The shrewd goalscorer Sydney FC get to call upon in Adam Le Fondre had the hard land of the English Football League on which to sharpen his craft. Teammates and coaches have played a part through the years for the man who struck double figures in his solitary Premier League season, though there is one prominent if unconventional tutor who never quite earns a mention for what he taught the former Reading striker.
Few over the last decade or so in English football have hit the target with the same kind of regularity as Adam Le Fondre, and the frontman long since known as ALF/Alfie has over 200 career goals to his name. Nevertheless, he flew very far from the nest last August in search of a new beginning, going down a storm as top scorer for Sydney FC as the Sky Blues became 2018/19 Hyundai A-League champions.
A Manchester United fan – he would actually score against them in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season –he was spoiled for choice through the 90s and into the 2000s when it came to sources of inspiration. Alongside the beautiful game, arguably music spawns most of the high-profile figures for kids and teenagers (adults as well…) to look up to.
Long before rattling the net became his livelihood, Alfie remembers nipping in to bag a controversial classic. The rush might have been ever so slightly less than that of hitting the onion bag on a match day, but it sticks in the mind all the same, two decades on.
“I remember stealing my brother’s Eminem, ‘(The) Slim Shady (LP)’ album. That was probably one of the first albums I listened to.
“As you can imagine, I was about 12 at the time, so it was filled with all great educational values!”
It is almost 15 years exactly (28th September) since he came on to mark his senior debut as a 17-year-old for Stockport County, sealing a 3-1 LDV Vans Trophy win over neighbours Bury at Edgeley Park with a fortuitous but unforgettable effort. The scoring knack only grew stronger in the years that followed, while in the sound stakes, the same genre from back then still resonates for Sydney’s number 9.
“I like r&b and hip-hop; probably Drake at the minute. I like a bit of Meek Mill, Rick Ross, but it all depends on what I’m going doing.
“I have different playlists for different moods, but normally if it’s anything to do with football, I like a bit of Drake, something like that. I like old-school rap as well because they’re probably better lyricists than they are now.”
Regardless of league standing or location, it is rare in football for a team not to have some form of backing track. From the changing-room music, to the club-specific anthems that fill the stadium air on match day, and then there are those toe-curling, knee-shaking initiation songs for new signings to conquer (but more of that later…).
Wideman Jobi McAnuff and midfielder Mikele Leigertwood were chief controllers in the booth for the Reading side that stormed to the Championship title in 2011/12. In another of Alfie’s most fondly remembered career spells to date, music claimed a part in a day he and all involved will never forget.
“I think every club I’ve been at, when you get a great win or result, you want the music on, you want to feel good. The time at Bolton, when we stayed up on the last day, we came in and sat down, and next thing you know, the speaker’s blaring and it’s just a big party, because you just want to celebrate it.”
— Bolton Wanderers FC (@OfficialBWFC) August 17, 2018
Having helped Wanderers to League One promotion in 2017, beating Nottingham Forest 3-2 at home in that May 2018 game he mentions ranks as one of his greatest achievements, he feels. Bolton were on a wretched run of six losses and a draw heading into the final day, and without the win, Barnsley would have stayed in the Championship instead.
In a game in which he provided two crucial late assists, Alfie opened the scoring, only for Forest to go 2-1 up with around ten minutes remaining. Prior to Aaron Wilbraham’s euphoria-inducing 88th-minute winner, the equaliser came courtesy of a man who earned (dis)honourable mention from Alfie when asked if he has ever put himself under the musical microscope in the changing room.
“I’ve never really put my phone up for that sort of selection; never been brave enough. Dave Wheater, though, he’s got the worst music ever.
“His banter was awful, and his gear as well! Great guy, but terrible banter and gear, and his music, too.”
The ex-Middlesbrough defender’s ‘Disco 2000’ (Pulp) initiation performance at Oldham Athletic recently did the rounds, and it came with characteristic enthusiasm from the artist known as ‘Big Wheatz’. For Alfie, meanwhile, he looks Stateside rather than to Sheffield to get him through such a scenario when joining a club.
“I’ve got two really: I’ve got Bon Jovi ‘Always’ and I do a mean rendition of Backstreet Boys ‘I Want it That Way.’ Big crowd pleasers they are.”
The ex-Rotherham United star went with the latter soon after he linked up with Sydney. Behind the scenes in Steve Corica’s team, a Sydney-born midfielder runs the playlist, with an emerging prospect also offering his credentials on the figurative ones and twos, as Alfie explains.
“We’ve had Anthony Caceres; he’s probably the DJ who’s been on it the most. There’s another lad, a young lad, Jordi Swibel, who’s been on it a bit as well.
“They alternate a bit, but I think with Cace being the senior player, he would probably be the team DJ. It’s just a little bit of rap/hip-hop, and then a bit of house and stuff like that to get you through the gym sessions and get you ready for training so you feel a little bit more pumped than normal!”
— Adam Le Fondre (@A1F1E9) May 19, 2019
Having seen the likes of Trey Songz, J. Cole and Usher in Manchester through the years, the star-studded RNB Fridays Live event in November is one Alfie would like to witness Down Under. Kanye West was another he ticked off the list, but if he could see anyone from all-time (living or dead, in their prime) perform, 2Pac would top the bill.
He may not now have the chance to make that happen (depending where you sit on conspiracy theories), but Alfie does remember a teammate back in England who disappeared into the night just like that famous Pac hologram!
“I’ve seen too many bad initiations really. I remember when I was at Reading, and I ended up playing with him when I was at Cardiff as well, Matt Connolly, he stood up to do his song, put his hood up, and ran off.
“He couldn’t do it; he ran back to his room, this is no word of a lie. It was at the dinner table so he ran off and couldn’t have his dinner.
“I think he paid the fine instead.”
What if he needed some dependable co-stars to collaborate on a cover song with? The only rule being that they have to have been teammates of Alfie’s at one point or another down the years.
For that incredibly likely situation, he has a couple of names to put forward. An ex-Reading and Bolton colleague would be ideal for the video or any live performances, while he reckons it would be a soulful cover they would come up with.
“I’d have Jem Karacan as my dancer; he’s a great dancer. There’s a lad I used to play with at Rochdale, Adam Rundle, who had a decent voice.
“Kortney Hause, who was at Wolves, he’s got a great voice. He’s at Aston Villa now in the Premier League.”
Like Alfie, midfield man Jem Karacan was also in the A-League last season, over at Central Coast Mariners. A move to a new league and a new country can often seem the ideal kick-start for a player, though many examples can be found of the desired new lease of life not quite materialising.
For Alfie, there were no such problems, and he has been a resounding hit at Sydney, with his 18 A-League goals helping catapult them to domestic glory last time around. Robbie Fowler (Brisbane Roar), Markus Babbel (Western Sydney Wanderers) and Tony Popovic (Perth Glory) provide the link to Premier League days gone by when it comes to managerial names for the upcoming 2019/20 campaign, while Sydney boss Steve Corica had several second-tier seasons at Leicester City, Wolves and Walsall once upon a time.
Describing how he has noticed a greater stream of chances in the last 15/20 minutes of matches, as A-League teams chase victories, Alfie believes less value is placed on taking a single point from encounters, compared to back home. Game plans aside, he fills in the details of the set-up he enjoys with his wife and three children when his footballing endeavours are done for the day.
“I live in Seaforth, which is Northern Beaches. I’m five or ten minutes from Manly Beach; it’s a really nice, quiet area really.
“I don’t really need to go into the city that much, but if I needed to, I’m 20 minutes away. It’s such a good vibe for my family and I love the area I live in.
“I love the local coffee shop as well; the coffee there is unbelievable.”
He certainly had a spring in the step as his late-season form was pivotal in pushing Reading all the way over the line and into the promised land of the Premier League seven years ago. To taste Championship title success was the icing on the cake, while bypassing the play-offs was perhaps extra welcome for Alfie, after Wembley heartaches with Rochdale (2008) and Rotherham (2010).
Winning promotion under Brian McDermott, before later playing under Nigel Adkins, his three years with the Royals are ‘definitely’ the happiest he has had in football.
“The promotion year, and even when we got relegated from the Premier League, we had such a great group there. The season after, we went to go again and just missed out (on the Championship play-offs) by about two goals on the last day.
“We had such a great group that it was hard not to enjoy going in every day and working with everyone, and that’s what you want as a footballer, to go in and thrive in the environment you’re in. Bolton when I went on loan (in 2015, scoring eight in 17) as well, the lads there were absolutely outstanding.
“The gaffer (Neil Lennon) as well. I loved my time there; it was great for me.”
Of his 14 goals for Reading in 2012/13, 12 came in the Premier League, as Alfie mixed it with Robin van Persie, Luis Suárez, Gareth Bale and the rest. Notching on his top-flight debut in a 1-1 draw with Stoke City at the Madejski Stadium, he helped offer some hope of survival for the Royals, hitting match-winning braces against Everton and Newcastle United, and who can forget the two late efforts to salvage a point at home to Champions League holders Chelsea?
There was the equaliser in the 3-2 comeback win over West Brom, and one against Arsenal, while scoring against boyhood club Manchester United (in a 4-3 home loss) in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year is a memory to treasure. Having lived the ‘other side’ of English football, to be scoring goals on Match of the Day is every bit worthy of all the classic clichés.
It seems only yesterday, but turning the clock back to seven seasons ago, did he find it surreal, or just another step along the way?
“Yeah, course it’s surreal. It’s what I’ve set out to do from five years old, to be a player in the Premier League and score goals.
“I always had that confidence and desire to perfect my game, and I always wanted to strive for more, even now at 32. I can’t rest on laurels, because there’s so many players in the game that you’re lucky to play the game professionally at all.
“I certainly work my tail off for everything I get and I look back on my career and think ‘I’ve done alright, for a little lad from Offerton to travel the world playing football and doing his dream.’”
Professional club environments may be nowhere near as merciless today as they infamously were two or three decades ago, though thick skin still qualifies as a prerequisite. Alfie can hold his own when the jokes and the jibes are flying, but dressing-room camaraderie aside, there is not a player out there who has sustained a career without hitting the less enjoyable times.
Alfie is no exception, as he explains.
“I went to Wolves, and really, I probably shouldn’t have gone there. It was getting close to the season, and a few broken promises, as happens with clubs.
“You can always look at it with hindsight, but they had a great group of lads there, which probably helped me get through that situation. It wasn’t a great year for me, playing-wise, because the six months before that I scored eight in something like 15 games for Bolton, so to go to Wolves and not really kick a ball had a big detrimental effect on my career really in England.
“You can always say that looking back; I could have gone elsewhere and done the exact same, so it’s one of them.”
It might well have been Owls instead of Wolves for him that season, with the 2015 summer transfer window clock ticking away and Sheffield Wednesday looking for someone to spearhead an exciting new era for the club. Carlos Carvalhal’s side would make the Championship play-off final that season, and though various details could have turned out differently if alternative choices were made here and there, it is one Alfie would have liked to have gone for.
“Wednesday came in for me at Rotherham (in 2011) and (Gary) Megson was desperate to get me. When I went to Wolves as well, the day I’d already give my word to Wolves to say I was gonna go there, Wednesday came in and said they wanted to sit down with me, but because I already gave my word I honoured that.
“Realistically, I should have just waited and spoke to Wednesday really.”
That interest came after his loan success under Neil Lennon at Bolton, which included playing alongside veteran international frontmen Emile Heskey and Eiður Guðjohnsen. Current Celtic boss Lennon was the manager he named without any hesitation when asked which gaffer he feels has best understood him as a player.
“Definitely him. He just let me do what I wanted, and gave me the utmost confidence in what I can do.
“He was literally just like ‘you’re one of the best strikers in the league, no one can stop you,’ so it filled my head with that sort of belief, and along with my own self-belief, it made me feel invincible more often than not.”
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He must have had some world-class luck in his career to find himself in the right place at the right time…over 200 times. In a game rife with opinions, some for show and some genuine, myths and misconceptions can spread all too swiftly.
Although social media, for all its drawbacks, has helped provide players with that right of reply, they can still often find themselves painted in an inaccurate light. Alfie considers whether that has ever applied to him through his career.
“I always got targeted as being lazy earlier in my career for some reason, when I scored a lot of goals. It’s always that preconception that a striker who’s always in the box is not working outside the box.
“I always thought that if you want to play to my strengths you don’t want me running outside the box and doing the donkey work for other people, but I understood when I played higher up that sometimes you have to do that. That was something that grew on me as a footballer as I grew up.”
Given his liking for a game of cricket during the summer in the early years of his football career, Alfie is perhaps all the more at home in his current surroundings. Family and golf dominate his free time now, though, along with the odd Football Manager session of course.
It was in April that he gleefully tweeted from Shanghai after leading Ashton United into League Two. While the virtual Alfie goes down as a legend in that part of Tameside, there is a club in real life just a few miles away who are desperate to return to the EFL.
Over eight years since Stockport slipped out of the Football League (after 106 years), before relegation again in 2013, the Hatters finally had success to celebrate a few months ago. After winning the National League North, County have made a steady start back in the fifth tier under club stalwart Jim Gannon, who Alfie played for at Edgeley Park as a teenager.
He may be 10,000 miles away, but he has taken huge pleasure at seeing his hometown club finally starting to climb back.
“It’s great after years of mismanagement to have a little bit of success, and hopefully this is the start of big things for Stockport, because realistically, they’re a League club, but been dealt a bad hand over the last few years. It seems as if they’re on their way back now.
“They were such a big part of me when I came through, sort of honing my skills there since I was about eight years old, so I love to see an old club like Stockport do well. For such a big club to be outside the League is a tragedy really, so hopefully this is the start of the comeback.”
As with every interview on here over the years, this one ends in enjoyable (albeit fantasy) surroundings, as Alfie is asked for four examples of teammates through his career he would be happy to fill his small-sided line-up with. There is no emphasis on choosing the best he has ever played with, but instead just a sample of the characters he knows would bring the necessary 5-a-side flavour.
You can count on him to rack up a few in this situation, but as he points out, he also likes to pluck them out of the corner as well.
“Well, definitely Mike (Michail) Antonio, who’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen in small-sided games. Him and Nick Blackman, those two are two of the best players I’ve seen for that; literally unstoppable.
“I need a defender really if we’ve got us three. Funnily enough, I am the goalie in 5-a-side nets sometimes!
“But I’d put Feds (Adam Federici) in net. I’d probably have to have one defender…(Adrian) Mariappa.”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow: @chris_brookes
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