Owain Tudur Jones is a recognisable figure in the JD Cymru Premier as a pundit on Sgorio, but he is also one of the real success stories of the domestic top-flight. Earlier this week he sat down with us to reflect on how important the league was in his professional playing career in our latest feature celebrating 30 years of the national league.
Signed by Bangor City as a 16-year old in the summer of 2001, Tudur Jones would make almost a century of appearances for his home-town club over the course of the next four seasons, captaining the side and leading them into Europe. His performances were enough to attract the interest of Swansea City in 2005, and he would play professional football in the English and Scottish Football Leagues for the next decade, as well as making seven senior international appearances.
“What the league gave me more than anything was a good grounding in terms of men's football early in my career which meant physically I had developed more than any of the academy players,” Tudur Jones explained. “But it also showed me a different side of the football world, one where everything isn't put on a plate for you. I remember getting on the bus at Bangor to travel to Haverfordwest at five in the morning to go and pick lads up in Chester and then go all the way down. You take a pillow on and on the way home there's a crate of beer. It's wasn't professional, but it gave me a different perspective on things which I'm still grateful for now.”
Tudur Jones had his first taste of senior football experience with Porthmadog, but it was the appointment of former Manchester United and England striker Peter Davenport at Bangor City in 2001 that put him on the path to the professional game. “I was a young kid really but the benefit that I had was my size,” he explained. “I was tall, so physically, men's football wasn't as drastic a jump for me was it would be for others. I was never picked up by an academy so it was always about finding my way in a different manner. I was signed game-to-game with Porthmadog, it wasn't like they invested anything in me, it was just for the experience of training with men.
“I would have liked to have made a few more appearances for them but they had senior players, so it was about finding my feet, going to Bangor and playing for the reserves. But there was something that Peter Davenport liked about me which meant I was playing for the reserves but integrating with the 1st team as well as I travelled with the squad and come on a couple of times as substitute, which was a big deal at the time. I remember coming on against Barry Town at Jenner Park after I had grown up watching Barry Town dominate the league.”
Making his first start for Bangor City against Caernarfon Town in the League Cup offered Tudur Jones a taste of top-flight football, but a return to Porthmadog in the Welsh Cup in November 2001 saw him make a big impression on his former club. “We beat them 5-1 and Marc Lloyd-Williams scored a hat-trick and I scored as well. I had only just turned 17 at the time but I felt like I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and that I wanted to show Porthmadog that they should have played me a little bit more.
“Peter Davenport was a big factor in my growth. Obviously, he liked me as a player. We had a lot of experienced players like Clayton Blackmore and Simon Davies, and you can't believe it to start with that you're involved with the squad. He put that faith in me from the start really. That's always good to know as it means you're doing something right. I had a couple of injuries but it was in my fourth season with the club that I really kicked-on. I stayed fit, played all season and became club captain, and that was all to do with the faith that the manager had put in me.
“I had been on trial at Aston Villa, and Chelsea after Roman Abramovich had taken over, which were unbelievable experiences but it was very unlikely that I was going to be signed by a Premier League club at the time. The opportunity to go to Swansea City just fitted better, and that came about partly from playing for Bangor, but also from playing semi-professionally for Wales as assistant manger John Relish knew Kenny Jackett [then Swansea manager] and he told Kenny to go and have a look at me. I had a week on trial, then a month and then a contract.”
During his playing career, Tudur Jones would make permanent moves to Swansea City, Norwich City, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hibernian and Falkirk, in additional to loan spells at Swindon Town, Yeovil Town and Brentford. However, a recurring knee injury would bring his career to an end in March 2015. A proud Welshman, he would make seven senior international appearances for the Cymru national team between 2008 and 2013 having also represented his country at semi-professional and U21 level.
“What I was missed going into professional football in the manner I did was from a technical point of view,” he added. “At Swansea City, under Roberto Martínez, I was learning things at 23 that I should have learnt at 16. I was learning something different at 16, which I wouldn't change, but I was definitely playing catch-up technically. When you come through the ranks the way I did you learn different tricks and a different aspect of the game. That helped develop my character in terms of being involved in that sort of dressing room, and it was a big part in developing a personality to be able to cope with professional football. But unfortunately, a couple of things were missing.”
Now back involved with the JD Cymru Premier through his media duties, Tudur Jones is well-placed to reflect on how the league has developed. “I think it's night and day really,” he explained. “As a player, I played in a different era and the league is of a higher standard in terms of tactical awareness. There's more fluidity and players are more tactically intelligent, and that comes down to good coaching. There are better coaches who know different things and take things from the professional game, and also the pitches make it possible to play a better brand of football."
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