AFC Wimbledon loan signings talks about Rotherham United future and why he stayed grounded despite debut at 17

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

Ben Purrington made his first-team debut at 17 – but AFC Wimbledon’s loan signing reckons he has never had a problem with keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground.

The left-back was sold by Plymouth Argyle to Rotherham in January 2017 in a deal reported to be worth £300,000.

But injuries – as so often is the case – impeded his development with the Millers.

That is why Purrington was desperate to get out and play some football this season. A frank discussion with Rotherham manager Paul Warne helped make that happen.

“I spoke to him about a week before I came here. I just said: ‘What’s going on? What’s the plan for me?’.

The manager said I would be in and around it, fighting for a place, but he couldn’t guarantee I’d be in the line-up or the bench.

“That wasn’t really for me.

I know I can play at League One level and I wanted regular game time to kick on my career again.

“A couple of weeks before I came to Wimbledon they had asked about signing me and it had been a no. But suddenly it came up again and with me having that little chat to see how things were, the gaffer was really good about letting me go.”

There have been questions asked about why Purrington has not kicked on after leaving Plymouth Argyle for a reputed £300,000 fee in January 2017.

Rotherham were a Championship outfit when he arrived there, although an already troubled campaign up to that point ended in relegation.

But the Millers bounced back last season and the young defender counts that as a second promotion of his career, with Argyle also gaining promotion – from League Two – in the season he left.

“If you look then there are a couple of negative write ups about my move to Rotherham but I have enjoyed my time there,” he said. “When I first went up there I played 10 games in the Championship. They knew they were going to go down.

“Then I had two hamstring injuries – quite lengthy ones. That did set me back a bit last year. I got back in the team and then did my hamstring away at Blackburn, after that I was in and out through the year.

“Without the injuries it might have been a bit different but I’ve still got time on my side to prove I can get back and play at that level. But I’m playing for a good club now at a good standard. I was buzzing to get out.”

Purrington had that early taste of football at Plymouth. And he reckons it was never going to go to his head.

“I’ve always been quite grounded,” he said. “I got offered my professional contract on my 17th birthday. From then on I was in and around the first team. It was never a thought for me to go out on loan.

“Nowadays people make their debuts a lot later. It’s part of the reasons I wanted to go out, I’ve been around the first-team scene for that long I couldn’t just be in squads or sat on the bench. This is my sixth season in professional football. I’ve been around it quite a long time for my age.

“I’ve made seven starts for Wimbled and been quite solid so far. As I get fitter and fitter with each game I will look to be more attacking, crosses and getting up the field more. That comes with games.

“At the start of the season it is going to be a bit cagey but we have had four clean sheets out of seven. We haven’t had a bad start. If we keep scoring goals and stay hard to beat then we’ll have a good year.

“Every time I’ve played against Wimbledon they have been really tough to play against. We’ve already shown we will give big clubs at this level like Sunderland and Barnsley a hard time.

“We’ve got good depth with two players for every position. The manager trusts everyone in the squad and you need to be able to rely on everyone to push up the table.”
Purrington’s uncle is former England rugby player Richard Hill. The flanker, 45, was capped 71 times.

“I played fly-half at school,” said Purrington. “Being quite fit and fairly quick means you can get by – but it was always football for me.

“He’s a football fan himself. He supports Southampton. I used to go and watch a lot of rugby when he was playing for England.

“It is nice to have him there to talk to about things because he has been in the sporting world and knows the sacrifices you make to get to the top level. He’s there if I get injuries or want advice on nutrition.”

Purrington’s initiation song at Wimbledon was Build Me Up Buttercup.
“It was very average, I’ll be honest. It didn’t go down badly with the lads and it wasn’t the worst.

“Mitch Pinnock was very good and had a decent voice, he did Bob Marley. Tyler Garratt was very nervous and had to go last.” Where Purrington really wants to be on song is out on the pitch.

Dons boss Neal Ardley has a track record of improving players.

“You can see he is enthusiastic about all the lads. He gives us guidance. He has told me to play my own game and that helps, instead of being all up-tight and worrying about what you are doing. It gives you a helping hand.

“Not overly concentrating on the football and just getting on with it, trying to give the best performance possible.

“The lads all try to help each other. Someone like Trotts [Liam Trotter] gives you advice and you listen because they have been around the game a lot longer than you.”
IMAGE BY KEITH GILLARD

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