Norwich City Memory Lane: Wing wizard Pilkington out to weave his magic

Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson are interviewed on joining the squad at Norwich City.; Photo: Bill Smith

Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson are interviewed on joining the squad at Norwich City.; Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2011

It was a case of settling in with familiar faces – and foes – for Anthony Pilkington in the summer of 2011, as he told Paddy Davitt

Anthony Pilkington in action during a pre-season friendly 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdAnthony Pilkington in action during a pre-season friendly Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Anthony Pilkington is living proof Paul Lambert does not hold grudges.

The 23-year-old played a key role in Stockport’s 2008 League Two play-off triumph which culminated in a man-of-the-match goalscoring Wembley display to help beat rivals Rochdale 3-2.

County’s promotion was achieved at the expense of Lambert’s Wycombe in a tight two-legged semi-final that saw Stockport squeeze through 2-1 on aggregate.

Lambert resigned the following week from his post at Adams Park to begin his circuitous journey to the Premier League and an eventual reunion with Pilkington this summer.

Anthony Pilkington and the obligatory new signing pose Picture: ArchantAnthony Pilkington and the obligatory new signing pose Picture: Archant

The Blackburn-born wide player has experienced his own long march to the top flight, which started in the less than salubrious surroundings of North-West Counties outfit Atherton Collieries.

“It is a long way and it just shows if you work hard you can get your rewards,” says Pilkington. “I like to think since I was there I have worked really hard and I’ve got some good people around me, my family and friends. I was at (Manchester) United when I was 12, 13, just a lad. Then I went to Blackburn when I was 15, 16 and at that stage I dropped out of football. I was going to college and playing for Atherton Collieries. My family pushed me, I worked hard and I got back into the professional game and the hard work continues now.

“I’ve enjoyed my time wherever I have been, both moving onto Stockport and Huddersfield, but now is the time where I want to push on. At Stockport we won the play-off final, which was excellent, and at Huddersfield we had two good years but just missed out on what we set out to do.”

Rochdale feature prominently in Pilkington’s professional career. A blossoming season on either flank for Huddersfield last campaign ended abruptly when he suffered a dislocated ankle and broke his fibula bone in a 2-1 League One win for the Terriers back in March. Pilkington returned to light training prior to sealing his Carrow Road switch – but both player and his new manager are prepared to let nature take its course.

Summer signing Anthony Pilkington in action against Stoke at Carrow Road in August, 2011 

Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdSummer signing Anthony Pilkington in action against Stoke at Carrow Road in August, 2011 Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

“It’s the only injury I’ve had in my career, to be honest, and it was a bit of a freak accident,” he says. “It wasn’t too bad with the timing because I missed only 12 games at the end of the season; if it had been earlier on I could have missed most of the season. I’ll work hard with the physio here, we’ll keep talking with the gaffer and he has told me when myself and the physio tell him we’re ready, that is when we’ll look to put me in.

“I was so grateful to my family and the fans at Huddersfield at the time because the support I had was absolutely amazing. It made it easier but obviously with the lads going all the way to Old Trafford (play-off final), I was there sat in the seats that day up in the stands kicking every ball, kicking every seat. I couldn’t help them, which I am still gutted about, but I’m sure they’ll do well in the future and I wish them all well.”

Pilkington admits leaving the Galpharm was a huge wrench after his accelerated development under the tutelage of former Norwich assistant boss Lee Clark.

“I had a great relationship with the chairman and the gaffer,” he says. “I rang them both when I found Norwich were interested and asked could I talk to them - so I think I did everything right on my behalf and so did they. They looked after me whilst I was there, but I think it was time to move on and test myself in the greatest league in the world.

Anthony PilkingtonAnthony Pilkington

“It was difficult to leave Huddersfield because I had a great time there. Once I found out Norwich were interested and I wanted to speak to them, they didn’t stand in my way. When I first spoke to the gaffer he said he wouldn’t have a problem with me moving down here. He told me everything about the club, how the fans are great and so is everyone inside the club.

“He told me about the facilities and stuff and said I would really enjoy it down here and do well. I did hear a few clubs were circling, if you will, but I had already set my mind on Norwich. I had a good friend who had been down here before, Michael Rose, who pushed me towards the city and he told me everything. As soon as I spoke to both him and the gaffer my heart and my mind was set.”

Pilkington sums up his own game up in one word.

“I’m quite direct,” he says. “I like to get crosses and shots in. I was speaking to Vaughany (James Vaughan) and he told me, ‘You better not come inside and shoot as much as you did at Huddersfield because I’ll be in the box and I’ll be moaning at you if you do’. No, seriously, I like to be creative and that is what the gaffer here wants me to do.

Paul Lambert with a hat-trick of new signings at Carrow Road - from left, Ritchie de Laet, Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson Picture: ArchantPaul Lambert with a hat-trick of new signings at Carrow Road - from left, Ritchie de Laet, Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson Picture: Archant

“I scored 14 goals last year until I got injured, which isn’t too bad for a winger, so I am hoping to score a few more in these lovely stadiums. I played at Carrow Road with Huddersfield so I know what to expect. The fans are loud and they really get behind the team.”

Pilkington and fellow northern new boy Vaughan have already struck up a doubt act on Twitter since arriving in Norfolk and lodging together on the club’s pre-season German tour. It transpires the pair have previous.

“I knew him last year through one of our mates, Lee Peltier, who was at Huddersfield, anyway,” he says. “Vaughany was happy when I signed here. He is a good lad. Elliott (Bennett) is another I knew from Brighton with playing against him and he is a similar age. We’ve been out for a bit of food and we’re staying in the same hotel.

“We go into training and all the lads are mixing in. After about two sessions with the lads it was really easy for me to fit in. That goes for the staff as well. I don’t see it as moving that far away. It’s only 40 minutes if you fly from Norwich to Manchester so the family can come down and they can’t wait.”

Pilkington has already detected one of the key elements underpinning Norwich’s meteoric rise through the Football League. A collective sense of purpose which will be tested more than ever in the big time.

“We need to show everyone what a good club and a good set of lads we are,” he says. “All the new lads will tell you the same, the lads already here have made it easy for us to settle in. People outside Norwich can say what they like about us, but you look around the place and it’s a Premier League club and in the squad there is some real talent in there. We’ll be working hard to make sure we stay in this football league.

“I was a Blackburn fan as a lad so I will look forward to that, but every game is massive for us. We’ll just concentrate on what we have to do to compete.

“I certainly don’t have any fears about making the step up from League One. I can’t wait to get fit and get going. We played Arsenal last season and I loved playing at the big stadiums.”

This article first appeared in the Canary magazine in 2011 and is reproduced with permission from Norwich City FC

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