IN his days on the professional football circuit, Jonathan Greening endured his fair share of criticism from opposition supporters.
Sporting long hair tied up by an Alice band with a matching beard for much of his time at the likes of Middlesbrough and West Brom, the Yorkshireman’s dishevelled looks ensured he got a rough ride from rival fans and players alike over his ‘distinctive’ appearance.
Do not think for one moment it is any different now he is plying his trade in the ninth tier of football with Northern Counties East League side Tadcaster Albion, with the 35-year-old going back to his roots. It is nothing to do with his hairstyle either.
Greening may now be shorn of those trademark locks – although he still sports a resplendent beard – but the jibes continue to come thick and fast.
While the chants of “Where’s Your Caravan?’ and ‘Jesus’ are now gone, they have been replaced by some pretty straightforward enquiries as to just why he finds himself at Tadcaster.
Moreso given a career which saw him pick up a Champions League winner’s medal, albeit for being an unused substitute in Manchester United’s famous win over Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in May, 1999, be part of Boro’s League Cup-winning squad of 2003-04, captain West Brom to the 2007-08 Championship and feature in the Fulham side who made it to the Europa League final in the Spring of 2010.
Delve a bit deeper and you should not be too surprised. This being a grounded if slightly unconventional bloke who used to drive his wife’s pink Mini into training at West Brom in a car park full of flash sports cars.
Posh men’s toiletry bags were out, too. Good preparation for his current spell at Taddy.
There is also the considerable fact of lining up with his kid brother Josh, which helped lure Greening to the Brewers, who have won an incredible 19 of their last 20 outings in all competitions.
Greening told The Yorkshire Post: “I do get stick and a lot say: ‘What are you doing playing here, blah blah.’ I just say you are a long time retired and while you can still play, just play.
“You do get some abuse from the lads here even, especially from the younger ones such as Paddy Miller. I just send them a picture of my Champions League medal and it kills them dead really.
“It is quite a good league, to be honest, and most teams try and play football. You do get a few places away from home which have not got the best facilities. But if you love the game of football, you do not mind going.
“It doesn’t matter what stadium it is, it is still a pitch and you get the same banter and goings-on – the same tackles.
“That’s what I enjoy. Once I stop enjoying it, I will probably quit. But, at the moment, I really am enjoying it.”
He added: “I thought I was going to play another year in the league, but nothing really came about.
“I went and trained at Hartlepool and my friend, Colin Cooper, was managing there at the time and I played with him at Middlesbrough.
“To be honest, they trained at Durham University and by the time I had travelled two and a bit hours there and got out of the car, I was feeling it. I am nearly 36 and was struggling to train.
“I just said to Coops, ‘I can’t do it, the driving is killing me.’ I then thought I might as well call it a day.
“Then, two or three weeks later, I got the opportunity to play 15 minutes from home. So I thought ‘why not?’ I am fit enough and I am really enjoying it.”
So are his Taddy team-mates, with the club, under the management of a seasoned non-league operator in Paul Marshall and the ambitious ownership of York-based employment company Inspire2Independence clearly going places, with the Conference North the ultimate aim. Do not back against it.
Most of what the club have touched has turned to gold on the pitch this season, with Taddy having won their last 11 matches and being eight points clear at the summit, heading into today’s NCEL Premier game at Worksop.
While Greening senior has done his bit, he has had to share equal billing with younger sibling Josh, who has fired 18 goals in all competitions already this term and is the joint top-scorer in the top-flight with Albion Sports’ Daniel Facey.
Playing alongside his brother was a major factor in luring Greening to the i2i Stadium, even if he is prone to the odd moan or two on the pitch.
Greening said: “A big factor coming here was getting to play with my brother.
“I actually sort of missed him growing up as I was away from home. So it is nice to play with him. He has been on fire this season and scored a fair few goals and been playing really well.
“He is a good player. To be fair, he moans more than I thought he would but he is the youngest of all of us, so he is probably a bit spoiled. He likes a moan on the pitch, while I am quite relaxed and laid back.
“Josh has been to most of my big games such as the ‘Great Escape’ season at West Brom and Wembley defeats in the play-off finals and FA Cup semi-finals and games in the Europa League. He has been all over.
“I remember when he was nine and I was 23 and he came to watch a Middlesbrough game and my mum and dad stayed at my house and it was dark.
“My brother decided to leave the house and go for a run around where I was living in Middlesbrough. We then realised he’d gone missing and were saying: ‘Where the hell is he?’ and the next minute, after about an hour-an-hour, he came back and said he had decided to go for a jog and did not have a clue where he was...”
For the first time in many a year, Greening, without his professional responsibilities, will enjoy an uninterrupted Christmas Day at his home near York – although he does have a December 27 engagement with Tadcaster at Bridlington Town.
But he does harbour wider ambitions for a second career in the game in the coaching realm, although for the time being his focus is on Albion clinching a cherished promotion.
He said: “It would be nice to win the league. In the past few weeks, we have not played to our best, but have won the games and that is all that matters.
“I know the owners want to push the club as far as it can go.
“Hopefully, I will get through the season, play as many games as possible and get the club promoted and we will see what happens in the summer.
“I know myself I cannot train every day like I used to and then play two or three games a week. Now I cut down the training and just go to the gym to tick over.
“The games are not a problem, just training every day, and the club are fine with it. I have got a lot of ambitions to coach and have got my Uefa B and A badges and I am doing my Pro Licence in May and I help coach at the academy at York City on a Friday.
“You never know what will come up; I have had a few offers from down south to coach, but it is a bit too far away at the moment.
“I am enjoying football in its purest form at the minute and that is what I like about it.
“My match socks tell me that, with holes in them and stuff like that!”
THE JONATHAN GREENING STORY
Born: January 2, 1979, Scarborough.
Previous clubs: York City (1994 - March 1998); Manchester United (March 1998 - August 2001); Middlesbrough (August 2001 - July 2004); West Bromwich Albion (July 2004 - August 2010); Fulham - loan (August 2009 - July 2010); Fulham (August 2010 - July 2011); Nottingham Forest (July 2011 - July 2014); Barnsley - loan (November 2012); Tadcaster Albion (September 2014 - present).
International caps: 17 (England Under-21s, 1999-2001).
Honours: Champions League winner (Manchester United 1998-99); Football League Cup winner (Middlesbrough 2003-04); Football League Championship (West Brom 2007-08); PFA Championship Team of the Year 2007-08.
Career highlights: Made 27 appearances for Manchester United and was famously an unused substitute in the Champions League final in May, 1999 with Paul Scholes and Roy Keane suspended. After moving to Middlesbrough, featured in the club’s victorious Carling Cup-winning campaign of 2003-04. The best years of his career were at West Brom with the peak coming in the 2007-08 season, when Albion made up for losing in the Championship play-off final to Derby in the previous campaign by clinching the title, with Greening being the captain and making 54 appearances in all competitions. Lifted silverware after a 2-0 win at QPR on May 4, 2008. Made 225 appearances in five years with the Baggies and later came on as a late sub in Fulham’s Europa League final loss to Atletico Madrid in May 2010.