Home sweet home
Chris Burton catches up with Doncaster midfielder Mark Wilson, a man enjoying his football again.
Last Updated: 26/01/10 10:25am
The life of a professional footballer may appear to be all champagne and caviar - and for some it is - but for many it is merely a career which puts bread on the table and allows them to earn a good living doing something they love.
Most of us would give our right arm to trade places with any of them, regardless of the standard of competition, but being a top-level sportsman is no walk in the park and the rigours of life in the trade can sometimes go unrecognised.
For example, with one-club men such as Ryan Giggs becoming increasingly rare, the career of a footballer can carry them from pillar to post and back again.
Most will start out at a club close to home, especially with modern laws regarding travelling distances for Academy stars, but they are likely to hit the road sooner rather than later.
At the very top, opportunities can be limited and young players can often struggle to make the grade at their boyhood heroes.
This forces them to look further afield, upping sticks and starting afresh elsewhere.
As a starry-eyed teenager with few responsibilities, such a move can easily be made, providing the player in question has the mental strength to cope with life away from the security of family and friends.
However, as players get older, moving around can become increasingly difficult, with wives, children and extended families to take into consideration.
The issue is even more complicated for foreign stars, or British players heading abroad, with a whole new culture, lifestyle and possibly language to get to grips with, while still putting in a shift on the field.
This is a lifestyle undertaken by many of today's top performers, with the multinational nature of the sport, mega money and reluctance to grow stale in one particular place making transfers all the more frequent.
One player who has undertaken more than his fair share of travelling over the course of a 13-year career is Mark Wilson.
Born and raised in Scunthorpe, the ball-playing midfielder rose through the ranks at Manchester United, turning professional in 1997.
He struggled to make an impact in the first-team fold at Old Trafford though, taking in a loan spell at Wrexham at one stage, and headed off to Middlesbrough in 2001.
A whole host of stints away from The Riverside Stadium (at Stoke City, Swansea City, Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers and Livingston) littered his time in the North East and once again he never truly settled.
In 2005 he decided to try his luck in America, joining MLS outfit FC Dallas, but he was on the move again just 12 months later after deciding that life on the other side of the Atlantic was not really for him.
He headed back home, almost literally, to sign for Doncaster, where he has been ever since.
Wilson did take in a brief loan spell at Tranmere Rovers last season but, on the whole, he has been a staple part of the Rovers first-team picture during his time at the Keepmoat Stadium and admits that he is loving his football again after returning to his roots.
"I have been half way around the world, and now I'm back home in Scunthorpe," he told skysports.com's Chris Burton.
"It's nice to be at home and it's nice to be at a club that feels like home. I have been at clubs where things haven't gone right; I think I have had a good mix of that throughout my career.
"It has taught me to learn to live with the ups and downs, but I'm certainly happy where I am at the moment and I hope to stay.
"I have been playing regularly of late, which is always nice. I still feel as though I'm progressing as a player year in, year out and I hope that continues.
"Even though I'm playing I always feel that I'm in a place where I can learn and improve. It's important for me, I'm not going to say at my age, that I do keep progressing and I feel I am in the right place to do that."
The 30-year-old certainly appears to have slipped seamlessly into life at Doncaster, with the affable midfielder boasting many of the qualities which have become central to Rovers' footballing philosophies.
They may not be the brightest and brashest of sides but, having secured promotion into the Championship in 2008, they continue to punch above their weight and make steady progress year on year.
"Progress does have to be gradual, you can't get carried away by a few wins or a few defeats," said Wilson.
"At a club like Doncaster you have to be very balanced and understand the circumstances do dictate what we do and how we progress as a team. The gaffer (Sean O'Driscoll) is quite innovative and quite resourceful in the way we do things in-house, with the new ideas he comes up with to take the club forward without using money.
"That's a plus point to have a manager like that. Even if we can't spend fortunes on players, we are still improving as players.
"Ultimately where we finish in the league, and if we stay in the league, reflects on the coaches and the players. We want to stay in the Championship and hope something positive comes of that.
"We want to stabilise ourselves in the Championship and become a good solid club at that level. We can beat anyone on any given day and if you pick up a few results, success will come."
Doncaster currently sit 13th in the second-tier table, with six wins in their last eight league outings moving them to within six points of the play-off places, with games in hand.
Wilson admits it is important for the club to look forwards, and quietly consider what could be, but he insists that taking small steps in the right direction is more important than making giant leaps.
He said: "It depends on which players you ask, but some will be looking at it promotion-wise and some will be looking at winning the race to 50-odd points and making sure we are still in this division.
"I think whatever drives you to make that choice, either pushing for promotion or staying up, you have got to use that to your advantage. Every player might give a different opinion but whatever we can use to drive us forward in a positive way, we will certainly be looking to use.
"Ultimately, though, you always want to progress year on year. That's certainly the aim of the manager and the coaching staff and the players. If we finish higher than 14th, that will be an achievement from what we set out to do at the start of the season.
"Personally, I have started to look up the table rather than below us. I don't want to jinx anything but I think, with the way we are performing at the minute, there is no reason why we can't take points off the teams around us and climb a bit higher up the table."The attitude within the Doncaster ranks suggests that they could yet join the promotion push, with Wilson admitting that everyone connected with the club believes they are more than capable of holding their own in illustrious company.
"That's the mentality we have built up over the last few years," he added.
"I can guarantee that we go into every game thinking we can win. That is a genuine belief, it's not just words.
"I think at times in our first season we were looking at names when we should have been thinking, 'hang on a minute, they're big-name clubs but they are just players. They are good players, but we have good players'.
"Last season, in the end, we performed how we should have done and got a lot of good results towards the end of the season. This season you look at your Middlesbroughs, your Newcastles, your West Broms, and it doesn't matter. They have got names, and have been in the Premier League, but they can still be beaten on any given day."
How far Doncaster's journey takes them over the next few years could depend on their ability to retain the services of O'Driscoll.
The highly-rated coach was sounded out by Burnley in the wake of Owen Coyle's recent departure to Bolton Wanderers and Wilson admits it is only a matter time before another club comes calling.
"How long we can hang on to him I don't know," he said.
"There will be other clubs out there who want him and who will pursue him. It's understandable after what he has done for this club in the last three years.
"He has shown what he is capable of on a small budget. He has got us playing football and has got the players buying into everything he does. He is a credit to himself and he is credit to (assistant manager) Richard O'Kelly.
"Personally, I hope he stays for as long as possible. I am still learning from him at the age of almost 31, but I suppose he deserves a shot at the big time at a big club in the Championship or in the Premier League. He has earned the right to be there if he gets there.
"I think it is up to the club to understand that might happen. We have had three years of success. The manager has put every bit of himself into this club and he deserves his chance and his shot.
"It would be an end of an era in terms of what we have done so far, but it would the start of a new one for somebody else. Certainly at some point he deserves a chance, and for me he deserves a chance in the Premier League."