Clayton Donaldson interview: Blues marksman lets the rhythm hit ‘em
In his first season at Championship level, striker Clayton Donaldson has led Birmingham City in the scoring stakes and made his presence felt, but perhaps not everyone is familiar with the various depths to the number nine’s character, including a lifelong bond with music.
The Football League story for the ex-Hull City youngster started in the fourth tier 12 years ago and there was undoubtedly much for him to go away and discover after those brief early experiences of professional action with the Tigers. In the past few seasons, the goals have flowed with regularity at Crewe Alexandra and Brentford, with his team-high tally of 17 in the league firing the latter of those clubs to the Championship last year.
Switching to Birmingham last summer, the Bradford-born frontman’s debut campaign at St. Andrew’s has seen him hit the mark on 13 occasions so far. A revival in form for the team after Gary Rowett’s arrival as manager in October saw them pull clear of danger in the second tier and Clayton has been providing forward play and a little bit more.
“I’ve been the DJ on and off,” he began. “At Brentford, I was one of the main guys who tried to have influence with the music because the stuff I listen to gets me going so it’s probably going to get other people going as well.”
“At Birmingham, me, David Davis, David Cotterill and Wes Thomas are the four DJs and it’s mainly hip-hop and r&b. Mainly at clubs I’ve been at, I’ve been the DJ from having friends in music who’ll send me links and there’ll be mixes from DJs on SoundCloud I’ll have on my phone.”
Clayton began his career on Humberside and married his long-term partner, who comes from Hull, last year. As he discusses more of the impact music has had on him he also highlights the singing endeavours of his wife, who came to the public’s attention back in late-2002 as she took part in the first series of a BBC programme that drew millions of viewers.
“I come from a music background; my dad would always play reggae. I used to do some MCing with my friends back in Bradford, and my wife’s also a singer.
“Her name is Pippa Fulton, or Pippa Donaldson now, and she was on Fame Academy along with people like Lemar. She’s done some singles and she’s been starting a band in Birmingham.”
After the undeniably pivotal role he played in Brentford’s promotion last term, Clayton has made some important contributions to his current side this season. Although Blues fans would naturally like to see the team hunting down the promotion contenders as we approach the final weeks of 2014/15 there is at least cause for optimism looking ahead and also in knowing that a repeat of last season’s truly last-gasp relegation escape is not necessary.
Clear of the drop zone by 12 points heading into this international break, Blues have earned 13 points as a direct result of Clayton’s dozen goals in the Championship this season. He gives a glimpse into the track choices that send him out onto the pitch in the desired frame of mind, and also the vibes he favours in his downtime.
“I’m into all sorts really; I like a variety of music. Before a game, I’ll listen to some bashment or reggae to get me going, and I also like r&b and hip-hop like Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West.
“I’ve also been listening to Sia’s album and then you’ve got the grime like Skepta, JME and BBK. I might listen to a bit of house while I’m getting ready if I’m going out; anything with a groove gets me going.
“I’ve seen Beyoncé live and she was amazing; she stood out because she performs but still sings to the same quality as if she was just standing still singing. I’ve seen Usher, Drake, and Jay-Z and Kanye together were off the chart.
“I’ve also seen Celine Dion and she was on another level.”
Growing up in Bradford, Clayton wanted to play professionally for Leeds United, the team many of his family members support. His younger brother Jahsiah was once a youngster at the club, joining as a 14-year-old in 2008 and looking up to his older sibling, who was then 24 and in the final few months of his time with Hibernian.
Like so many aspiring English players of his generation, Clayton’s footballing role model was Arsenal great Ian Wright and he recalls having the Gunners legend’s goals on video. When it came to music, one of his biggest heroes was also someone who inspired a huge number of people (to say the least).
“The first album I had myself was Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ and the second one was ‘Bad’. He was definitely one of my idols growing up and I also remember getting a Prince album at that time.”
Although he wouldn’t go as far as to compare himself to the former England striker, Clayton has managed to rise from non-league, up through the divisions as Ian Wright did when he moved from Greenwich Borough to Crystal Palace in 1985. One of his fellow Blues strikers also made it as a Football League player after initially plying his trade outside the top four divisions and Clayton picked him out as he recalled some of the highly-polished initiation performances of last summer at the club.
“At Birmingham, I sung Bob Marley ‘Three Little Birds’ and that got me through it. I always try to get the boys involved so that’s a good one.
“Funnily enough, there were nine of us coming in as new players in the summer and the standard was quite high. Wes Thomas did an Aloe Blacc song and he definitely impressed.”
A few weeks ahead of the January transfer window, Birmingham made a notable addition to their squad as they re-signed frontman Nikola Zigic until the end of the season. The giant ex-Valencia and Serbia striker initially left the club after his contract expired in June last year, but did Clayton get to see his singing skills once he returned to St. Andrew’s?
“No he got away with it but that would’ve been an interesting one!”
In October, there was a change in management at Birmingham as Lee Clark’s near-two-and-a-half-year tenure came to an end, with Burton Albion boss Gary Rowett his replacement. The one-time Blues defender has lifted the side clear of danger in his first few months at the helm, with nine Championship victories up to now.
A young manager with an element of style about him, has the Blues gaffer ever showed off a dance move or given Clayton and his teammates an indication of the music that he enjoys?
“Not at all actually! At previous clubs, the managers might moan about the r&b and hip-hop I put on but he hasn’t really said anything so far.
“I think he’s holding back for the end of the season and he might throw a few shapes then!”
Signing on a two-year contract, Clayton has struck some notable goals this season, including the dramatic equaliser at Derby County earlier this month after Blues had trailed 2-0 going into injury-time at the end of the game. In addition to his decisive double in the 2-1 win over Watford in November, he grabbed the winner at Rotherham United later that month, as well as netting a brace in the victory at Nottingham Forest at the end of December.
In January, he came up with all three goals as Wigan Athletic were swept aside 3-1 at St. Andrew’s. There is always a need for positive personalities in a team and a certain Welsh international winger who supplied an assist that day fits the bill in that regard, according to Clayton.
The former Swansea City and Doncaster Rovers man was his choice when asked which of his teammates he would get on board if he was ever to hit the studio and record a cover of a song.
“I would probably go with David Cotterill because he would just be funny. He’s a character, he’s into the same music as me and alongside his singing I’d shine!
“The song we’d do would be from Chris Brown’s new album with Tyga, ‘Fan of a Fan’, a song called ‘Ayo’. I’d be Chris Brown and he would be Tyga!”
League Two’s top scorer in 2010/11 with 28 goals for Crewe, Clayton was named both Supporters’ Player of the Year and Community Player of the Year after a Brentford campaign in 2012/13 in which he scored 22 and set up 13, as well as making an impact off the field. York City’s Clubman of the Year in 2005/06 (which is nothing to do with hyping dancefloor crowds up on a Saturday night), he has refined his game considerably in the years since and further strengthened his mentality in the process.
It is always worth listening to the lessons of life and the sport itself that players have been given by their time in football and Clayton certainly has some thoughts worth hearing. He also brings in another of his interest areas, hinting at where some of his efforts may lie one day in the future.
“Like I say, I’m into my music and when one of my friends or my wife are in the studio I’ll try to go along. I also went to a lot of fashion shows in London when I was at Brentford so those are my main two areas I’d like to be involved in after football.
“I think I’ve learned now that football doesn’t last forever. When I first turned pro at 18 I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got plenty of time’, but now I realise that it’s important to plan for the future.
“Invest as well because when you come out of playing it’s not the same wages, unless you go into management for example, and you see players going bankrupt. If I could turn back time and give myself advice those are the things I’d say, as well as that it’s not always a fair game, so be wise.”
Currently five clear of David Cotterill, it would take an impressive finale for the season for the wideman or any other Birmingham players to finish ahead of Clayton in the team’s scoring chart. Two other players to have ended seasons as Blues’ leading scorer are Mikael Forssell and Gary McSheffrey, both of whom have featured in their own music/football interviews on here.
Just like everyone else on this site, those two were asked to conclude their interview by placing themselves into their own fantasy 5-a-side line-up and to choose four of their best career teammates to make up the selection. It is now Clayton’s turn to become player-manager for a moment, so who would make his starting team?
As he began picking out names, Brentford defender Harlee Dean was initially in his two-man defence before he decided to go for a more attacking set-up. Ex-Hibernian colleague and current Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher was also mentioned, but Clayton chose to show that he has not forgotten someone who helped him hit such top form in front of goal when he was making his way up in the game.
“For a keeper, I’d choose Yves Ma-Kalambay. He was a unit and a really good keeper too, so I think in 5-a-side he’d take some beating.
“I’d have David Murphy at the back. His left foot is a wand, it’s a joke, and he could defend as well.
“One midfielder would be one of my good mates, Joel Grant. I was with him at Crewe, he’s one of the most skilful I’ve played with and could go past players with ease.
“One more…I’ll go with Mark Convery, who I was with at York. As soon as he got the ball his first thought was to look for me.
“He was one of the biggest reasons why I scored so many at York; he helped me a lot by feeding those crucial passes.”
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