Stevenage central defender Jon Ashton spoke to the official website this week after the final game of the 2012/13 season; a year that began well but soon turned sour for the 30-year old, but one that also gave him a lot of time to learn.
He played a big part in the defence that remained unbeaten at the start of the year and that was despite a large turnaround of players in the summer. The future certainly looked bright and Ashton remembers back to the early stages of the campaign.
“Gary brought in a lot of new faces, it seemed like we all gelled together well, that happened quite quickly and we got off to a good start – unbeaten in 12 games.”
At the time the togetherness was attributed in large parts to a pre-season trip to Dublin. Stevenage had two games and both were seven-goal thrillers. The first a large win over St James’ Gate and the second a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Irish Premier League side UCD.
Speaking about the trip, Ashton told us, “When you have a lot of new players together, those sort of trips help you to all sociailise and to get to know each other and form relationships early on. It definitely helped the team.”
minute tap-in. Still, the point meant that Stevenage remained unbeaten and just four points away from Tranmere Rovers at the top of the table.thThe season soon got under way and in the blink of an eye it was late September– Boro had drawn 2-2 at home to Bury, coming from a goal down to lead 2-1, only to surrender to substitute Mark Cullen’s 86
45 minutes prior to the final whistle something had happened though – Ashton hadn’t come out for the second half. After picking up an injury he was replaced by Oliver Risser at the break.
Boro Physio Paul Dando remembers that moment well, and told us “The injury he picked up against Bury was separate to the one he is currently out with now.
“He came off with a small tear in his right Achilles which caused him significant pain; he put in a lot of hard work in the gym to come back even stronger but shortly after returning to full training he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Understandably, Jon was devastated as this was an unexpected setback considering how well he was progressing.
Dando paid tribute to Jon’s attitude whilst out injured, continuing, “Jon is a professional of the highest standard in everything he does. His attitude, work rate and commitment are a credit to himself and he is a big personality around the club.”
Jon himself spoke of the heartbreak at suffering consecutive, unrelated, injuries, saying: “I knew I’d be out for a while when the first injury happened but I didn’t anticipate coming back from that and then getting injured again.
“It was gutting – having a long term injury is a mental battle as well as physical. I was buzzing to get back out onto the training pitch with the boys and then for it to happen again that was gutting.”
His time on the sidelines has meant that he has found himself watching a lot of football, and despite enjoying the atmosphere of the Lamex he admits that it is one of the worst things for a footballer to have to do.
“I hate it, I’d rather not be there to be honest. It’s even worse when we are losing games.”
He continued, “If it’s for a couple of games then it isn’t too bad because you know you’ll be back out there soon, but months on end when you just have to watch – I’d rather not be there, I hate it.”
When Gary Smith departed and Boro were without a manager for trips to Tranmere Rovers and Crawley Town, Jon was asked by Chairman Phil Wallace to assist Captain Mark Roberts and Head of Youth Darren Sarll and take to the dugout for both games.
It was an experience that taught the former Leicester City trainee a lot and also gave him some more enjoyment after a long spell in the stands.
“I hate just watching from the side but getting in amongst the lads again and being in the dressing room before the game, I loved that.
“I learned a lot, I think I could see myself in a managerial role or as a coach in the future. I think I’ve still got a few years left in me yet as a player. But it is definitely something I’d consider in the future.”
That spell may well have come to an end when the new manager came in, but after Graham Westley’s appointment Ashton was asked to stick around on the bench. It is a manager he knows well and has enjoyed a lot of success with in recent history and on the return of the man who helped take Boro from non-league to League One Jon spoke with a lot of respect. Ash told us, “He has a proven track record here. Everyone wants to be successful and win trophies and medals so I’m hoping that he can bring the good times back.”
Another change at the club has been some of the facilities, and despite having a brilliant training facility in the form of the Shephalbury Sports Academy, that is now a second base to the Bragbury End Training Ground.
Having moved in little over a month ago and now training there on a day-to-day basis, Ash is delighted with the standard.
“It’s amazing, considering where the club was when I first joined four years ago – where the club is now is unbelievable and fantastic. The new training ground is probably one of the best that I’ve been at and it is lovely coming to work every morning.”
But did Jon expect such a rise when he signed on the dotted line for Stevenage in January 2009?
“You’re always ambitious and I knew the club could get to this point one day, it’s just great that has only taken a short amount of time.”
man this season!”thAs the chat with Jon came to a close he gave a message to those that have followed Stevenage home and away this year, simply saying: “Thanks for your support and for being the 12