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Bourne Legacy: Paul Mitchell


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

A chat with Paul Mitchell, who burst onto the scene with Cherries and country as a young player, before injuries took a cruel hold over his career.

Representing England as a teenager and thrust into the Cherries first team aged just 17, a career that promised so much for Mitchell eventually only heralded a total of 18 AFC Bournemouth appearances.

A Premier League showing for West Ham United came before injuries took hold and despite success later in his career with Torquay United and Barry Town, he was forced to retire before the age of 30.

However, in recent seasons Bournemouth-born Mitchell has still been a regular on matchdays at Vitality Stadium, working in the press box as a statistician for Opta and seeing how the current Cherries are able to perform at the level he had within his grasp as a player.

You were hotly-tipped from a young age with the Cherries, how did you first arrive with the club?

I played locally and used to come up against Jamie Redknapp a lot, he was also playing a year up himself.

Harry knew me from then as we had great midfield battles and it went from there. He got me into the club and I was training there from the age of 12 or 13 and then joined the school of excellence.

Like Jamie, I was training with the first team at 14 or 15, that’s how it started.

Compared to the Premier League now, how was the pathway then for a promising young player?

It was so different! I was speaking to Eddie Howe about this the other day, at our age it was the school of excellence and before that there was nothing. You came in for an hour-and-a-half a week, and that was it.

That was at 13 and before that it was just playing local football. When you see now with kids aged six training two or three times a week with the facilities they’ve got it’s amazing.

You represented England and were at Lilleshall as well, how did you get that chance?

I had the Lilleshall trials, having been put forward by Harry, got through those so spent two years there and won just over a dozen caps.

I then carried that on to the England under-18s, having the opportunity going around playing for England was great.

You made your Cherries debut aged just 17, how did you get into the first-team picture so quickly?

It was just from being there or thereabouts. The reserve league wasn’t the greatest but you had games there and then you played others in the youth team.

At our age we had some good players including Keith Rowland and Neil Masters and we were all close. Then I had a really good pre-season and they gave me my chance, it’s just a shame it only lasted one game because of my knee.

You moved on to West Ham, how did that move come about?

I’d had another injury and had gone away in the summer to Norway, came back and was flying, doing really well.

Tony Pulis was in charge and we didn’t really see eye-to-eye, then the opportunity came up with a couple of clubs. Pulis threw me out, so it was a case of me being on my way.

And you made an appearance in the Premier League for the Hammers…

I played once in the Premier League, I came on as a substitute against Blackburn – and that was the year that Blackburn won the league, they beat us that day so I had a hand in the title!

I was in the squad a few times, in those days it was only two subs, not the big squads you have now. It was great to go to all the big grounds, Manchester United and the like.

When did the injuries start and how did they go on to end your career?

It was a progression, it wasn’t one injury. I broke my leg quite badly when I was 14 at Lilleshall, did my tibia and fibula and dislodged a growth plate, and it was touch-and-go whether I’d play from then on.

With the best rehab I got at Lilleshall I got back, then had a knee operation on the cartilage. In those days there was never an MRI, they went straight in and that probably wasn’t the best thing they could do, just taking bits away. It was one leg, then the other, then the groin because you’re compensating.

In the end I had 16 operations, and they’re still going now, I had one a few years ago just to keep going. Now it’s waiting for knee replacements, which I can have whenever I feel ready.

When did you retire from the game?

I was about 29, at that time I was at Barry Town, a nice move for me as I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

They had a good team, full of ex-league players and they were paying more money than Torquay United were. It was a no brainer and I had a couple of friends there from my Torquay days.

It wasn’t the best standard but your whole season was geared up to playing in the FA Welsh Cup and playing in the Champions League qualifiers.

We were lucky enough to win the cup, so it was a nice time there, I knew I was just counting down the days really.

What did you do after hanging up your boots at that time?

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag. I came out of football and worked for Lush cosmetics, I had a friend there and started on the factory floor.

Within a few years I was a manager and stayed there for eight or nine years before going back into football.

I worked for a charity called FC Foundation, going into schools and doing events, while the charity itself did sporting wishes, so working with terminally-ill children.

That got to the stage where I couldn’t even get out of my car when I was coming home. I used to sit there and have to wait for my knees to work again, so I had to stop that.

I’ve fallen on my feet now and have a cleaning company and that’s what I’m still doing now.

This feature first appeared in the Wolverhampton Wanderers edition of the club's MATCHDAY programme last season.

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