Premiership Goal Scorer, FA Cup Finalist and former Caretaker Manger.
To have played in the Premier League, the Uefa Cup, a FA Cup Final and have the opportunity to be a caretaker manager whilst still a professional footballer is not something that many footballers manage to achieve in their careers. But Darren Ward has. Now at the age of 35, it’s fair to say that Ward has had a successful career in the game. Not many Football League clubs can say that they’ve had a player who has experienced so much in their career. However, Swindon Town can. The central defender has been promoted twice to the Premiership with Watford and Wolves, played in the FA Cup final and Uefa Cup for Millwall and has also helped the Lions achieve promotion to the Championship. Now plying his trade in League 1 with Swindon, Ward and Tommy Miller became Caretaker managers of the Robins back in February 2013 after Paulo Di Canio resigned from his position as manager. Ward is a key member of Swindon Town’s squad and helped the Sky Bet League 1 side finish 8th in League and to the semi finals of the Johnstone Paint Trophy Semi finals.
In a recent interview, Ward said that he “thoroughly enjoyed” the 2013/14 season with Swindon Town. He said that the season was “a bit of a different one in terms of formation” and the “actual philosophy applied to how we play” but overall stated that he was “happy with the way I’ve applied myself in the games I’ve played and the level of my performances”. For the season ahead with Swindon, Ward stated that it would be “nice to do one better then last season”. Swindon narrowly missed out on the play offs and were knocked out in the Semi Final of the Johnstone Paint Trophy on penalties and Swindon’s captain hopes to “go one step further in both” competitions. Ward says that he was “privileged and honoured to have been given that opportunity of temporary manager” alongside Tommy Miller in February 2013. He said that being a manager enabled him to witness “what its like on the other side” and that he now has the “taste for it”. Moreover, Ward believes that management is ‘certainly something to consider in the future’ after his football career is over.
Ward came through the ranks at Watford and had a loan spell back with the Hornets in 2008. He said he “loved” his time at the club where he learnt his trade. Ward said that Watford “is a fantastic family club” where he had “some very good times but also some tough times” with “injury and breaking into that first team which took a little bit longer” than what Ward hoped for. However, his over riding memory of his time at Watford is a positive one and he told me that he has only “got good memories and a lot of praise for the club that helped me build the career” that he has had to date. Wards favourite goal to date came in a Watford shirt when the Hornets played Middlesbrough away in the Premiership. He chose this goal “Purely because it’s a Premiership goal and either then the occasion, it was a performance where we worked really hard”. In addition, another reason why Ward remembers the goal fondly is because of the “occasion” and “after what happened with my broken leg, to come back that season and to be playing in the premiership and to score is just amazing”
He felt that playing in the FA Cup final with Millwall “was a dream come true”. Ward remembers the day before the game fondly. He tells me that “I remember the day before the game we met and had a huddle and we just started laughing”. He went on to say that the team “couldn’t believe” that they managed to get to the FA Cup final “especially with the small squad that we had”.
Ward told me that he’s had the privilege of playing against some of the games greatest players like Thierry Henry. Dennis Bergkamp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but he believes the hardest player he has had to play against was former Inter Milan forward Adriano. He said that Adriano “had the lot”. Ward felt that “It was amazing how he could just turn it on . He had the time, he had the vision. The man had pace and power, the height he had the lot”. Ward went on to say that its “probably fair to say that he didn’t quite get to the level that he was expected to for whatever reason but when I marked him he was a very good player”
Wards personal career highlight to date is when he played his brother Elliot at Upton Park when Darren’s team Millwall took on Elliots West Ham. Ward picks this moment as his career highlight because ‘It was just an amazing family occasion’ where all of Wards family “were just so proud”. He went on to say that for “two brothers to play against each other in a local derby like that is just amazing”
On The Side Of Football
One the side of football, Ward tells me that he does “quite a lot of charity work" and is an ambassador for the NSPCC in Swindon. He states that “I donate to a number of charities and also through the companies which I am a director of”. Ward is the director of the Finsbury group a company which offers financial advice to people. He is also the owner of Silver Hill Cattery in Hertfordshire. As well as his businesses and his charity work, Ward also writes a blog during his spare time mainly on health and fitness in football. When asked why he decided to set up this blog, Ward told me that “I’m always looking to help people and I’ve always done that throughout my life”. He also said that “I also like to give back to people through the experiences in my life”. Ward says that he decided to set up this blog because “ I like to give back to people, and show people what I’ve done so that it can make there mind up if they want to use it”.
For any young defenders out there, Ward recommends that you should “work hard at what you want to do” because he believes that “it doesn’t come easy”. In addition he said that “you have to have that work ethic and continue to devote your time in the area that you want to do” and that “you see players who have had limited ability but they’ve gone on to have fantastic careers”. In addition, another piece of advice given to any upcoming footballers is to “listen to people no matter who they are” because “You can always learn from people especially people older than you”. Given that this advice has come from a man who has played over 600 professional games and has experienced football at the highest level, it is vastly important that you listen to this advice from a model professional in the game.
A man who has achieved many things in his career, Ward is coming towards the final stages of his professional career. However, he said that “I’m still hoping to play for many years” and that over the “next few years, I’m possibly going to make my mind up” as to what career he is going to step into after he decides to call football a day. An absolute gentleman of a man, Ward is a great model to others in the game and I’m sure he will achieve great success in the near future.
Follow Darren Ward on Twitter - @DarrenWard18
Take a look what Darren does on the side of football!