In the third in our series of “In the Spotlight”, we’ll be talking openly to club captain Elliot Styles on the season to date plus the highs and lows of his career thus far.
What is your occupation?
I’m a barrister’s clerk. I’ve been doing it since I was 16 (15 years ago). It’s an interesting job. I had to fall into work because of football. In my days it was YTS’ when you left school and I didn’t get a YTS that I wanted so I had to go to work so I went up town (sic) and became a clerk. As you do, I fell into it, stuck at it and ended up in non-league as well. I have always worked in Chancery Lane as well.
Who is your footballing hero?
Julian Dicks. I’m a local boy, grew up in East Ham, played for West Ham for 4 years as a kid and I saw him around the training ground and that and in those days it was Ian Wright, Lampard, Rio, Neil Ruddock and Julian Dicks but it has always been Julian Dicks.
What is the best nickname for one of your current team mates? (you probably make them up knowing you!)
No, no, the real character is Coley. He is a very funny guy, fantastic sense of humour. Well, detrimental ones, unfortunately I can’t say. No real nicknames at the moment. Maybe Ross, Ross Wall because Mark pronounced him as “Wath “ so it was “Wath” for 6 weeks.
Me: You’ll have to think of a few and then get back to me El!”
Do you feel more pressure being club captain or is something you thrive on?
At the beginning, yeah, I think I was made full time captain at 24 but yeah, I’ve got to be honest, at the beginning because you’re still a young man and you’re telling men around you who have achieved more than you, at that stage, what to do. It took a while for me to establish myself in there but no, you stick to what you believe in, when you say it, and you generally believe that you’re right, for the benefit of the team rather than as an individual. It was hard to get my point across but over time, I must’ve gained the respect of people as they started to listen to me.
Fortunately enough, and I’m not being big headed, but I’ve been the captain. So people see something in what I do and how I approach the game but I approach every game the same. I think I’m not aware of how people see you when they talk to you but no, it’s great. It’s unique, when it’s going great it’s fantastic to be a part of it but when it’s going wrong you can’t get away any quicker. You’re the manager of the pitch basically and it’s difficult. I’m not the loudest of characters, I’ve never been loud and I always do my own thing and I think that has maybe been a downfall of my captaincy as I think you need to be a brash character for it but as I say, people see something in us that they like, so yeah really!
How would you analyse the season thus far?
Really good. Exceptionally good. At the moment, I think we’re sitting there quietly and nicely. I think last year, our first season in the division we went all gung-ho at the beginning and we were there to be knocked off of our pedestal and it happened this time last year. I think it was late Feb/March we wobbled massively and we scraped the play offs towards the end. I think this season it has been nice and steady, it’s a better squad in terms of depth, maybe not as individually talented but in depth, yes. Everyone can play in ¾ positions each and I’ve suffered it lately by not getting in the team and that makes me notice the strength of the team. I think it’s going very well and if we can continue to be unbeaten, the longer that goes on then yeah. I think someone said the other day that it’s 10 Saturdays to go now and that’s not long at all. We’re doing good. I think Maldon will wobble and I can’t see Brightlingsea getting over the finishing line so it’s there for us. Thurrock will be our biggest threat in my opinion.
Best piece of advice received as a footballer?
Well I’ve met a load of characters since I’ve been here and I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve met in senior football. I listen to a lot of people but I think it’s from my Dad, as a youngster, and he was never a footballer, he was a boxer and he never liked football but the advice was you only get out of it what you put into it. He always drummed that into me, in training, and he put me in the year above group to toughen me up because I was very small as a kid and it worked. Yeah, you get out of it what you put into it. The famous thing my Dad said, through all walks of life. He has been the best, everything I’ve earned through football whether it’s respect or money it’s all through him so I’m just a credit for what he has done for me.
You started off as a centre midfielder but you’re now a centre half. Which position do you feel best suits your attributes?
I really thrive on playing midfield. Colin nurtured me into a midfielder. I never played midfield before I came to this club. At the time I was quite fit, maybe not as fit as I was when I was 21 but I also had a different side of my game as I had a lot more legs in me. Over the last few years I’ve loved playing midfield as you learn the game as you get older and you learn to make the right decisions with your running. Don’t get me wrong, centre half, I fielded in for ‘Purds’ when he got injured and I stayed there ever since but centre mid, after Saturday’s game I really enjoyed the whole occasion. I’m quite robust in how I play and I wear my heart on my sleeve and that’s my game. That’s my favourite position, I’d say.
What are the best parts of captaining AFC Hornchurch?
Being part of a successful side and to be captain for the length of time that I have been, you look back at the players that have come through the club, since I’ve been here, and for me to still be here, I’ve taken a lot of credit out of it. How I’ve kept my shirt, your shirt’s never safe and there are boys that have been here that have achieved far more than what I have through football, who are far better players and I’m still here. It’s through hard work.
I think Jonathan Hunt is the best player that I’ve played with here. His CV just what he has achieved and he has just taught me so much. You’ve got people like Tommy Black who has played in the Champions League, for god sake and the only way I’d get there would be to watch a game! So, I enjoy every minute here and for me to still be here and every season that passes, unfortunately, it’s a year closer to retirement so I thrive on every minute.
What are the worst parts of captaining AFC Hornchurch?
When it’s all going wrong. If you’re not on top of your game, how can you inspire others? I’m a great believer in you don’t just say it you do it. There comes a time when it all goes wrong and for some reason whatever you do is wrong and how can you inspire other people?
Being captain of a relegated team hurts. It hurts. There are people who pick up the paper and they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and they see that you’ve been relegated and you’re the captain of a relegated team and that’s it.
Do fellow team mates look to you for advice, seeing as you’re the longest serving AFC Hornchurch player and captain?
Well people don’t see you as you see yourself and I used to look up to Purdie and he’s still my captain now and I still treat him with that respect as if he was my captain now. You think that people see you as that. You do advise people on how you first started out who taught you the tricks of the trade and you give your guidance to people. People make their own path in football and there’s a reason why they’re here in the first instance and that’s because they’re good at what they do. You encourage them to show their talent. You just advise people to just play to their strengths and the best of their ability.
Some people do look to me for advice but, don’t get me wrong; we do have the odd row here and there. It’s all for the love of the game.
Best game that you’ve ever played in?
Oh, Weymouth away, it has always been my favourite game. I was 23 and that was the best game that I have ever been involved in, in terms of them being full time. They were cruising in a playoff position and we were just a little pub team, as people say. We went there, went 1-0 down and we turned them over, it was brilliant! It was the whole occasion as well and from my point of view having never gotten to the first round, you wanted it so much and you got there, it was just fantastic.
Best side you’ve come up against this season?
On the day, people may not agree with me but I thought it was Bowers. They were brilliant and they worked harder than us, they surrounded us every time someone got the ball and they played really well.
Maldon away; I watched that game as I was suspended but we were not at the races. We had people out of position, and for example, James (Morrish) became a Dad that week so he had only 2 hours kip all week!
Home versus Dartford, I scored an overhead kick here. It has never ever happened and it came off straight away! Parker was about to head it in and I took it off him. But I couldn’t wait to show my mates (the video) as no-one believed me!
Me: I’ll have to get the video of that one as I don’t remember it!
Where were your first memories/experiences of football?
Being smaller than everyone else! I got released from West Ham later in my teens and that really hurt, my first, sort of, real rejection. My first memories was when I started at 6 (years old) and just being small compared to everyone else and because I played in the higher age group I just remember really having to fight to get anywhere. I loved it. Proper jumpers for goalposts football!. I was never intimidated, always got stuck in an always having a fight (in terms of football) and always giving my all. I think I got that from my Dad from him being a boxer, I inherited that side of things and I put that into my football.
Favourite away ground?
Boreham Wood recently, now they’ve done their ground up, really enjoyed playing there. In terms of experience, probably AFC Wimbledon when they were in the prem (Ryman Premier). Just being involved in that, proper old school. It’s either that or Dartford, that I really like but I think it would be Wimbledon just playing in front of their support, on display. It was a nice feeling.
You’re a natural leader and I, potentially, see you going into management once you retire. Would this be something you may be interested in?
I would love to coach kids as it’s something I’d really love to get involved in. Just to give them a head start. I remember when I started football, I started out from scratch and I’d like to coach kids just to give something back. But I do see it more this year, being involved in management. I think, if I was to be a manager, my game plan would be so different to the player that I am. It wouldn’t be a reflection on me. People may have seen me as a work horse, a kicker, a header of a ball all blood and thunder but I think my style would be completely different. Just as you get older you learn and widen your thoughts on things. It’s something that I have considered, maybe not right away because that means you’re old! That means you’re past it! I wouldn’t shut the door on it though.
Finally, realistic aims for the season?
Oh promotion. Obviously it would be nice to win it all as at the end of your career you want trophies. Playoffs, we’ve done it before, it’s exciting, the week leading up to it. We’ve obviously got quite a good record in the semi’s, where we always keep our nerve and obviously with the final, it’s on the day, it’s a lottery, like last year for example. But promotion and it’s achievable. Maldon have got to play a few tough away games but their home form is terrific. Bowers beat them the other week and sometimes it does play on your mind but with us, we’ve only lost one home game all season and people forget how good our home record is. Yeah, so it is there for the taking.
Interview by Mitchell Walker (AFC Hornchurch Supporters’ Association)