Aaron McLean interview: Motownphilly back again for Bantams striker

Photo: Bradford City FC
Photo: Bradford City FC

Bradford City striker Aaron McLean comes from a family where music is a cornerstone, and just as his career has progressed significantly since his non-league days so too has his listening range, although a spot is reserved for an old favourite.

A frequent goalscorer alongside Craig Mackail-Smith as Peterborough United rose from League Two to the Championship, the former Leyton Orient youngster also reached the Premier League with Hull City. A January transfer took Aaron to Bradford City and after consolidation in the Bantams’ first season back in League One he will be looking to help push the 2013 Capital One Cup finalists onto greater heights when the action restarts in August.

The footballing aspect of Aaron’s life naturally takes priority but every individual needs to find ways to unwind away from the demands of their profession. As he will reveal later on, Aaron has one interest that some may find surprising, but his liking for music is no secret.

“It’s involved in my life; obviously I’ve grown up around a musical family. My dad was a singer, my brother’s a singer, so I’ve always been involved in music and it plays a massive part.

“I’ve got a music label with my brother that I part-own. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have too much influence in it because obviously my brother’s the artist and he knows the musical background more than me, but I do try and show an interest.”

The Birmingham-born artist Bitty McLean, who had a number of UK chart singles in the 90s including three in the top 10, is Aaron’s uncle. Older brother Anthony is the singer/songwriter McLean, whose track ‘My Name’ reached number 10 in March 2010.

Anthony is also known for the likes of ‘Finally In Love’ and ‘Broken’, as well as working alongside some of the UK’s top urban acts such as Tinie Tempah and Professor Green. Smooth and soulful vocals have always been the preference of Aaron and one of the 90s’ most widely-renowned male groups, who are still touring today, took up a lot of his listening time back in the day.

“Growing up, I was a massive Boyz II Men fan. I love r&b and soul music so they were the ones I’d listen to.

“Today I like all different types of music, to be fair. I like r&b, hip-hop, old school garage, even your everyday pop music.

“The first song (I bought) was Boyz II Men – ‘End of the Road’. I can’t remember how old I was but the first time I had some money and was able to go and buy it I bought the cassette – that shows my age!”



When Aaron became a Bradford player in January he signed for two and a half years at Valley Parade. The goals didn’t immediately arrive but two in his last two appearances and four in 18 starts (20 games overall) offers encouragement looking forward.

Aaron got the decisive strike in the 1-0 win at play-off semi-finalists Leyton Orient in March and League One is a division in which he scored 17 times for Peterborough in 2008/09. Bradford have of course scaled considerably greater heights than the third tier in their history and with the euphoria of their aforementioned cup run and promotion in 2012/13 the ambition is there to climb back to English football’s upper reaches.

Phil Parkinson is the man tasked with leading that ascent thirteen years after the West Yorkshire side’s relegation from the Premier League. The ex-Colchester United and Hull City manager has twice guided the Bantams to Wembley, losing to top-flight Swansea City in the Capital One Cup final before going on to sweep Northampton Town aside in the League Two play-off final.

The cup adventure caught everyone’s attention as they knocked out Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa (over two legs in the semi-final) but returning to League One was arguably much more important. An 11th-place finish was sealed this season and Parkinson has begun reshaping the squad for the 2014/15 campaign.

Among the changes so far is the release of two players who will be missed by many at the club. For Aaron, he has a music memory of one of them, even if he can’t quite pinpoint which player it was!

“When I came here we had some music on. I’m not too sure whose it was but we were having like Elvis on.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against Elvis, I’m sure he’s very good, but for pre-match I don’t think that’s the kind of music you want to be listening to, to get you up for a game! It might have even been Gary Jones or someone like that.

“One of the old ones I’d imagine – him or Tommo (Garry Thompson)!”

In three years with Hull City, Aaron, 30, scored 13 goals and also spent time on loan with fellow Championship sides Ipswich Town and Birmingham City. Prior to his Ipswich loan, he featured a number of times in the first half of Hull’s promotion campaign of 2012/13, scoring the winner at Sheffield Wednesday.

With the Tigers in the Premier League, Steve Bruce gave Aaron his first taste of top-level football as he came on for Liam Rosenior in the 1-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane last October. Hull’s current longest-serving player is Republic of Ireland defender Paul McShane who despite injury and loans away with Barnsley and Crystal Palace remains a valued member of the first team.

Former Sunderland man McShane was mentioned on this site back in 2011 (when the interviews weren’t as in-depth!) by his one-time Hull teammate Richard Garcia. Australian winger Garcia gave a damning verdict of his track selection on match days but Aaron takes an alternative view.

“I’ve sometimes been the DJ and because it’s the dressing room I play dance or hip-hop. At Hull, it was Paul McShane and he’d play all different types of music.

“He’d play a lot of Irish music and a lot of old-school ones. He’d play people like The Kooks and a lot of music like that, that everyone can listen to.

“He was probably the best DJ I think.”

Hull’s multi-million pound double-signing of frontmen Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long in January raised some eyebrows but the duo ultimately helped keep the club in the Premier League. Irishman Long’s arrival from West Brom coincided with Aaron’s move to Bradford but he is the player Aaron would bring in if he was to record a cover version of a song.

“I’d choose Shane Long because Longy’s probably the best singer and plays guitar, and probably plays everything! He’d be the person I’d choose to be with me and it’d probably be a Boyz II Men song.”

Prior to his switch to Bradford, Aaron had a seven-game loan stint with Lee Clark’s Birmingham City. Past Blues players such as defender Curtis Davies and midfielder Darren Ambrose have discussed their own experiences of the team’s singing initiation procedure on here.

Aaron was no exception in that he was made to give a performance to his new teammates but he did manage to get away with it to a certain extent.

“When I went to Birmingham they wanted me to sing, but they just let me MC instead. I’m not too bad at MCing, I used to do it as a kid so I did that instead – it went down well.”

Aaron’s goal for Hull to see off Peterborough at London Road in September 2011 was an unwelcome reminder to Posh fans of their former striker’s capabilities. In just over four years with the club, he had scored a magnificent 83 goals, with 70 coming in the league.

He departed Peterborough for Hull at the end of 2010 with the memories of successive promotions from League Two and League One to keep hold of. As Posh moved up the divisions, Aaron formed a highly productive trio with Craig Mackail-Smith and George Boyd.

The three were responsible for 67 goals in the 2007/08 season as the club finished runners-up in League Two. It was however one of the lesser-known names that had the biggest impression on Aaron when it came to his initiation display – a young midfielder who didn’t make the grade but left his mark all the same.

“We had a young lad at Peterborough called Billy Crook. He had a little bit about him but he was fairly quiet.

“He got up and did a rap and the lads were just buzzing off him ever since that day! He’s the one that stands out for me.”

The 2006/07 season saw a clutch of players successfully making the step-up from non-league to the Football League. Aaron had joined Peterborough from Grays Athletic, while strike partner Craig Mackail-Smith had come from Dagenham & Redbridge. George Boyd was a signing from Stevenage and Championship Wolves had reaped the rewards of taking a chance on Aaron’s Grays teammate Michael Kightly.

Breaking into the professional game when coming from a non-league club is notoriously difficult and it is not possible without a tremendous work ethic. Little twists of fate along the way certainly play their part and good decision making is crucial.

Aaron, who started out in the pro game with Leyton Orient, can look back on a wise choice he made in 2005. With his time at Aldershot coming to an end, he had the option of joining Canvey Island or Grays. Canvey Island would hit financial trouble that resulted in dropping three divisions from the Conference in 2006 and they were offering Aaron double the wages that Grays were.

After seeking advice, Aaron decided to join full-time Grays over Canvey Island who were part-time, believing it would be more beneficial to his dream of making it in the Football League. He played under Mark Stimson at Grays, a manager he gives credit to for helping his progression, and his chance at a higher level with Peterborough soon arrived.

I put the question to Aaron of which player or coach’s influence has stuck with him the most during his time in football and he picked out a certain ex-West Ham, Everton and England striker.

“Tony Cottee probably. He’s probably the one who’s helped me the most in my career.

“When I was a kid at Leyton Orient he was my coach, you know, a striker’s coach. He’s probably taught me the most all through my career, when I’ve been moving or whenever there’s been spells where I’ve needed some advice.

“He’s been the person I’d always go to and he’s always given me good advice. He’s helped me a lot through my career.”

The nature of football means that situations can alter so quickly, whether for a player, a manager, a staff member, or for the clubs themselves. Sustaining a career requires an ability to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever the sport throws your way.



It also makes a lot of sense to put together plans for the future outside the game and Aaron is one who has definitely taken this on board.

“I try and concentrate mainly on football to be honest, but I’m interested in the stock market. I’m involved in a stocks company at the minute and that’s something I’d like to go into possibly when I finish football.

“At the minute, I’m just concentrating on playing.”

Since I started this site in 2011, the format of the interviews has expanded considerably. It was a couple of years ago that I brought in this regular concluding section and the responses in that time have offered some great insight.

Each player (with exceptions made for some of the younger ones) is asked to choose four of the best they have ever played alongside to join them in a fantasy 5-a-side line-up. When Brighton striker Craig Mackail-Smith picked his line-up he went for Aaron as his attacking partner. Would Aaron return the favour or would his ex-Peterborough teammate have to take up a place on his bench?!

“Goalie – I’d have (Allan) McGregor at Hull. He’s very good.

“Defender… I’m going for pretty attacking, players that can play! Defender – I’m going for Nicky Shorey because his left foot is an absolute wand.

“Midfielder – just for energy levels and ability – George Boyd. Striker – Sone Aluko.

“Apart from Tom Huddlestone, Sone Aluko’s probably the best I’ve played with technically.

“(Craig) Mackail-Smith is on the bench but only because of Aluko! I’m sure he doesn’t mind coming second to Aluko.”

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

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