After bagging 24 goals in 27 appearances in the National League North for Leamington, it wasn’t long before Josh March was catching the eye of clubs in the Football League. It was Forest Green Rovers’ sales pitch that won him over, and he started repaying immediately with a goal on his home debut. He talks through his journey to scoring in front of the South Stand.
Let’s go back to the beginning, where did football start for you?
Since I can remember as a kid, I’ve always been into football, it feels like it has been all my life.
All my family are massive football fans, so I’ve kind of grown up in a football family.
Unfortunately most of them are Aston Villa fans, which makes me a Villa fan by default.
You started playing for a local team, when did you realise you had a talent for the sport?
I started playing for a local Sunday team. I would always play in the year above myself since I was a kid, so it was kind of there from the start.
For me then, it was just about playing with my mates though.
I went to a few academies as a kid, but got released from West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa at a young age for being too small.
I didn’t grow until I was about 16, I was a really small kid.
It’s a bit disheartening because you can’t really change your height. You can always change different aspects of your game like your touch, or your positioning if that is where you are weak at, but you can’t change your height.
How do you look back at that academy experience for you then, because it is different for everyone?
I enjoyed it to be fair. When you are a kid and you are training every day, you are buzzing about it, playing for an academy, it is what every kid thinks they want at that age.
So, I was a bit upset when I was getting released but it changed my mindset. I just wanted to keep playing football, I was never going to stop playing football, that never came into my thoughts.
I was getting up at stupid o’clock to go to a cold factory, you want to put that ground work in and now I want to make sure I stay here and not go back to a factory again.
How did your path take you from academy football to non-league football?
I was just playing for a local side, Tipton Town, who now play in the West Midlands League Division One.
It wasn’t long before I was training with the first team and the first team manager liked me and I went into the first team there and made my progression through non-league from there.
I owe a lot to the manager at Tipton. To be fair, one of the training sessions when he said he liked me, I thought I was having a bad training session but he said I had a bit of arrogance in my game that he liked.
At that stage then, were you starting to think about forging a path to League football?
I wouldn’t say so then. I was just enjoying playing football at an alright standard at the time for my age.
I progressed through the leagues and the next thing you know, you are thinking, ‘bloody hell, I’ve got a chance here.’
You start dedicating yourself more and applying yourself a bit better.
Once you’re in that mindset, things start happening, it is just switching yourself into that mindset that is probably the difficult part, off the pitch as well as on it.
Was it playing for Alvechurch that you had that realisation of what you could achieve?
Yeah, at Alvechurch, you’re getting paid a bit there, I hadn’t been paid before then.
You start earning a bit of dough from playing and with that comes a bit more pressure in the team and you have to start taking it seriously.
You got the move to Leamington in the National League North, what did that move mean to you?
I always wanted to play in the National League, so I was excited by the move and I just wanted to get my head down and work hard, and I was keen to ensure that I had a good season with them – as it turned out, I had a really good half of one.
It just shows that football can change in a heartbeat. One minute you can be in a squad, next you’re not picked and then then you’re out of the squad completely or the other way, you are the main man within seconds and confidence is riding high.
I couldn’t envisage how quickly this would happen, but you have to just keep focussed on yourself.
Talk me through that first half of the season then, 24 goals in 27 games in the National League North, that’s some record.
Confidence is a massive thing in this job. When your confidence is high, everything seems to fall to you and come off, no matter what you try.
You’ve just got to keep working hard and making sure that you are getting yourself in those situations to capitalise on and score goals and luckily I did that during that run.
You start to hear a few things when you are in form like that about clubs looking at you but until I had an official bid come from Leamington, I just ignored it all because I didn’t want to chance my luck.
The next thing you know, it all goes to your head and the goals dry up and nobody wants you anymore.
Not only that, you were balancing your work life alongside it to pay the bills. What was that like?
I was pipe fitting as my job, and in your head, you are always dreaming of being somewhere else with football.
It wasn’t so bad for the weekend games, it was just the mid-week games when you have to get up early and go to work. You would rush back from work or have to leave early, and then travel to someone right up north, away from home, on a Tuesday night. You don’t get back until about two or three in the morning and then you have to be up at six again the next morning to get to work again.
It's not the best thing to do and there are times when you don’t want to do it but it is an important learning curve, for sure.
The better I was doing, the more that dream of playing football for a job was getting bigger and the more lazy I was getting at work, not that my boss knew.
When the bid came in to Leamington from Forest Green, what did that mean to you at that point?
It was special. Especially the way I got treated when I came down to the club, it was like royalty, almost.
That sort of made my mind up as soon as I walked through the door. It immediately sold the club to me and that this was the club that I wanted to be at.
Forest Green is an up and coming club, it is a club that is pushing forward and I wanted to be a part of that, despite interest from the Championship for my services.
The gaffer did say to me that he wanted me in straight away and to play games, that was another big incentive, but obviously, I thought it would take a bit more time and I would be a bit more in and out, but luckily the gaffer has put faith in me and it is down to me to pay him back now.
Your home debut, not the result that you would have hoped for, but on a personal note, did you dream it would go as well as it did?
It was just a nice relief to get yourself off the mark so quickly, it definitely settled me straight into the club.
It was a game I was looking forward to and you’re always thinking about that goal during the game and I was buzzing at the time, but as soon as it happened, I just wanted to get to the next game and score another goal. Hopefully that comes on Saturday.
Despite it being my home debut and my first League goal, doing the press after the game, I was more disappointed in the result and I wanted to get the win, it means a bit more then because you feel like you have helped the team out.
It was almost a dream come true scoring on my Football League home debut, it wasn’t long ago that I didn’t think it would happen.
That will always be one to tell the grandkids, for sure.
How have you found settling into the club and what have been the biggest changes from playing with Leamington?
It’s a definite step up in standards. For the first couple of weeks after training, my legs were in absolute bits.
The intensity of training is definitely a big difference, and you’re obviously doing it every day. I was alright during training but afterwards I almost couldn’t move.
Luckily I am getting more up to speed with every day that passes, and I am just trying to get my head down and get firing.
The club has put a special programme together for me with Tom Huelin, the head of fitness, so I am not playing catch up with the rest of the boys.
If you met yourself back when you were being released from academy football for your height, what advice would you give him now?
I would just tell him to never give up because you never know what is around the corner.
I would say that to any young lad, whether they are trying to get into football or whatever their passion is, you’ve just got to keep working – never stop working hard.
I was getting up at stupid o’clock to go to a cold factory, you want to put that ground work in and now I want to make sure I stay there and not go back to a factory again.
That is definitely my drive.