Writer: Barry Worthington
Date:Sunday March 27 2011
Back in the 1990`s, Wigan Athletic, like many lower league clubs of the day, were dependent upon developing their own talent through good scouting of the local area for youngsters who showed potential, getting them into the youth set-ups and gradually introducing them into the first team.
One such player that made it all the way through the system was midfield terrier, Mancunian Paul 'Mitch` Mitchell.
Mitch signed for the Latics in 1999 after being on schoolboy terms with Manchester City and through the next six seasons he forced his way into the first team, making his first team debut in the Auto Glass Trophy at Burnley under John Benson, but it was his league debut the following season that was the most dramatic
On the 26th August 2000 the Latics were away to Wrexham in a Division 2 league fixture, ironically Mitch`s 19th birthday, midway through the second half, Latics boss Bruce Rioch decided to introduce young Mitch to the world of league football, coming on as a sub the excited birthday boy lasted approximately 5 minutes before being sent off by referee Alan Keye for what was termed at the time, 'a rash challenge' on Wrexham player Carlos Edwards.
By permission of Bernard Platt/Wigan Athletic
During the next six seasons Mitch played an integral part in the Latics success, particularly the Division 2 Championship winning side under Paul Jewell, Mitch made 64 appearances for the club before being allowed to leave in the summer of 2005 just after the Latics had won promotion to the Premier League, his first team opportunities had become restricted and Mitch thought he'd like to try and secure first team football somewhere else.
By permission of Bernard Platt/Wigan Athletic
After leaving the Latics Mitch joined MK Dons, where he'd previously spent time on loan, he enjoyed success with the Dons, being made captain but unfortunately he suffered a devastating injury that ultimately ended his career prematurely.
MK Dons official website : Paul joined the Dons from Wigan in the summer of 2005. He went on to rack up 82 appearances in a Dons shirt under four different managers.
On February 24, 2007, Paul was stretchered off during the first half of a 2-2 draw with Notts County at Meadow Lane. Diagnosis revealed fractures to the tibia, fibula and ankle surfaces and 18 months of rehabilitation followed. Unfortunately Mitch was unable to fully recover from the injury and announced his retirement from football on Monday January 12th 2009, aged just 27.
Mitch took up the role of Community Ambassador for the Dons immediately after his retirement, now he combines this role with another position at the club Head of Recruitment and Scouting plus he is involved with coaching the reserves alongside ex-England assistant boss John Gorman.
This week I managed to catch up with Mitch and I put to him a few questions that he very graciously replied to:
Do you remember your debut for Wigan Athletic and why? (sorry, couldn`t resist)
"It seems like a different life time now. It was in the Auto glass trophy against Burnley I was 17. Myself and another second year apprentice (Andrew Morris) came on as subs. We won the game 2-1 in extra time (Golden goal back then) and Andrew scored the winner and stole the headlines! So my debut kind of went under the radar but hopefully I made up for that in the seasons that followed."
"On my league debut I did came on as sub and got sent off more or less straight away!"
What are your fondest memories of playing at the Latics?
"I have to say all my years at Wigan are filled with happy memories.
"From completing my apprenticeship , playing my first professional games , being involved in a successful side, playing with very good players and working with good people, also having the privilege to work under so very good managers! The fans, staff were always very supportive in terms of appreciating my hard work rather than having the skill or craft of some of the other players what was fantastic and always made me want to give everything for the club.
"So it`s hard to choose one but if I had to it would be winning league one and the way we performed over that season."
Are you still in touch with any of the squad that you played with at Wigan?
"A few. I would say that it takes good people to win anything in football so I have tried to stay in touch with as many as possible from my time there. The main ones are :
"Andy Liddell, Ian Brekin, Nicky Eden, Neil Roberts, Jason De Vos (over the odd email), Steve McMillian (when I`m trying to pick his brains regarding Scottish players), Gary Teale (when we play them or I`m scouting Sheffield Wednesday),Matt Jackson, John Filan (once a year call), Michael Flynn (I just can`t help it , he`s a great guy and very hard to shake off!), Jason Roberts (we have a mutual friend, so once in a while), Roberto Martinez (popped into see him when I watched Wigan Reserves a few months back), Graeme Jones (same reason as seeing Roberto), Jason Jarrett, Tony Dinning (every now and then we bump into each other), Gary Walsh (when we play Hartlepool or a need a DVD of a game), Geoff Horsefield (every now and then), Chris Hutching.
"I`m sure to have missed some!!
"Any big football decisions I make I usually try and run passed the gaffer (Paul Jewell)!! I would also say that when I broke my leg and ankle I had messages of support from all of the old Wigan boys that I was blown away with!!"
What are you up to now?
"I`m currently Head of Recruitment and Scouting for MK Dons. I also coach and take the reserves with John Gorman (ex-England assistant manager) what is giving me fantastic experience at a very young age, learning off someone who has coached at the highest level. I`m also the clubs Ambassador which means I`m involved in such projects as our community work and the world cup bid etc"
Can Wigan Athletic win their battle to stay in the Premier League this season?
"I believe they can.
"Even if they don`t I think Roberto and Graeme have brought a fantastic culture of football to Wigan and they have to be applauded for their beliefs and the way they have moved the football club forward.
"As you can clearly see from the work they did at Swansea and the clubs constant success since he left leaving solid football foundations in place, it is a formula that works not only in the short term but also moving Wigan Athletic forward in the ever changing and fast moving world of football."
A big thanks Mitch for the interview and good luck with all that you do in the future.
Paul Mitchell, MK Dons
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Date:Sunday March 27 2011
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