BIG INTERVIEW: Andy Russell

Net aaset: Andy Russell is making a new start with NPL Premier Division outfit AFC Fylde
Net aaset: Andy Russell is making a new start with NPL Premier Division outfit AFC Fylde
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AFC Fylde new boy Andy Russell has left his new team-mates slightly puzzled during pre-season.

The swashbuckling defender made the move to Kellamergh Park this summer after spending three happy years at near neighbours and NPL Premier Division rivals Chorley.

But having been born on the South Coast of England and spent the majority of his childhood in Hong Kong, Russell – who has now settled in Salford Quays with his Preston-born girlfriend Helen – has no discernible accent.

It has led to his fellow members in the Coasters’ dressing room playing a guessing game as they try to distinguish where in the world the likeable 25-year-old hails from.

Russell admits – up to now – no one has been able to guess correctly his past whereabouts.

But having spent the majority of the last seven or eight years living in the North West, since returning to these shores to study for a degree in business management at Manchester University, he is beginning to feel more and more like a ‘proper northerner’.

Russell said: “I was actually born in Southampton and I moved to Hong Kong with my family when I was 18 months old.

“It’s funny really, when I turn up in a dressing room for the first time, all the lads try and figure out where I come from because of my accent.

“I actually grew up in Hong Kong – my parents still live there.

“My dad was working for an American company and he got posted out there.

“We were only meant to stay for five or six years, but my mum and dad loved it so much they’ve been out there for the past 23 years or so.

“I lived in Hong Kong until I was 18 and then I came back to the UK to go to university in Manchester.

“I have been very fortunate really – it’s a fantastic place to grow up in and live in.

“But I’m settled now in the North West.

“I live in Salford Quays with my girlfriend, who is actually from Higher Penwortham, in Preston.”

Although Russell left his parents’ home in 2005, he did make a fleeting return to Asia in 2008 when he signed as a professional footballer for Happy Valley AA, who play in Hong Kong’s First Division.

Historically, they are one of the most successful teams in Hong Kong having won the league title on six occasions – most recently in 2006.

And Russell has fond memories of his time playing in the part of the world he grew up in.

He said: “After I finished university, I went back to Hong Kong and played in the professional league over there during the 2008/09 season.

“That was a great experience, very different to playing in the UK.

“But after a season, I just felt a move back to the UK was the right thing to do at the time.

“That’s not to say I won’t ever like to go back.

“One of my closest friends Jack Sealy plays for a team out there called South China AA and they are playing in the Asia Trophy this month against Manchester City, Tottenham and Sunderland.”

Although the standard does not compare to the game over in England, the league is able to attract players from around the globe.

And it was a valuable experience for Russell to be afforded the chance to train and play as a professional.

“The standard of football in Hong Kong is a funny one,” Russell said.

“Everything which the English game lacks, you had over there, and everything the Hong Kong game lacks, you have over here.

“There was a very slow tempo in games, which you don’t find in England.

“But there wasn’t the same physicality which you associate with the English game.

“There are only 12 teams in their First Division and the contrast between the teams at the top and the teams at the bottom is huge.

“I played for a side, who was average, but we would still be beating teams at the bottom 9-1.

“You would get a lot of players coming over from Brazil and Africa – all around the world really.

“Some of those players were of a very high standard.

“There weren’t too many household names, but Nicky Butt – the ex-Manchester United midfielder – came over and played for a few months.

“Mateja Kezman, who used to play for Chelsea had a spell over there as well a couple of years ago.

“We were professional and so we used to train every day.

“Obviously, it was a great experience doing something I loved full-time.

“We had a really laid back coach who would only make us train for a hour-and-a-half per day.

“To be honest, I did not like that too much.

“I prefer to do a lot more training and take it a lot more seriously and professionally.

“But probably looking back, I should have taken it for what it was and enjoyed my time there a little bit more.

“I actually wish I had written a blog about my time because it was a very enjoyable experience.”

After returning to the UK, Russell joined Mossley in the NPL First Division North and found employment with sportswear giants Adidas.

He joined Chorley in 2010 when manager Garry Flitcroft took over the managerial reins at Victory Park.

His first season ended in glorious fashion when he helped the Magpies win promotion from the First Division North via the play-offs – ironically at the expense of Fylde in the final.

The season after, he went on to play a starring role in the final of the prestigious Lancashire FA Trophy.

Trailing 1-0 at the interval to Kendal Town in the showpiece match at Bolton Wanderers’ Reebok Stadium in front of nearly 3,000 spectators, Russell – who was named man of the match – levelled matters shortly after half-time with a header from a corner.

And Chorley ensured they lifted the trophy when Adam Roscoe hit the winner in the 66th minute.

The Magpies then went on to reach the play-offs for a second successive season that year, although they lost in the semi-finals to FC United of Manchester.

Despite enjoying so much success during his time at Victory Park, Russell – who is a centre-half by trade but can play in either full-back position – felt it was the right time to seek a fresh challenge.

“It was a big decision to leave,” Russell said.

“I’ve had three fantastic years there.

“All the major highlights in my football career so far have all happened there – what with the play-off final victory funnily enough over Fylde in 2011. Then we had the night at the Reebok Stadium where I scored and was named man of the match.

“Some of my closest friends in football are still there, people like Dale Whitham.

“The club has an unbelievable fan-base, which is rare to find at that level of football.

“They are so passionate. I will definitely miss the club.”

“But I just felt I wasn’t realising my potential as a player at Chorley.

“I needed a new challenge – a new start.

“I want to be pushing myself to try to play at a higher level and I just felt every season had become the same.”

Russell had a number of offers from clubs during the close season but plumped for Fylde after hearing what manager Dave Challinor had to say.

The Coasters have enjoyed some great times in recent seasons.

They won promotion to the NPL Premier Division as champions the year after losing to Chorley in the First Division North play-off final.

And in their first ever campaign at this level last season, they reached the play-off semi-finals, where they lost to Hednesford Town.

The club was also buoyed last season by a run to the FA Cup first round proper, where they lost to Accrington Stanley at Kellamergh Park.

Russell said: “I spoke to a number of clubs over the summer, but then after speaking to Dave Challinor, I really bought into what he was saying and what he is trying to achieve here at Fylde.

“His professionalism and ambitions kind of match mine as a player, and the way I conduct myself in training and outside of football as well.

“I like some of the signings we have made over the summer. The manager has made some really good signings and there are a lot of good players already here.

“I have been impressed in training since I came here.

“I really felt it was an opportunity to play for a club who are going to be right at the top of the league.

“I am well aware of the club’s long-term ambitions of reaching the Football League but I don’t want to think about that too much.

“Personally, I just want to take each game as it comes and play as well as I can do.

“How high I can go…who knows? The aim next season is to win the league and just take it from there.

“My goal is to have a really good consistent run of games and see where that takes me.

“I’d like to play as high as I can and hopefully that will be with Fylde.

“If you look at the club and where it has come from, it’s only going one way and that is up.

“I am just looking forward to hopefully enjoying my career with them.”

Russell also insisted he has been forgiven by his new club for the part he played in Chorley’s famous play-off final win over Fylde.

“I’ve not had too much stick since I joined,” Russell said with a wry smile. “I think there are only two or three players who played in that play-off final still at the club and obviously there is an whole new management team in place.

“There’s been a little bit of stick flying about from last season obviously, when Fylde beat Chorley 4-1 at Victory Park.

“But we won the return game at Kellamergh Park 1-0, so I can have a go back.”