‘In Conversation With’ were articles for the matchday programme during the 1998/99 season in which Dave Tavener interviewed various members of the team. Below is the interview with the defender-cum-midfielder Tom Meredith that appeared in the programme for the Isthmian League match against Gravesend & Northfleet on 30thJanuary 1999.
Born: 27-10-77. Enfield.
Occupation: Student at Daventry College. Studying Sports Science.
Previous Clubs: Norwich City (Youth). Cambridge United (Youth). Peterborough United (2 Football League appearances), Hendon, Heybridge Swifts. Harwich & Parkeston, Stevenage Borough, Bury Town.
St Albans City Playing Record: Debut: 28-02-98. a goalless home Isthmian League draw with Harrow Borough.
First Goal: 18-04-98, the first goal in a 3-0 home Isthmian League win over Carshalton Athletic.
Appearances: 47 (32 League) Goals: 2 (2 League).
A Brief Outline
“I was born in Enfield but when I was just three or four months old we moved to Milton Keynes, I went on to attend St. Paul's School. I am now at college in Daventry on a two-year sports science course which ends this year. One of the reasons why I came out of the professional game instead of chasing for a contract somewhere, is that I know if I have a job and am playing semi-professional football then I will earn as much as I could as a player in the lower leagues. For most professional footballers their career is over at 35 and they have nothing left to fall back on. It was Matt Jones who, whilst we were at Heybridge, really advised me on the importance of playing semi-professional football and getting a career outside of the game.”
A Posh Canary
“I started playing Sunday League football when I was just 11, this was after a friend of my dad's asked me whether I would like to play football when all I had done up until then was kick a ball around in the back yard. I started off with half a season playing at centre-forward and scored a lot of goals which caught the attention of Norwich City, or Canary Rangers as the youth team was known, and I joined them just before my 12th birthday. I travelled around just about every country in Europe playing in various competitions with the Canary Rangers, the idea being to give us all experience of playing against the European style of football. When I was 14 the Youth Development Officer at Carrow Road, Kit Carson, joined Peterborough United but before following him there I had a couple of games with Cambridge United.
When I eventually got to Peterborough I played at Under-16, gained a two-year YTS and played in the First team during my second year at London Road. At the time the Peterborough manager was John Still and his assistant was Mick Halsall. One of the problems of being a first year YTS is that you are up against the second year players who are fighting to gain a contract and have that much more experience than yourself. After Christmas some of the second year YTS players were released, and of the ones who remained some went into the First team squad - or out on loan - and others into the Reserves. I began playing after the New Year but by now, having been signed as a right-winger, I had now been switched to a right-back. In my second year, a new manager came in for the YTS players who was very strict. We could not go out drinking, clubbing or get girlfriends, and he converted me into a centre of midfield player and also made me captain of the side. That year went really well for me as we won the League Cup, finished fifth in the league and at Christmastime I learned that I'd been awarded a contract. It was Mick Halsall who gave me the contract as John Still had just been sacked.”
Breaking into the Big Time
“My first experience of being with the First team came in a Coca Cola (League) Cup tie against Aston Villa at Villa Park. I was in the 15 for the 1st leg at Peterborough and was actually on the bench for the 2nd Leg. I didn't get on but I was allowed to go out and warm up at Villa Park, it was unbelievable, the crowd was 19,602. After that Peterborough sent me out on loan to Hendon just to get experience. At the time Hendon were in a relegation battle which was a good experience for me as sides were coming at us. At the end of the loan period I was recalled to Peterborough and got involved in the last two First team games of the season although neither was at home. I came on at half time against Crewe Alexandra and did well. They kept me in the side for the next game at Oxford United. I was marking Joey Beauchamp. he is small and tricky but I felt I did well against him.
At Crewe, I had not expected to come on but when the lads came in at half time Greg Heald had a fractured cheekbone and couldn't go out for the second half. I was told to warm up and it was then that the butterflies started and I thought ‘what am I going to do’, because it was wet, windy and the conditions were not going to help me. It was a completely new experience for me playing in front of a crowd of 3,206, all seemingly screaming for Crewe. At the start of the second half I stood by the touchline waiting to come on, then the announcement came over the tannoy, I touched the grass, crossed myself and went on. Within the first five minutes. the ball came across, I got stuck into the man it was going to, got the ball and passed it to a team-mate. That was it and I was now settled.
Against Oxford, they had to win to go up and although we lost 4-0 that, for me. was the better game. Inside the first ten minutes our goalkeeper pulled a muscle, so myself and the other full-back had to start taking the goalkicks. That was okay in the first half, but in the second half, when we were playing uphill, we had the terrace behind us which was packed with Oxford supporters. Every time you went to take a goalkick the whole lot of them made the 'oooOOO' noise and although you are aware of it you do eventually shut it out of your mind.”
Fry-Up or Up-Hill
“One month into the following season, Barry Fry took over as manager and called me into his office. He told me he was happy with my game and we sorted out a contract. I was still able to go out on loan and that is how I first met Garry Hill when I joined Heybridge Swifts around October 1997. The week before I went to Heybridge, Enfield asked me to go there. George Borg said that he was struggling for defenders and said for me to come training with the squad to get to know the rest of the players just in case. But on the Friday he rang to say that he had signed someone so I needn't worry about going there. A couple of days later Barry called me in to say that Heybridge were playing Enfield and they were struggling for players and wanted me to play for them. Because of the injury situation, Garry told me that he wanted me to play full-back and we went for a 5-4-1 formation. We won 1-0 and it was great being able to shake Borg’s hand after winning and I have now played against his sides three times and won each time.”
Heard It Through The Grapevine
“I have also played on loan for Harwich & Parkeston in the Eastern Counties League under Garry's brother Colin Hill. I didn't feel that playing at that level was testing me, I had time to get the ball down, have five seconds or more on the ball and could then play it, I wasn't learning anything and was getting into bad habits. I told Barry Fry that I didn't want to stay there so went to Heybridge and that was the season we got to the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy. Towards the end of the season I was contacted by both Paul Fairclough at Stevenage Borough and Jimmy Neighbour at St. Albans. They both knew before me that I was not going to get a contract and that annoyed me. I had also seen it in a newspaper and that is what hurt more than anything. I felt that Barry could have told me at Christmas that he was not going to keep me on. As a youngster I want to play at the highest level possible and Stevenage offered me the chance to play there for three months. I went there but suffered a medial ligament injury to my knee which put me out for almost four months When I was fit again, Tony Godden, the former West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper who was manager of Bury Town at the time, came in for me. I knew it was the same level as Harwich but it gave me a chance to get my confidence back after the injury. Once I had got my fitness I joined St. Albans and made my debut in midfield playing against Harrow Borough. I played in the next game which was the away leg of the League Cup semi-final against Sutton United. I then missed the 4-0 defeat by Enfield but was back for the return match with Sutton, we lost that one 3-0 and that was the end of Jimmy. Garry then came in and having played for him before I was anticipating good things.”
“The thing with Reserve team football is that it is non-competitive, you get players coming back from injury who just want to get a game behind them, and experienced players who cannot get into the First team and are not bothered. Then you also get the younger players who are really desperate to get into the First team. There is no pressure on you to win but suddenly you come out of that and play for the likes of Hendon or Heybridge and you have to win and there is something for you at the end of it, three points. The only way you will ever learn is by giving your all.”
“I can remember both of the goals I have scored for St. Albans. For the first one, we had a corner on the right at the end where the tree used to be, the ball went to the near post where it was knocked up in the air by a defender towards the edge of the box. I looked across and I think it was Paul Turner who was next to me. I could see that he wasn't going to move towards it, it was coming down on my left side so I just side-stepped and then hit it. I knew I had caught it well but the next thing I knew it had caught the underside of the bar and was in the goal - I didn't know what to do and just ran to the left side of the goal when all the supporters were on the other side! I actually enjoyed the goal against Hendon more as it was more controlled. The ball came across from Justin on the left, Clarky headed it on and it bounced into my chest before I just side-footed it over the keeper. I was happy with that one.”
“With Garry what you see is what you get. He is honest and if you are not doing your job well then he pulls you out of the side, tells you what you are doing wrong and it is up to you to go away and get it right. As a young player I obviously want to get back into the side as quickly as possible and this means doing more training than just the normal bits with the club. If my distribution is poor, as it has been at times, then I have to go away and work on it during the week. I never train on a Friday as I like to save all my energy for the Saturday.”
“So far my disciplinary record has been good and touch wood I have not been suspended to date. You can question a referee's decision but he is not going to change his mind. You have to agree with what he says although you give your side of what happened then just get on with the game. If you ask them nicely the referee will give you an answer but if you are a moaner they could well go against you and the team.”
Later in the 1998-99 season Tom scored the dramatic later winner at Clarence Park against Boston United that took City through to the last four in the FA Trophy, the crowd was given as 2,723. Tom left St Albans City at the end of the 1999-00 season having scored four times in 94 games. He also made six league appearances for Boreham Wood that season and two years later had a short spell with Hemel Hempstead Town.