Millwall’s World Cup left-back Meredith did it the hard way

James Meredith spent six months without a club, running in the park, phoning clubs to see if they would take him.

The 30-year-old Aussie has certainly clawed his way to the top the hard way, The Millwall left-back was 19 years old when his first club, Derby, released him.

A promised deal at Chesterfield failed to materialise.

He was left without any contract, ringing around clubs, practically begging them to take him.

He ended up calling more than 80 of them, from the top of the Championship to the bottom of the Conference.

He only received two replies from Tranmere Rovers and Crewe – both thanking him for his call, but adding that they were not interested.

“I had always known I wanted to play football from when I was young – especially once I moved to England,he said. “But it was difficult working my way up.

“After the Chesterfield deal fell through, I was six months without a club, running in the park. I was slipping into debt.

“I had no leads and no family at the time to support me, which made it even harder.

“I called every club from the top of the Championship to the bottom of the Conference – over 80 calls.

“I remember one run in the park, in the snow, thinking I could have been in the sunshine back at home in Australia, playing in the A League.

“But I stuck at it and eventually Shrewsbury offered me a deal. Then their manager was sacked and his successor did not like me and sent me out on loan to AFC Telford.”

Meredith ended up playing more than 40 games for them in the 2008-09 Conference North season.

York signed him in July 2009 on the back of that campaign and he ended up playing 147 times for them over three seasons.

Then Bradford boss and former Charlton manager Phil Parkinson came in for him and Meredith helped them win promotion to League One via the play-offs in 2013.

If he thought he had had it bad seven years previously, while he was in Yorkshire, the river Ouse in York burst its banks in 2015, ruining the homes of hundreds of families.

“We would go to the gym and could not train,he said. “It was bad. But we just had to get on with it.”

Bradford’s defeat by Neil Harris’ Lions in the 2017 knock-outs seemed to be a block on his progress at a vital time.

“Millwall just came out stronger than us in the second half,said Meredith. I wasn’t too upset because I have played seven times at Wembley and knew that it is about what happens on the day – however good you are.

“My goal was always to progress to the Championship or the Premier League.

“To play at the top level, it is a matter of working hard – eventually, the rewards will come.

“I had to dig deep. It has made me a much stronger character as a result.

Millwall were not the only ones to offer him a deal a year ago. Today’s opponents Blackburn also made an offer, as did Bolton and Wigan.

“But Millwall was the obvious place for me,” he said. “The gaffer sold the club to me really well. I liked his philosophy – he insists on no egos, which is really important. He wants you to be part of the team and work hard – to get the job done. That is one of the big things for me. There are too many players in the Championship who are paid too much and do not give enough.

“I liked the way he recruited players – and there are good players here. You could see there was the potential to survive and prosper.”

The move also got him a place in Australia’s World Cup squad. He did not play but the experience of mixing with the planet’s best was an eye-opener. “It was an amazing experience, seeing how everything operates at the top level,” he said. “I loved being there.

“Singing the national anthem at the France game was something else.

“I managed to get more than two weeks off afterwards and before you know it, you are back in pre-season.”

After six months out of the game, waiting for the phone to ring, there is no doubt where he would much rather be.

South London News