Andy Welsh rues decision to pull plug too early on proud professional career

STEPPING back from professional football at the age of 30 was a decision taken too early for former Premier League player Andy Welsh.

Andy Welsh: In charge of Ossett.

The Manchester-born midfielder finished his playing career in non-league with Ossett Albion before taking his first job in management at Ossett United after making appearances in England’s top four divisions.

The 36-year-old’s desire to succeed as a professional was displayed when he sent letters to numerous clubs asking for a trial.

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He received responses from Huddersfield Town and Stockport County, who were a Championship club at the time, and after travelling to both clubs he opted to join Stockport, making his debut in October, 2001.

His form at County earned him a contract at Sunderland, where he played under Barnsley-born Mick McCarthy.

Welsh helped the Black Cats earn promotion to the Premier League in the 2004-05 campaign before the north-east club made an immediate return to the Championship as they picked up just three wins in the top flight.

“Sunderland is certainly a place I hold in the highest of regard and Mick McCarthy even more so,” he said.

“He is one of the best managers I have worked with and one of the best managers outside the Premier League who is not coaching at the minute.”

Welsh also had spells at Leicester City, Blackpool, Yeovil Town, Carlisle United and Scunthorpe United. He dropped into non-league in 2014, joining FC United of Manchester before signing for Farsley Celtic.

“I probably stopped playing professionally a little bit prematurely,” he admitted.

“I had a knee injury at Scunthorpe and the offers I was getting weren’t enticing me to carry on at a professional level.

“I didn’t mind dropping down levels and I still wanted to keep my standards high and I went to Farsley and I enjoyed it there.

“I think I got about eight goals in 20 appearances, it was just a case of continuing to play and enjoy the game. At that point, I decided to really focus on my coaching and didn’t play for a couple of seasons.”

As someone who was born in Manchester, Welsh particularly relished his away debut in the Premier League as Sunderland travelled to take on European Champions Liverpool at Anfield.

He was sent off with 15 minutes to go for an innocuous collision with Spaniard Luis Garcia before having the red card overturned on appeal.

“I just wanted to do my best for myself and the club and with the second game of the season at Anfield and being a Mancunian, I was buzzing. I could not wait.

“We lost 1-0, Xabi Alonso scored a free-kick. The sending off was debatable, it got rescinded and I played the next game against Man City at home.

“I was able to stay in the team and carry on getting starts in the Premier League, and in some of the games I just remember being stood there having a smile on my face.

“The Tyne-Wear derby away at Newcastle was memorable. In the warm-up, you are looking to where the families are but you can’t see them because they are that high up.

“I also played against Man United and Cristiano Ronaldo, who was on the same side of the pitch as me. He wasn’t the superstar he is today but I played against him and Wayne Rooney and one of the best players to ever grace the Premier League in Paul Scholes. I got his shirt after the game.

“Having been able to play against these great players, makes me immensely proud of what I achieved.”

After relegation, Welsh was in and out of the Sunderland team and had loan spells at Leicester before making the leap across the Atlantic to join Toronto FC in their inaugural season in the MLS in 2007.

He scored his only goal for the Canadian outfit in a 1-0 win over Houston Dyanmo, a week after the club had recorded their first triumph with a 3-1 victory over Chicago Fire.

“They had their first win against Chicago Fire, it was incredible,” he added. “It was a 20,000-crowd sellout and they decided to give everyone these seat covers and we scored and everyone decided the seat covers could be used as frisbees, so they all ended up on the pitch. It took about 10 minutes for the game to get going again. I played against some top, top players out there.”

Welsh is currently running coaching sessions on his Forza Football Academy Facebook page, helping to keep people entertained during lockdown.

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