This week I spoke with Whickham’s Mr ever-present Tom Howard. The interview covers the right-back’s days with Sunderland, his passion for Whickham, and his previous on-field battles with two England internationals. WRITES ADAM TONES.
Howard is a tough tackling, forward-thinking full-back with a strong mindset to be the best at what he does both on and off the pitch.
The defender started his footballing journey at City Juniors before moving onto Felling Magpies at just seven years of age.
After a successful spell with Felling Magpies both personally and as a team, the defender’s performances did not go unnoticed.
Sunderland Football Club who at the time were members of the Premier League moved fast to sign the defender.
Tom joined Sunderland’s Academy at just eight years old, spending a decade with the club before moving on. A decision the right back knew was right for both the club and his own personal development.
During his ten-year spell with the Wearside club, Howard has several proud and exciting moments he can look back on.
Howard was made captain for much of his time at the club, leading his side in a host of tournaments across Europe.
Howard said: “I was captain for the majority of my career, I’ve been to France and Ireland for tournaments and played against current Premier League players Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden to name a couple.
“We did well in the tournaments; we went over to France as Under 14s and we played teams from all over the world.
“Even in tournaments in England, we performed well, beating teams like West Ham and drawing against Ajax.
“I’ve got pretty good experience playing against some top-level players.”
The defender acknowledged just how important those experiences have been for him and spoke about the lessons he learned both as a person and a player.
He said: “I learned how to go about certain situations better and by that, I mean, in football at such a standard you get to know how you should play the game yourself.
“You come up against some top calibre and high-ranking opponents, you must implement certain things.
“I was a centre-half for most of my career, but it wasn’t until I was playing under 16’s they moved me to full-back.
“I had to change from playing more static when defending to being more forward-thinking.
“It’s about adapting your style of football as you move up through the different levels.”
Howard has fond memories of his time with Sunderland, having captained the club throughout successful youth cup competitions.
The experiences have allowed him to play at stadiums such as St. James’ Park (Newcastle), Goodison Park (Everton) and Molineux (Wolves) to name a few.
Howard added: “It’s a surreal experience really, when you walk through the tunnel you get goosebumps but once the whistle blows you forget where you are and play your football.”
After a string of first-class performances, Howard was given the opportunity to play for Sunderland’s reserve team before departing the Stadium of Light.
The 21-year-old said: “Personally I thought I was the best in my age group, I never played with my age I always played a couple of years above.
“I was captain through my time there, I was kind of looked at like a leader but due to the difficulty, the club was going through it didn’t work out in the end.
Howard, who lives in Gateshead went on to have a loan spell with Sunderland RCA before deciding to join Whickham Football Club in 2018.
Tom has a big passion for Whickham and would love to be part of a team that pushes the club in the right direction. The right-back explained his reasons for wanting to join the club.
He said: “Whickham were signing good players and had great aspirations for the club, I’m a local lad and I wanted to give it a go.
“I wanted to be part of a good local team with a good fan-player relationship and give my everything for the club.”
Tom, who stands 5ft, 10in tall, spoke about the current set-up and his hopes for the future.
He added: “I feel like we’ve got a philosophy and style of play now and we know what we are going to do each game.
“It’s all good working hard but you do have to have a philosophy. It’s also good knowing we’ll have the players available, and people aren’t just coming and going.
“Everyone gels together and even when things aren’t going our way, we find a way to get through it.
“The changing rooms are good vibes and good banter but it’s always constructive telling each other what to do.
“The new players that have come in and the standard they bring it makes everyone else want to do better.”
Howard reflected on his own personal performances from last season, he said: “I feel like I want to thrive a bit more with my attacking side.
“I’ve always been a one vs one defender, but I would like to improve my forward game by getting more crosses in the box, linking up better and creating goals.
“I like to defend; I like to get forward and I like to have an engine.
“I want to maintain my performances, keep playing well, create more goals and assists and be a positive and reliable teammate to everyone.”
Howard admitted that pre-season has been the most enjoyable of his career to date due to the plans put in place by the management team.
He said: “Its football based; everyone thinks pre-season is horrible because you must do loads of running to get fit, but Tony has focused on the footballing element.
“The more ball work you do the fitter you get and by playing games it’s more enjoyable and I prefer it more.”
Howard is looking forward to the new season with the hope of improving on last season league position.
He added: “We have the potential to do well, we just can’t get ahead of ourselves. We must focus on each game as it comes.
“The team will have good spells and bad spells, but I feel like we’ll always give 100% and back each other. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Howard has been an ever-present across the Whickham back line and a familiar face for the fans over the last few seasons.
As the Leam Lane lad moves into his fourth season with the club, his attitude and commitment are the same as on day one.
Tom has a wise head on young shoulders, a realistic but determined individual with the willingness to improve.
The ultimate team player with the goal of adding more enjoyable memories to his already long list of footballing achievements.
Player Profile – Tom Howard.
Occupation: (Soon to be) PE coach.
Favourite club: Newcastle United
Favourite current player: Lionel Messi
Favourite past players: Thierry Henry & Dani Alves
Favourite holiday destination: Spain
Hobbies: Watching any other sport, trips away, and spending time with friends and family.
All time 5-a-side-team: Cech, Maldini, Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Messi.