“The game has went soft and I don’t like it” – Jason Talbot on modern-day football

This interview was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match Day Programme on Saturday the 21st of October 2017 in their home match against Livingston. Thank you to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website. 

Pars defender Jason Talbot has always had a “bad boy” image surrounding him, almost since the beginning of his career. However, the English left-back thinks it has more to do with the modern game, rather than the hard-but-fair playing still he has adopted throughout his career.

Talbot was heavily influenced in his career by his father and grandfather.

“From an early age I always wanted to be a footballer. Growing up with my dad and grandad and their love for football, it was just a progression really. I was aged 5 or 6 when my dad said I would be playing for the local team and my career has carried on since there. I would only be 10 or 11 years old when Euro 96 came to England so at that age, you don’t really appreciate the magnitude of the situation. Being a young footballer and a football fan, you are more buzzing that you might be able to go watch a game; it isn’t until you get older that you realise how big and important these tournaments are and what level it takes to play in them. My biggest influence I would say is probably my dad, overall. I almost fell into left-back because I was left-footed and being a full-back and left-footed is a position teams, especially youth sides, really struggle to fill – certainly when I was growing up anyway. I was small but aggressive so I feel it was the natural position for me.”

As a youth, Talbot had a taste of the big time with Everton and Bolton Wanderers.

“I got taken on by Everton when I was 13 and I was there for just short of two years – I didn’t like it! It was a lot of travelling and the whole Manchester / Liverpool connection didn’t go down well as I was the only non-Liverpudlian to be in the squad. It wasn’t the nicest of dressing rooms: I know I was only 13, 14 and 15 but it was still a long way from home. I decided to leave there and got the chance to sign for Bolton as a schoolboy before signing youth terms once I had left school. It was tough, don’t get me wrong. At that time, they had just got into the English Premiership so there was a massive change in the facilities, the players the club were looking to sign and you had to be capable of dealing with that pressure around the club at that time as there was a lot of press and scouts coming to games. I have always said my ability wasn’t great, and I have had to work hard on that aspect of my game over the years, but I did have a lot of determination to win matches and a desire to compete, and I think that shone through to the management staff.”

Talbot moved to Derby County for a month’s loan spell in September 2004 before making the short-term transfer to Mansfield Town for a similar amount of time in November of that year.

“The move to Derby was out of the blue, to be honest. We had just started the reserve league season and I was captain: bearing in mind I was only 18 at the time, so it was a big ask of me and great at the time. I got a phone call and told I had been offered the chance of going on loan to Derby. I was buzzing as it was my first chance to play first-team football. I snapped at the chance and I took it. I knew I was going to play as their regular player was suspended and they had a couple of injuries. I played against Wigan and West Ham in my opening two matches in the English Championship and it was fast! The opponent I was playing against, I think it was Jon-Paul McGovern, and he was highly rated and he was rapid too. All I remember thinking was “I am going to be in for a tough game” and I think I was taken off after 75 minutes because I had run myself into the ground. I ended up getting Man of the Match so I must have done well; I can’t remember what the scoreline was but I know I did well. The biggest thing I learnt was how much it meant: it doesn’t matter how much money a player is earning, they are doing it because they need to pay their mortgage and to treat their wife and kids whereas what I was learning in the reserve league was more a development of my own personal game rather than the bigger picture of what football is – a livelihood for a lot of people.”

“I never had any reservations going to Mansfield, despite it being a couple of leagues down. It was another loan due to suspensions and injuries and I did well but I got a weird injury and I literally don’t know how it happened! Basically, I got an abscess in my toe and I had to go to hospital and get it drained! It was very bizarre and it took me a while to get from that. When you taste first-team football, you want to be around it for as long as possible – I made my debut for Derby in front of 40,000 and that is what I wanted to aspire to doing more regularly. I done everything I could to break into the team at Bolton once I had returned and I did manage to get myself onto the bench for some cup games but it just wasn’t to be, unfortunately.”

Talbot moved back to Mansfield, this time on a permanent basis, but his time at Field Mill was short and sweet before he moved on loan to League One side Port Vale.

“I impressed in pre-season, hence the reason I started the season. Results just didn’t go our way though and unfortunately the manager got the bullet; the assistant at the time came in and for whatever reason I wasn’t in his plans despite playing 14 or 15 games already. There was no reserve football there and I was too old to play in the youth team, so, it was frustrating. When I went down to sign for Mansfield however, I got a phone call from the Port Vale manager expressing his interest in me but I had committed to Mansfield so agreed to sign for them despite it being a division lower.  They had kept tabs on me and I liked what the manager there had to say so I moved to Vale Park on loan.”

Talbot picked up his first red card of his career during that loan spell before picking up 3 more the following year, after signing a permanent deal with Vale.

“The first red card was harsh! I was a young boy trying to impress. I think I was just over-eager and wanted to impress further. I over-ran the ball and lunged: it was dangerous or malicious, but it was reckless. I was just trying to be the winner I always have been. I am a kid who has grown up on 70s and 80s type of football. That is how this sport was played; if you were the person to set the tone, then you did, and I am that guy. I have done it throughout my whole career from youth – I was always the first to go into a challenge and I think when I received that red card at Port Vale, I knew it wouldn’t be my last!”

“I signed a 2-year-deal at Port Vale that summer and that was the stability I needed. I wanted to knuckle down, work hard and make a name for myself as that is all I wanted to do. I was a determined player who wanted to make a good living for myself and my family. I made a few mistakes by getting sent off and all of this palava. At that time, I was getting a lot of bad publicity in the press – nationally and locally. It was all about me getting sent off again, making reckless challenges, questioning if I am a dirty player…I think the name almost sticks with you, especially down south. You want to stick up for yourself but what you find quickly is if you fight your corner, more times than not, you are going to get into trouble and the more your name gets put about. I didn’t want to be known as this kind of player but unfortunately I have always been tenacious and aggressive. It was my desire to win and my determination to get to the ball first.”

After 24 months, Talbot left English football to join Livingston, where he had a 7-year-spell with the Lions.

“I asked for my name to get put around in Scotland as I had been told to take a chance up north if it came about as the standard isn’t as bad as what people think it is in England. It gave me a new start and a new life – a whole new chapter in my career. It was a positive move for myself: one aspect I loved the most was the physical side of things. I remember one match particularly, ironically against Dunfermline under the floodlights at East End Park and it was fantastic to get involved in. There was a good atmosphere within the ground; the Pars side was strong and physical and I just loved everything about it. I have always said over the last 10 years, since I moved to Scotland, that the game has went soft and I don’t like it one bit because I am an old school player – I want to slide and I want to tackle and I want to get physical because I want to win that battle first: that is what this sport is all about, right? You win the first tackle and then you get your flair players on the ball – that is what the game has always been about. The old saying is ‘you have piano players and piano carriers’ and I am certainly a piano carrier because I got on with my job and I do what I need to do. Everything I do or anything I receive, it is all just a part of football and I get on with it and that is what I think everyone should do.”

Since joining Dunfermline three years ago, Talbot feels he has mellowed as a player.

“I have worked on the attacking side of my game a lot more since I have moved here. I began that process when I joined Livingston and I have implemented that since I have gotten here alongside the help of the manager, Sandy [Clark] and Potts [John Potter] who have all had a big influence on my career. The quality of balls and the type of balls they want into the box, as well as my positioning for picking up second balls if they come out to the edge of the box are just some of the things I have brushed up on and I think I have improved massively since I joined here. I have mellowed as a player, massively so. It didn’t start that way, against Hibs in pre-season; all I wanted to do was go win the ball and looking back, I don’t think it was that back. All the ref had to do was say to the gaffer “put him on the bench and sub him” – there is no need to send players off in friendlies, especially as he didn’t even come in with a challenge so I didn’t even tackle the boy! Potts and Sandy have had a massive part to play in me mellowing – they talk me through things and tell me to use my head more than my heart as sometimes my heart gets carried away with itself. It has helped as I tend to be in a more anticipatory positions now rather than reacting to things as they happen: I am more proactive now in being able to tackle without tackling the person, if that makes sense?”

“The one last year, where I got sent off against Queen of the South, was a 50/50. If I had went down screaming on the floor like a little girl, maybe I wouldn’t have got sent off. The fact that he is one of my best mates from our time at Livingston, it really annoyed me! He knew that if I went in for the ball, that is how I was going to go in for it but in general, aye, I would agree I have calmed down a lot as a player. I am on 80-odd appearances now, I am hoping I can stay fit and suspension free long enough to reach my century this campaign – I am sure I can manage that! I think, this season especially, I feel a lot more complete as a player – strength wise, fitness wise and overall as a player.”

Looking ahead to today’s match and Talbot has no sentiment towards the Lions, despite him enjoying his spell at Livi immensely.

“It has to be game-mode; it is part and parcel of football. You can do whatever you want before the game or after the game, but, as soon as I cross that white line on a Saturday, I don’t care if you are my best mate or not, I am going to smash you because I want to win. As I keep saying, I am old school – I don’t go round saying to players “have a good game” as I want to win and all I care about for 90 minutes is making sure I help my team out the best I can to help us achieve the ultimate goal – three points.”

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