Ryan Bird: I never truly believed I was good enough for Portsmouth. It wasn't the right time - I should have joined Wycombe
The £3m Ascot mansion with outdoor pool and six bedrooms represents work rather than Ryan Bird’s home comforts.
Refurbishment has been a 10-man job, eating into precious time off last Sunday. Nonetheless, business continues to boom.
Bird has found employment as an electrician since the age of 19 – apart from a four-year sabbatical which saw him feature as a Football League player.
It was Pompey who plucked him from the day job, suitably impressed after the striker plundered 69 goals in two years for non-league Burnham.
During a week-long trial under Guy Whittingham, the 6ft 4in player netted twice on a July 2013 debut against the Hawks in pre-season.
It was a 45-minute outing which resulted in the door opening to the professional game, with Bird immediately handed a 12-month contract.
As a consequence, he quit the electrician business he part-owned to seek football fortune at the age of 25.
Now he’s back, working for Berkshire-based WD Electrical, with football these days the hobby rather than profession.
‘I remember training on the Fratton Park pitch during my trial, the stadium was huge, I’d never been there before,’ Bird told The News.
‘David Connelly was moaning about it, complaining that the playing surface was awful. It was the best training ground I had ever been to!
‘The previous week I’d been with Wycombe, training on this field in the middle of nowhere. When I heard of Pompey’s interest, I told Gareth Ainsworth “Look, they’ve asked me to go to Pompey on trial, so I’d like to try it”.
‘That was a mistake, I should have signed for Wycombe. I would have got more games, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
‘There was no way I was ready to be at a club like Pompey. I had just come from four divisions below, whereas the previous season Pompey were in League One. The year before was the Championship.
‘This was the summer of 2013 – in 2009-2010 they had been in the Premier League and got to the FA Cup final.
‘Obviously they were now in the bottom division and wanted to go straight back up, that was the calibre of player they were looking at recruiting.
‘I was raw, had been playing in front of 200 people, washed my own kit, trained two evenings a week, and had a full-time job as an electrician.
‘Suddenly I was around players like Connelly, Patrick Agyemang, Nicky Shorey and Jed Wallace. I probably wasn’t good enough to be in the team – and was never going to score the 25 goals they needed for promotion.
‘I look back and Wycombe would have been a better decision for my career.
‘A season spent playing 30 games at Adams Park would have helped brush up on my fitness, improve my touch, get used to training every day, and enable me to adapt to the Football League. I would have become a lot better.
‘Wycombe would have had a tight budget, I’m guessing two or three strikers, so more game opportunities. Instead I was straight in at the deep end with Pompey.
‘To be honest, I loved every minute at Fratton Park, it’s not a case of regret. It’s a fantastic club – but I wasn’t right for it at that time.
‘Maybe my career would have been different if it had been Wycombe. Then again, at Pompey I was loaned out to Cambridge United and we won the FA Trophy at Wembley. I wouldn’t change that.
‘You can’t have one thing and not the other, it’s how things pan out. And, let’s face it, there is no way I would have traded Pompey for Wycombe at that time.’
With Pompey newly-relegated to League Two and having avoided liquidation following the intervention of fan ownership, Guy Whittingham was challenged to assemble a squad.
Sonny Bradley, Danny East, Tom Craddock, John Sullivan, Andy Barcham, Ricky Holmes and Simon Ferry were prominent recruits.
Then there was Bird, a central defender converted into a striker at the age of 23 with outstanding immediate results for Evo-Stik League Southern side Burnham.
Ultimately, his 13-month Fratton Park stay yielded three goals in 25 appearances.
Although not quite the fairy tale suggested by his 48-second goal-scoring entrance against the Hawks, he went on to enjoy spells at Cambridge United, Hartlepool, Yeovil, Eastleigh and Newport County.
Bird added: ‘The first week at Pompey I thought “I can do this, this is quite easy” – but I was running on adrenaline.
‘Soon I’d be going back to my room at the Royal Beach Hotel after each day’s training session and falling asleep for three hours in the afternoon! My legs would be aching beyond belief.
‘It was a massive jump. Coming into that level, there’s always a little doubt, but when I got there I thought I was okay, up to the standard a little bit.
‘However, I never truly believed I was good enough for the Pompey team at that time.
‘I could make good runs as a striker, but defenders were so much better at that standard, reading what I was going to do. Then there was the consistency. Sometimes you’d play against a defender and they would slip, or misread your run, or misread a pass, then you’re in. They never do that in League Two.
‘That was my third season of playing up front. I was never taught how to be a striker, there wasn’t any positional coaching before I arrived at Pompey, I just made it up.
‘You think about it, most strikers have had 10-12 years of learning how to play up front, what runs to make, how to hold the ball up. I’d never even experienced a goal drought, I once scored three hat-tricks in a week for Burnham!
‘Yet I wasn’t sharp enough or experienced enough at that level. Pompey wanted to go straight back up – and I don’t think I was the person to help them do that.
‘They took a punt on me hoping I would score loads of goals, yet it wasn’t to be.
‘I always thought that if it didn’t work out that season, I could go back to working as an electrician and playing in non-league, which I eventually did in July 2017 when I signed for Dover.
‘I know a lot of people who would have turned down going into the professional game because you can make a really, really good financial career out of working full-time and playing in the Conference South.
‘If people did that for 10 years, you would be laughing, it would pay more than most League Two clubs and some League One clubs.
‘As it was, I probably earned about £700-800 a week in that first year at Pompey – that’s less than I got as an electrician.’
During his maiden Fratton Park season, Bird was briefly loaned to the Hawks, a three-game spell not renewed upon the striker’s request.
He came back to the Blues and was immediately reintegrated into the first-team, coming off the bench to earn them a point at Torquay with his maiden Football League goal in October 2013,
The forward was then promoted into the starting XI for the visit of Exeter and, on his full debut, netted twice in front of the Fratton end in a 3-2 triumph.
Bird’s Pompey career was primed for lift-off – yet he would never again score for the club.
In January 2014, he was loaned to National League side Cambridge United, where he bagged eight goals in 13 appearances, including the opener in the 4-0 FA Trophy final triumph over Gosport.
Just four days later, he was recalled to aid Pompey’s battle against the drop into non-league, yet was sidelined with a groin problem during the entire run in.
He played no part as caretaker boss Awford steered Pompey to safety in League Two with three games to spare.
However, having had a taste of regular first-team football – and success – at the Abbey Stadium, Bird was keen to leave Pompey in that summer of 2014.
He said: ‘I didn’t really want to stay after that first season because I knew I wouldn’t play. Besides, my contract was up.
‘However, the club had an option – and activated it!
‘Andy Awford was saying: “I want you to stay and work hard to get into the team”. Yet in my mind I was thinking “You don’t really, do you”. He was keeping me around as I was another body and on less than everyone else.
‘In the first month of the season, I played 39 minutes in all competitions. At that point I was living with Ben Chorley and Nicky Shorey and, with Ben being captain, asked for his help to get me out of my contract.
‘I would’ve liked to have stayed at Pompey, but knew there was no way I was going to play. To me, I may as well go somewhere else.
‘The transfer window was shutting in a week’s time, so I said to Ben “Please can you talk to the manager and persuade him to let me go or allow me to find somewhere else?”.
‘It appeared I was going to be stuck at Fratton Park until Christmas without playing, while I’d already had a word with Cambridge boss Richard Money and lined them up for a potential move.
‘Then, two days before the window closed, I was told I could leave. Not long then!
‘At that point, however, Cambridge already had four or five strikers. I ended up going there – in hindsight I shouldn’t have.
‘York were in League Two and also interested, but it was miles away. Besides, I’d had such a good time at Cambridge the previous season and was really good mates with everyone there.
‘It wasn’t a great decision from me!’
That would be Bird’s sole U’s season during his second spell with the club.
Following six goals in 28 appearances – and a one-month loan at Hartlepool – the striker was released in the summer of 2015.
He remained in League Two with Yeovil for a season, before spells at Eastleigh and then Newport County, where he helped the Welsh club remain in the Football League against the odds in May 2017.
A move to Dover followed, while, in November 2018, he popped up in opposition against Pompey, featuring as a substitute for Maidenhead as the non-leaguers slipped to a 4-0 defeat in the FA Cup first round.
For the last three seasons, Bird has turned out for National League South outfit Slough Town – primarily as a central defender.
The 33-year-old added: ‘Initially I was a striker for Slough, but was getting a bit old. No longer could I make the same sort of runs, I wasn’t anywhere near as sharp as I used to be.
‘Now I was taking an extra touch before shooting, whereas previously everything was instinctive. I told my manager that I didn’t feel I could play up front any more.
‘Fortunately he had known me as a centre-back in my earlier days and, with one of our defenders getting injured, I was put in against a team second in the league. We won 2-0 – and I remained there.
‘I am way more comfortable at the back, I can see the whole game and like doing rough tackles and mashing people!
‘It’s where I prefer playing, I really enjoy it. It’s not like I’m up front winging it and making things up as I go along. Not any more!’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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