HE might now be at the 12th club of his career and have lost count of the number of gruelling pre-seasons he has endured, but Jon Stead’s enthusiasm for his new adventure at Harrogate Town is more akin to that of a expectant teenager starting out in professional football.
Now 36,but still managing to retain the slightly boyish look of that wiry teenager who burst onto the scene with Huddersfield Town a few moons ago, Stead – who hails from Last of the Summer Wine country – is determined to eke out every last drop of his long and winding journey in the game which began at Town in the early part of this century.
A significant ‘down’ did arrive at his previous destination in Notts County after a mentally draining 2018-19 campaign, when the oldest Football League club sadly relinquished their 131-year status in the league after a 3-1 loss at Swindon Town.
While admitting that he harboured some initial doubts as to whether he wanted to continue playing, the clouds soon parted for Stead with the project of helping National League outfit Harrogate achieve their next step of clinching a Football League place stirring his soul.
Being part of something special back home in Yorkshire added to the allure.
The former Huddersfield, Sheffield United and Bradford City forward told The Yorkshire Post: “I have been working my way back!
“One of the big things is that Harrogate were really keen to sign me. When it is this early in the window and you have a club who are making you one of the top targets in that position, you have got to listen to them.
“I spoke to a lot of League Two clubs and although they were interested, you might not be their top target. I think I was in the position where, with my own coaching stuff, I wanted my future sorting and this ticks all the boxes.
“With the way the club have been progressing over the last three or four years, it has been fantastic. I just hope I can help them push to the next little bit.
“I do not want to just fizzle out my career, sit about and not play. I love playing; that is what has kept me going over all these years. I needed to be at a place where I was going to be in the manager’s plans.
“I have got that hunger to still be out there on a Saturday and have that thrill for it.
“Last season was really tiring mentally at the end with everything that went on at Notts County. It was probably the first time I was having a few question marks as to whether I wanted to put myself through it again.
“But as soon as you have been away for a couple of weeks, you get that hunger for it again.”
Being at Huddersfield, there was a real legend I could look up to in Andy Booth.Jon Stead
Primarily brought in to provide some hardened senior goal-scoring nous from a career which he seen him score over 150 goals in just under 650 professional appearances, Stead is also conscious that he will also serve as a sounding board for his new Harrogate team-mates.
Having looked up to the likes of Andy Booth, a similarly exemplary professional in his formative years at Town, Stead is now the senior man able to provide guidance and it is something that sits well upon his shoulders.
Stead added: “My favourite players growing up were the likes of Ian Wright – mainly because of the smile on his face and how much he loved the game. That is what drew me to the game.
“But being at Huddersfield, there was a real legend I could look up to in Andy Booth. And now my role in and around the dressing room is a little bit different.
“You notice things in training and little pointers which you can speak to players about and I feel like I have enough experience and presence to speak to younger players and help and encourage them. I enjoy that side of it.”
Focused on the day job he may be, but Stead is also making provisions for his future involvement in the game after his playing career ends by dipping his toes in the water on the coaching front.
He currently teaches youngsters two nights at week at the Shoot 5 indoor soccer venue at Silkstone and has taken his coaching badges over the past few years.
Imparting his knowledge on the art of what it takes to be a successful striker represents his obvious USP – and he admits that he is still surprised at the lack of specialist coaches in the professional game.
Stead continued: “You look at the NFL and how they work with the offensive and defensive coaches and I can remember coming through the youth system when we did finishing for ten or five minutes at the end of the sessions.
“The hardest thing in football is putting the ball in the net. It surprises me that there are not specific attacking coaches and ex-players at most top clubs as it seems like a good investment to help the forwards at any stage and try and get them in those important positions.
“The ones that are successful at the top end are the ones who have that instinct. I have not had that instinct and have had to work on it.
“I have never been that ‘fox in the box’ prolific scorer, but what I have done is learn the trade and where to be in the right place at the right time.
“That is something that you can drill into a striker early on in their development rather than waiting until they get into the game and a first-team environment. Still now, we do not do loads of finishing, unless you do it on your own.
“It is just repetition and a good opportunity to get some stuff in early doors and it is enjoyable as well. Every kid loves it when they get to the finishing part of the session and everyone is buzzing. Even the centre-halves.”
In terms of his wider future in the game, he added: “I am a bit open at the minute.
“I will have another couple of years playing and then will look at it again.
“If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said: ‘No chance, coaching is not for me.’ But as I have done my badges, I have really enjoyed it and got a bit of a bug for it.”
As for the here and now, well Stead is ready to immerse himself into everything pre-season has to offer. Good and bad, but mostly good.
On the number of pre-seasons he has completed, Stead said: “I am not really sure. But it is a lot.
“To be honest, I do not mind as I keep myself fit during the off-season. For me, it is a good opportunity to get the togetherness with the players and, if anything, that is more important as you are helping each other through it.
“When somebody is on their backside and knackered, somebody else is pulling them through.
“When you get those dark winter games and they are coming thick and fast, that is when you hang onto each other.”