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The Brett Donnelly interview

Monday, November 20 2017

Roy Izzard caught up with Brett Donnelly recently to look back at the highs and lows of the striker's career to date, and what the future holds.

Brett Donnelly is probably one of a dying breed-an old school, old fashioned centre forward prepared to take the knocks. The new style football academies are not likely to produce players like Brett with the emphasis now on technical play but in the autumn of his career Brett is proving there is still a place in football for his like. He has already scored 7 goals from 14 appearances this season to add to the 42 goals in 158 appearances  up to the end of last season and he continues to defy those who think he has no place in the Hitchin team. 

At 35 there is plenty of life in the old warhorse yet and in this article I will go through Brett's career and share his entertaining stories. Discipline (or more often lack of discipline) will be a recurring theme and I will set you a fun quiz question that will emphasise this-how many times has Brett Donnelly been sent off? I will give the answer at the end of the article and you may be surprised by the answer.

Brett is a member of the Donnelly family and part of the third generation to play for Hitchin Town. Grandfather Jim played in the 1950/51 and 195/52 seasons while father Ian played in the 1989/90 season before later joining the management team under Kerry Dixon. Brett and his two brothers Callum and Luke continued the family tradition. Luke played 39 games in the 2009/10 season while Callum is still playing having made over 300 appearances since his debut in 2010. Brett first played in December 2007.

In an era where there are so many bland players Brett is a character with a capital C. His piratical appearance with his long hair and tattoos means he will always stand out and he takes predictable abuse from opposition supporters in his stride. Indeed he quite likes it and says it is better than being ignored. While Brett is more than happy to stretch the laws to their limit and be as physical as possible he is also prepared to take his punishment without complaint and often gets cuts and bruises where he takes a battering. But the name Donnelly and bad discipline seem to be inexorably intertwined. Father Ian was a genuine hard man and took no prisoners. Indeed he was probably far harder than Brett. He would always look out for his own players and indulge in retaliation if necessary without it being spotted by the referee. I saw Ian get sent off from the substitutes bench before he had entered the play and Brett told me a story about Ian that proves the point about him not being a player to cross. Ian was badly fouled in a game by a player and was subsequently out of action for two months. Two years later Ian recognised that player in the team he was playing against. That player was not able to finish the game after Ian got in his retaliation and ended up in hospital.

The Donnelly football genes have passed from Ian to Brett and Callum. Brett is very honest about his disciplinary problems and knows he is often his own worst enemy and does not always deserve any sympathy. While he feels he is better behaved these days he admits to the fact that a red mist can still afflict him and make him do irresponsible things. However he is convinced the Donnelly reputation goes before him and Callum and many referees have them as marked men. Brett's booking at Chesham in the F A Trophy summed up the problems he faces. The referee told him he did not see the incident but was sure something must have happened so he booked Brett anyway! Brett is searingly honest and admits to bad choices in his football career at times but he remains a cult hero particularly at Biggleswade Town and Hitchin Town. Also do not make the mistake of underestimating Brett. He owns his own successful business employing 14 people.

Brett went to Highover School and then  Highfield School. He played in the school teams and was always a striker. One of his earliest memories of a school game does not show him in the best light but showed he always wanted to win. He felt one of his team mates was not very good and felt he would not score from a good position. So Brett actually pushed him out of the way to take the shot himself-and put the ball over the bar!

Brett used to watch his dad play before Ian joined Hitchin. His first memories of watching Hitchin were sneaking through the hedge to avoid paying ( the bill will be in the post Brett!) and he particularly remembers Jon Bone. At sixteen Brett joined Bridger Packaging along with Stuart Lochhead and cousin Paul (Meathead) Donnelly. They played in the reserves and won the league and cup. Ian was then manager at Barton Rovers and at the age of 17 Brett joined his dad. Brett said his dad did not make it easy for him not wanting to show any favouritism and he rarely played. Ian left and Noel Blackwell, Alan Biley and Dick Newman were his successors. Brett said Barton were not very good at this time and remembers a rare win against Romford being wiped out when Romford subsequently withdrew from the league.

From Barton, Brett moved to Potton United in the United Counties League. He said this was physically hard but they were promoted to the premier division. He particularly credited Steve Kuhne for furthering his football education and said he was brilliant for him. Brett scored 128 goals for Potton before signing for manager John Taylor at Arlesey Town. Brett said this was the wrong move for him and he fell out with the senior players so rejoined Potton.

His next move was to Enfield in the Ryman League but his career there was again the victim of his disciplinary problems. He scored a hat trick for Enfield on his home debut but at the time he was playing Sunday football for the all conquering Kinsatop. Brett being Brett he managed to get sent off on three consecutive Sundays. He told me he is an angel now to how he was then. The first of the three red cards was originally just a yellow for ungentlemanly conduct with Kinsatop 8-0 ahead but was upgraded to red. The second came when Brett went on as a sub after two of his team mates had been sent off. Needless to say Brett joined them for what he claimed was a centre half running in to Brett's elbow!

The result of the three red cards was a 15 week ban which basically killed off his Enfield career. He returned to Potton and then joined Darren Hay at Arlesey where a good squad had been assembled. When Hay took over at Hitchin Brett went with him but was subsequently loaned to Barton. He returned to Hitchin the following pre season but broke his leg and was out for three months. When fit he had a couple of substitute appearances before starting at Mangotsfield. You can probably guess what happened next-Brett was sent off again. I asked him whether he was unlucky but Brett had to admit he punched the right back in the face.

Brett considered this was a watershed moment and realised he had to change. Darren Hay fell out with Brett over the Mangotsfield red card and he moved to Stotfold where his dad was now manager and Luke and Callum also played. Brett again found it difficult to play for his dad despite their very close bond. He also found Callum's attitude difficult to put up with. It is interesting to hear Brett talk about Callum. He has never doubted his ability and thinks that when he concentrates on his football everything is fine but unfortunately he gets involved in too many flash points. Brett has tried to tell Callum not to repeat his own mistakes and to grow up. Are they peas from the same pod? Well it could only have been Brett and Callum who both managed to get sent off in a pre season friendly with Hendon last season after just five minutes. Brett's conclusion on Callum is that anyone who has  worse discipline problem than himself has a problem. He jokingly says they should both probably seek help!

Brett recalled a massive confrontation between Ian and Callum despite Stotfold leading 8-0. So how did Luke Donnelly turn out to be so mild mannered as a player when family tradition would have expected the opposite. Brett had no explanation for this saying Luke was just too nice. Whatever the reason the Donnelly family are very close and will always look out for each other.

Colin Payne had taken over as Hitchin manager and invited Brett to train. He felt good and formed a partnership with Jamie Arlick. But Brett remembers missing a penalty in a friendly against Wealdstone and felt this was held against him and he eventually confronted Payne and was told he could go.

Bobby Dance suggested Brett joined Biggleswade Town which he did. He credits manager Chris Nunn for helping him enjoy his football again and he thoroughly enjoyed playing with Liam Folds who he felt was very helpful to his career. Brett was playing every week and they made the Southern League play-offs. In the semi-final Biggleswade were losing 2-0 and Brett was feeling frustrated on the bench. He was sent on with 10 minutes to go and asked to score a hat trick. Unfortunately Brett picked up two yellow cards in five minutes and was again sent off.

Brett admits he felt he let everyone down and was surprised when Chris Nunn asked him to return the next season. In fact Biggleswade did really well winning promotion and having a great F A Cup run. Brett became a cult hero and scored 99 goals in 245 games but after five years decided to move on. He received a phone call from Mark Burke who had been impressed by Brett's performances against Hitchin in the league with Dan Webb considering him one of the toughest opponents he faced. Mark wanted Brett's dressing room presence and more physical approach to add to his young squad.

Brett found the dressing room very quiet and probably some of the players were nervous of him. But with Brett prominent in bringing the team together a really close bond was forged and the togetherness of the team has been influential in helping results. Brett considers his current spell at Hitchin is the best period of his career and has enjoyed the quality of the football. He felt the best football came in the season we  lost to Hungerford in the play-off semi-final - a game he really felt we should have won. The defeat at Leamington in last season's play-off final also hurt and Brett recalls that when he was substituted just before the end he felt we were through. 

Brett gives high praise to Mark Burke who he says has been good for his career. He still  gets really frustrated when players who are far better technically do not put in the effort to go with their skills.  On a lighter note he is not impressed with the music choices of the younger players in the dressing room bemoaning the lack of Led Zeppelin tracks. Ironically on the two occasions it was Brett's turn to choose the music he was sent off both games so is now banned from getting another chance.

Jonny McNamara is in Brett's words "the best mate I have made from the game". Brett joined Hitchin at the same time that Jonny joined from Arlesey and he saw that he was nervous and did not really know anyone. Brett  took Jonny under his wing as he was also new to the club  and he told me that together they have had some of the best times on and off the pitch. When Jonny went to Hemel Brett missed his "partner in crime"  and was pleased when he returned to Top Field this season. He said if there is ever a break in play watch the pair of them as they are usually ''scheming''!

Brett considers his best ever goal was at Bromsgrove while his best game was in the league at Leamington last season when he was wrongly sent off. His most difficult opponent has been Will Richards of Chippenham. Brett says he still feels fit and accepts he was never particularly quick and does not wake up creaking on a Sunday morning. He is annoyed when he is rested for Monday night games and has no thoughts of retiring in the short term. In the longer term he would consider becoming a manager but not a coach. But for the time being he is happy to play the pantomime villain, upset opposition defenders and supporters and continue scoring goals. If he is a member of a dying breed there should be a preservation order on him because colourful characters like Brett are worth their weight in gold. He is also held in high regard by many opposition teams who admire his old fashioned attributes.

Many thanks to Brett for giving such an entertaining interview and finally the answer to my quiz question. How many times has Brett been sent off? I doubt many would have guessed correctly but according to Brett he has seen 33 red cards if he includes Sunday games!


All photos thanks to Peter Else



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