To paraphrase Scottish poet Robert Burns, even the best-laid plans often go awry. Former Brentford midfielder David Hunt knows that all too well…
When Hunt – most recently seen taking part in our away kit marketing campaign – joined Shrewsbury from Northampton in May 2007, the club – who had missed out on promotion via the League Two play-offs just days earlier – ticked all the boxes; all the signs pointed to promising career progression, albeit hundreds of miles from home.
“My missus was pregnant at the time and wasn’t comfortable moving that far away from home but she supported me,” he recalls in an exclusive interview with BEES.
“It was quite a big decision but it was one that was tempting financially and the fact of the new stadium and what the club was going to try and achieve was great. I signed my deal, went to Shrewsbury, we moved house up there and we realised it was a million miles away. A three-and-a-half-hour drive for any family members to visit and when you have a child you need as much support as possible and it wasn’t there.Embed from Getty Images
“That takes its toll on your family life and the fact that I was always out and about with the football lads either training or socialising meant my missus was often alone, so that had an effect on the relationship. The manager himself who signed me said to me in the second training session of pre-season, “I didn’t realise you could actually play football, I only signed you for your throw-in!” I was like, “Wow, what have I signed up to?” It started to go downhill from there.”
In spite of his off-field doubts, appearances came thick and fast for Hunt, who mustered 29 games and two goals as the Shrews stuttered their way to a below-par 18th place finish in his debut campaign in Shropshire. The club freshened up the backroom staff as a result, including the appointment of a new manager, but a crocked Hunt was deemed surplus to requirements at New Meadow, though a further year on his contract remained.
A blessing in disguise perhaps, but they do say things have to get worse before they get better. In the age of the glitz and glamour of football, it probably couldn’t have got much more so.
“Andy Scott and Brentford showed an interest and at the beginning of the season, we’d agreed a deal,” he continues. “My missus and I looked at houses around the Maidenhead and Windsor area found a house, put an offer in and everything looked great. The stamp duty was going to be covered by the relocation money from signing the contract but then the deal fell through to join Brentford due to financial reasons, largely down to a previous agent.
“It was such a tough decision but we decided to take the house in Maidenhead and I commuted everyday. I was injured in pre-season so I had to be in at 9am; my alarm would be set for 6am and I’d be in my car by 6.05 ready to go up to Shrewsbury every day. It affected me mentally, physically and it was first time ever in my career I didn’t try in training. Anyone that knew me knew that wasn’t me, it just got to me that much.
“I carried on and nothing was happening so I went home one day and said to my missus that I was going to speak to the manager on the Monday and tell him to cancel my contract and not to worry about the money. He wasn’t in until Tuesday but before I even had the chance to speak, he said: “I think now is the right time to have a chat with you and let you know the bad news. As I’m sure you are aware, you’re not involved and we’re going to be terminating your contract, but we are going to compensate you and I wish you well. I’m sure if you had anything to say, you don’t want to say it now. I called up Andy Scott and signed for Brentford two days later.
“Brentford were in the top three in the league at the time, Shrewsbury were fifth from bottom and I told them that I had no clubs interested in me. I took a bit of a risk because I took a big cut in my wage, knowing that if I produced what I knew I could, they’d look after me the next season. I came down and it was the biggest feeling of relief ever.”
A SUCCESSFUL END TO THE SHROPSHIRE NIGHTMARE ENDS
Then 26 and closing in on 200 Football League appearances, in January Hunt was offered a deal until the end of the 2008/09 season and made his Bees bow in a 2-2 draw away at Lincoln within 24 hours of signing his contract. Granted, he knew that a starting berth in midfield would be difficult to claim in a side taking the league by storm and growing in momentum by the week, but when his chance finally came two months later, he took the shirt from injured skipper Kevin O’Connor with a heavy heart.
“I was happy to be on the bench, in a winning culture, happy to be around lads that I knew, like Kev O’Connor, who I’d known since I was 17-18,” he continues. “It was almost ‘Crazy Gang’ style in the dressing room every single day. It was the proper lads banter that I was used to in the youth team at Crystal Palace. We had great fun but the lads were always grafting hard; there was an air of competitiveness with different positions but I loved it.
“But everything happens for a reason, right? Kev got injured and, of all the people to have got injured, that’s the last person – personally – that I’d have wanted that to happen to, but the rest was history.”
Thrown in at the deep end to make his first league start for the club in a top-of-the-table clash with Wycombe in mid-March, a pre-match car accident couldn’t quite detract the midfielder from netting on his full debut. And what a goal it was: a curling free-kick that evaded every member of the opposition defence, before nestling in the right hand corner of the net. Game of the season, perhaps, but also 3-3 draw that gave Andy Scott’s men a vital point towards their final title-winning tally of 85.
“A lot of people don’t actually understand what happened at the Wycombe game where I made my first league start for the club and scored,” he laughs.
“On the way to the game, outside the Griffin Park, a Wycombe fan crashed into me and wrote off my car. I don’t know why, but it put me in a really angry mindset and I think that actually helped for the game. Ironically, the person who crashed into me admitted to my face that it was actually his fault; I went and scored against them and the next thing I know, there’s an insurance letter on my doorstep saying that it was my fault!”
Both the Bees and Wanderers carried their momentum for the remainder of the campaign, finishing in League Two’s top three spots to secure automatic promotion to the third tier and, having experienced the season at two clubs at opposite ends of the spectrum, Hunt says he ‘knew’ promotion was on the cards right from the moment he arrived in TW8.
“To be honest with you, I looked at all the competition that I’d already seen and I knew full well that it was going to happen when we went away to Shrewsbury and won 3-1, when Jordan Rhodes scored a hat-trick,” he recalls with a grin.
“We had all the right elements and players and it was a team that was ticking every single box. Andy Scott kept adding to the squad with people like Billy Clarke and I just knew there was no way in hell this wasn’t going to happen. But the day I knew there was no stopping us was Bournemouth away. I remember saying to Karleigh Osborne, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” and we ended up winning 1-0. I knew full well, that day, there was no stopping us, no chance.
And when the title was secured at Darlington? There were even harder celebrations than the day Andy Scott’s men lifted the trophy after a 2-0 win over relegated Luton at a sun-baked Griffin Park…
“We didn’t celebrate as hard as we did at Darlo when we won the league – Darlo was amazing with all the fans waiting when we got off the coach. The Luton game was different because I had my family there, had my kids on the pitch, all my mates were there, my dad loved it and every pub was rammed. When you’re leaving you can’t even get to your car because the fans are trying to rope you in to get p***ed! It was like a carnival atmosphere on the last day of the season, they were some of the best times of my life.
“I looked at the pictures the other day, saw Dave Carter with my arm around him and you really do appreciate how lucky you were to experience these things. People might say it was only League Two but you can’t experience those kinds of things unless you’ve been there.”
THE REAL CRAZY GANG
The following season, the midfielder remained an important member of the squad and notched three times as the Bees marked their first season back in the division with a ninth-place finish, but in 2010/11, he found himself out of favour, having been used incredibly scarcely, with just five appearances in the first four months of the season. Soon, it was time to move on.
“Crawley boss Steve Evans tried to sign me when he was at Boston and I wasn’t a big fan of his from what I knew but I just wanted to play. I went there [to Crawley] for a month and I wasn’t too sure at first because he was crazy! But then I started to really like it and that really was the Crazy Gang – I’ve never experienced anything like that.Embed from Getty Images
“There were certain conversations going on behind the scenes which my return to Griffin Park hinged on, but days before Andy Scott lost his job, I signed for Crawley, who had just been pulled out of the hat to play Man United in the FA Cup, on a permanent basis. Nicky Forster took over and tried to sign me back but everything was blocked because the deal was done. That was frustrating, but at the same time Crawley were phenomenal in regards to back-to-back promotions, being involved in the changing room and the fact we created history. The expectation level was far lower than that at Brentford, however, the relationships I built there, especially with the blogging as well; it was like playing for my hometown in a sense. And I played at Old Trafford as well, so not too bad!”
A subtle plug for his blog ‘Life of Another League’, there. His online sanctuary; a place in which to bring the trials and tribulations of a professional footballer to the masses. After starting the website more than five years ago, he was perhaps a trailblazer, yet leading a new era into footballers’ communication with fans was never something Hunt planned.
“It’s given me the edge over everyone else,” he says. “But that wasn’t the reason I did it, I did it because it was a sanctuary for me when I was going crazy at Shrewsbury. I watched Run DMC set up a blog with his son that was called ‘Life of a Jet Setter’ and I quite liked the ring of ‘Life of Another League” because people might look at that as another league in football. My brain was in another league, but that’s how they interpreted it, which was fine. I was thinking that if I was a fan, I’d love to see what life is like behind the scenes; how David Beckham travelled to a game or such and such. Alright, I’m not at Man United but I’m at Brentford and I can share it with them. And the response! I was warming up in games and there were fans shouting that they loved the blog and it was amazing! I lost the love of football further down in my career and stopped doing it as much – I’ve got back on it now – but I wish I’d continued it, I really do. That was probably down to Brentford and Crawley days where I was buzzing and after that I probably lost a bit of enthusiasm or maybe even the clubs were restricting me a little bit more saying that I couldn’t do it as much whereas Brentford were saying for me to do as much as I wanted, when I wanted. I think these things are important for the fans, especially when you are playing at the time, if you’ve got nothing good to say, put it in a blog, don’t say it.”
Two years with the Reds came to a conclusion in 2013 when he left following a mutual agreement for his release, and before long, two years at subsequent employers Oxford had flown past. It was then, in February 2015, that his career changed direction for the first time since he turned professional with Crystal Palace all the way back in 2002.
‘I FELT LIKE I WAS GOING BACKWARDS IN TIME’
“I was looking to come out of the professional game and again had an agreement for some compensation from Oxford United. I took a couple of weeks off to refresh my mind because it was still during the season and basically no clubs were interested in me, I mean no one.
“Whether it was Conference, League One, League Two, I said to my agent I’d go and play for peanuts but there was nothing. I took a week off, spoke to my missus and she said to me, why don’t you go and enjoy football and play with a local club like Maidenhead? Nicky Forster got in touch with me at Staines and I trained with them for a day but I didn’t get the vibe that Staines was right and then I got in touch with Drax [Johnson Hippolyte] at Maidenhead and he said to come down for training. I must’ve impressed because he wouldn’t let me get in my car! I said I’d sleep on it but he messaged me later on that night and offered me a pretty good deal. I went to pick up my phone to call him but, by chance, my agent called me telling me that Crawley Town were trying to call me.Embed from Getty Images
“Normally, if I was in my mid-twenties I’d have thought that was amazing but my heart just dropped and I had a really horrible feeling like going backwards in time. The next thing I know Dean Saunders has called me up and I’m just talking to him and he said I was a fans favourite and tomorrow they [Crawley] have got Sheffield United away, you’re going to be starting right-back; I wasn’t too keen on playing right-back anyway. He said he’d sign me on a month-by-month basis and I was not feeling that.
“I told him that I wasn’t going to do it and he went nuts trying to say to me that I’d never get this opportunity again so I hung up on him and then I called Drax, told him that I was signing for him and he said,” Are you stupid?! I’m buzzing, but you are an idiot!” I said that I just wanted to enjoy football so I went and signed for Drax.”
Ruislip-based Wealdstone was where he most recently plied his trade after an ‘interesting’ spell with Margate. But though he says he’s recently ‘got the bug back’, the sport in which he made his name has taken a back seat, for now, as David Hunt the businessman steps out from the shadows.
“I got involved in the [Organo Gold] coffee with Richard Lee and then got involved with crypto-currency, which is amazing. I’m still heavily involved in crypto-currency but also I’m back in the social media game where I’m helping people with their social media brands but also starting to build up my own blogs, vlogs and YouTube channel as well, which I have a passion for. I have ideas for football clubs to help them build their social media brands. Things that I know that fans would like to see, rather than just your generic stuff that is usually filmed, going in depth, giving certain insights that are pretty cool, and it’s great content for the fans to see.
“I have had offers to go back and play but whether I do or not, I’m not too sure. However, with the commitment side of things, it does put me off a little bit because going away in October, November, December on holiday is unheard of with me and being able to do that now is amazing.”
His closing feelings? A immense sense of gratitude, and belonging to a club he spent close to two special years with.
“I feel very, very fortunate,” he concludes. “To have had the chance to be part of a promotion, part of a club, and to be able to be recognised there at such a big club for them to come and be part of the kit launch as a supposed legend, I feel very overwhelmed here! The rapport I’ve got the with fans there, even with people behind the scenes like Peter Gilham and Bob Oteng, they make me feel so welcome and I’m very, very fortunate to have Brentford in my life.”
Originally featured in BEES 2018/19 Issue #2 v Sheffield Wednesday (19 August 2018)