By Shaun Webbley
As Lichfield City manager Ivor Green wraps up yet another team talk ahead of a crucial clash against third-place AFC Wulfrunians, Sam Fitzgerald who seems to have found his groove for Lichfield City of late gives a look to me, looking for my nod of approval.
The 21-year-old has agreed to an interview, something that nearly every player has had the horror of experiencing. We both exit the changing room and head to the referee’s room, which due to the benefit of hindsight was probably a bad idea.
The man who has about as much energy that Green wants from a midfielder sits down with me an hour before kick-off for a brief interview. Fitzgerald has a ball in hand, whether that highlights his love of football or maybe his nervousness ahead of the grilling, we’ll never know.
We talk briefly about the questions upcoming, and I enquire about who he looks up to the most. “Kyle Patterson,” he replies, “he’s been there and done it so it would have to be him.”
“I think the season for me personally has been good so far,” Fitzgerald tells me as we review a hectic season for City. “I’m enjoying my football which is the most important thing and I’m enjoying it here (back at Lichfield City) which again is the most important thing.”
Fitzgerald speaks briefly about opponents Wulfrunians: “We didn’t get the points we deserved when we played them earlier on this season, for us we need these three points.” Fitzgerald was crucial as Lichfield ran out 3-0 winners later in the day, following the interview.
The eyebrows were raised by the players ahead of Monday’s tough away game against Whitchurch Alport, when a change in formation saw Dan Lomas play out on the left, before after 15 minutes moving infield to play up-front alongside striker Luke Keen. The youthful exuberance of Fitzgerald and the duo of experience in Scott Goodby and Kyle Patterson seemed to have worked a treat.
“The first time we tried it properly was on Monday,” Fitzgerald explains. “It worked to a tee, everyone played well. We were full of energy and fluidity, so I don’t see why we should change something if it worked so well, heading into these next few games.”
“If he keeps his head down, he can go far,” a jovial Wayne Chapman explains to me when talking about the midfielder’s performance, after yesterday’s dominant win. The midfielder has been drafted back into the side following his return from National League North side Hereford FC, which he felt he learnt a lot.
“It was a very good level,” Fitzgerald admitted. “It’s three leagues higher and I was enjoying it. They trained twice a week on Monday and Thursday during the day. The football itself was very fast and fluid, I really enjoyed it and felt like I learnt a lot. It was just a shame I got injured when I arrived, but it’s great to be back here (at Lichfield).
“I felt like I developed a lot. Their playstyle is very similar to Lichfield’s however the sheer amount of analysis on the opposition they did and how we could counter it was different, it was very new to me.”
The young midfielder who clearly has an abundance of talent, has known the management of Lichfield City for a couple of seasons now, so what appealed to him about City?
“I knew both Ivor and Wayne from before (at Atherstone),” Fitzgerald says with a smile on his face. “I knew them both from 2 seasons ago when I was 18 and played for them at Atherstone for a short period. When I was at other clubs, I used to speak to Wayne (Chapman) quite a lot and once the opportunity to join here and play came about, it was an easy decision for me personally.”
Chapman when speaking about players he brought with him from his former club Atherstone, a common phrase is uttered: “I saved him.” Chapman has repeated the comments about Fitzgerald too.
“He’s been saying it for a while to be fair,” Fitzgerald laughs. “I’ll let it slide because Wayne and Ivor brought me here and have given me game time, so I’ll allow it.”
Fitzgerald was keen to point out just how much both Green and Chapman have helped in his development this season.
“They got me playing again that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I like the communication we get after every game; they will tell me when I’ve played well, and what I did well. Equally, they will also tell me when I’ve not played as well, and how I can improve which has helped me a lot this season.
“They go into so much detail with me it helps me massively. I do change my game dependent on what they say and how I can improve, so them being meticulous is certainly a good thing for me.”
Fitzgerald’s playstyle has certainly helped Green’s team a lot over the last week. As he is the youngest and arguably the most energetic in the midfield three, his responsibility is to get around the park and create, which is something he has thrived in.
“People used to say I was a bit too casual,” Fitzgerald admits when I ask if he would describe himself as a runner. “I think maybe it’s the way I play that people think that [being casual], but recently the gaffer has tried to drill it into me to run more which has helped. I do like to be on the ball, keeping it on the floor and to keep things ticking in midfield, which I think this role allows me to do.”
The aim for Fitzgerald and indeed every single Lichfield City player seems obvious: “Win every single game and bring home some silverware for the fans.”
As the JW Hunt semi-final against Lye Town is on the horizon, Fitzgerald and his teammates will be hoping they are hitting good form at just the right time.