 but that was probably the biggest spur I had. I remember having a conversation with my mum and dad. I think I was 15 at the time. Me and my twin sister were going into our last year at school. We were sat there at dinner one day and they said: “What do you want to do when you leave school?” I said I wanted a football scholarship.
I remember them saying: “Yes, we understand, but at the moment you’re not at a club, so what else?”
I said: “No, that is the only thing I want to do.”
They have always believed in me, but for Sheffield Wednesday to release me was the spur I needed to kick on and earn myself that contract at Huddersfield.
I was out running every single night around my estate and I took up boxing to work on my fitness. That paid dividends because when I went to Huddersfield, I remember going training with the Under-15s and being the fittest there, or at least one of the fittest. That allowed me to make an impact immediately.
Adebayo Akinfenwa is recognised in League Two as being hard to play against and he’s got the biggest reputation, but I’d say Patrick Roberts, who is on loan at Celtic from Man City. I played against him when I was at Huddersfield and we played Fulham in the FA Youth Cup. He was sensational on the night. No-one could lay a glove on him. Moussa Dembele was up front and Patrick Roberts was outside. Coming up against him the couple of times when I was pulled out wide was something I didn’t really want to be doing too much.
Will Boyle has helped Cheltenham avoid League Two relegation this season
As for Akinfenwa, he’s got the physical attribute to beat any other professional footballer with – he’ll be stronger than any centre-half who’s playing the game, I imagine. And with his age and the experience he’s gained, he also knows how to use that strength so effectively. Putting those two things together, he’s unplayable at times, to be honest. I’ve played a couple of full games against him now and I feel as though I did alright against him. Obviously other people will have their own opinions.
Least favourite away ground?
I’d probably say Hamilton. It’s a 3G pitch to start with, although obviously I played for Kilmarnock and their pitch is 3G as well. But then with the stadium, there’s no stand behind the goal at one end, just astro-turf pitches, so if you’re looking directly down the pitch, it can seem like you’re not playing in a stadium at all. It’s like park football where there’s another pitch beyond yours.
Playing in Scotland was an eye-opener. My dad was brought up in Greenock, which is not far from Glasgow. He’s a Celtic fan, so I followed them when I was younger – as well as following Leeds. So I knew where Celtic and Rangers were, and that Hearts and Hibs were from Edinburgh, but when you’re talking about other teams like Motherwell, Hamilton and Inverness, I didn’t have a clue where they were.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Chocolate. At the minute I’ve been treating myself with dark chocolate because I’ve heard that’s a little bit better for you than normal chocolate, but because I have it so sparingly, you can’t really beat a bar of Galaxy.
I’m only 22 at the minute so I imagine I could pack away quite a bit of food if I wanted, but I try to have a lot of fruit that the fitness coach recommends. I’ll have to see how my body develops with that.
Will Boyle started out at Huddersfield
Funniest thing you have seen in a dressing room?
There’s a lot that you wouldn’t be able to print, so I’ll say practical jokes. There’s one where someone has a coin and a bottle of water and says: “I can get this coin from under the bottle, through it and into the bottle.” They cover the top of the bottle with a towel, but as the other person looks, they get water fired straight into their face.
The biggest joker in the Cheltenham dressing room is probably Harry Pell. I like to think that I can be quick-witted, but Pelly is the main one for the practical jokes.
Boyhood sporting hero?
Steven Gerrard. That stems from the 2005 Champions League final, the night in Istanbul. I remember watching that on the telly and that’s still probably to this day the greatest game I’ve ever seen. Gerrard was inspirational in Liverpool’s fightback, so I was drawn towards him ever since then.
If you had the power, what one thing would you change about the game?
The offside law is frustrating at times. I’d like to make that much simpler to clear up all of the grey areas. Unless the ball is played by the opposition player – like for example, the other night in the Liverpool-Man City game where the ball came off (James) Milner and went through and (Leroy) Sane scored (in the Champions League quarter-final, it was ruled out for offside). That for me would be a goal. To clear it all up, I’d just go with the last touch.
Steven Gerrard is Will Boyle’s sporting hero
Most embarrassing moment in football?
There was one this season, Barnet away, in which everyone had a good giggle. Their keeper kicked the ball out of his hands really high in the air. I’ve gone to head it and back-pedalled. But then I realised that I’d gone a bit too far and tried to run forward. I slipped and as the ball bounced I tried to head it again. It bounced up, my head was on the floor and it hit me in the face. That was a comical moment, especially for the lads because we won the game, so I got a bit of stick from them, saying I was doing half-volleys with my face and stuff like that.
I could just hear a chorus of laughter from all around the ground. Everyone just burst out laughing. It’s not made it on to YouTube yet. If it had been in a more high-profile game, I’m sure it would have done. I’m lucky there.
Which player in history would you like to play alongside?
If it’s in history, you can’t really look past Bobby Moore, the World Cup-winning captain. I wouldn’t mind playing alongside him. I’ve seen highlights of him, but never a full game in which he’s played.
I know he was a real number six, but I try and do both sides of the centre-half’s game. I don’t mind the rough and tumble, but I’d like to think I can play a little bit and read the game as well. That’s the main thing about the role – put yourself in positions where you’re going to win the ball more than you’re going to lose it.
I’d try and play my game, but I’d definitely be listening to what he says.