When I fired up the laptop and loaded Zoom I didn’t know what to expect. 31-year-old centre-back Nathan Haines is the new recruit tasked with anchoring the centre of defence and my job was to anchor an interview for the next 20 minutes, which wouldn’t be as simple as he makes defending look at times.
The towering centre-back joined from Atherstone, which was the club that manager Ivor Green formerly managed. Haines joins the zoom call, like my first interviewee who is the centre back’s namesake in left-back Joe Haines, the interview is choppy. The internet is typically as unreliable as ever, the issues seem to sort themselves out and I begin the interrogation.
“It’s been really good, obviously it’s been different due to me being at Atherstone it’s different but good different,” Haines reveals to me when I ask how he is settling into life transferring from Warwickshire to Staffordshire. “I know a few of the players from Atherstone the likes of Jonno (Jonathan Gould), Bees (James Beeson), Jim (Jamie Elkes) and Gooders (Scott Goodby) I feel this helps and that I fit in well.”
As mentioned previously, the experienced centre-back has spent the previous 5 years at Atherstone and met current Lichfield City manager Green and feels his relationship with the manager, was a key part of his decision to stay in football.
“Ivor was the reason I didn’t give football up,” Haines reveals to me. “I was at Bedworth (before Atherstone), I wasn’t enjoying my football it was a chore going to games and I was far away from my family.
“So, Ivor came along and said to join him at Atherstone, he told me that if I didn’t enjoy it then I could stop. He got me enjoying my football again, he likes to play football the right way but the main thing that he desires is for you to enjoy your football and be happy.”
Green was a crucial component in the decision making of the centre-back and Haines revealed to me that he tried to keep in touch as much as possible when Green moved to Lichfield City.
“I always try to keep In touch and stay updated with the scores from the games (Lichfield),” Haines tells me with a smile on his face. “I get on well with Michelle (Green’s wife) too, we text quite a bit talking about how they’re doing. I’ve always got on well with him (Ivor) and Wayne (Chapman), he was always on the phone trying to get me to sign.”
Haines had a rather sombre entrance into the football scene: “I started when I was 5, I was playing for my local team called Chetwynd Squirrels, I was playing with the same people at 5 as I did when I was 16, we grew up together there, I only played for one team.
“It got to the point where we were going into youth teams rather than kid’s games. I went to Hinckley College, and they had a great football academy I ended up playing for them and since then it’s just gone from there.”
The confident and comfortable centre-back looks to be the real deal in the heart of the defence, so would you believe me if I told you he played in a completely unorthodox position.
“I started as a left-winger,” Haines reveals with a smile on his face as I am dumbfounded by the revelation. “I didn’t like getting stuck in originally, I didn’t like tackles, headers I used to be a right wimp on the wing. I only started playing at centre-back when I was 24. Bedworth signed me then put me at left-back before their starting centre-back got injured so they moved me to centre-back.”
As the experienced centre-back becomes more comfortable with the questions, the topic of his new centre-back partner and his potential leadership role was discussed.
“I always tell him he needs to improve his communication more, but I think he can go far,” Haines reveals when asked about his defensive partner Jamie Elkes who was previously at Atherstone. “When he was with me at Atherstone he was quite young and at that stage when he came in, there was a settled defensive pairing who weren’t conceding many goals, so it was hard for him to break in.
“Anything that I can do to help Jim then I will. When I was Jim’s sort of age, I played with a guy called Ian Roper, he was a great player who joined Bedworth when I was there. Another player was Mark Albrighton (former defender at Doncaster) he played at a really good level, so I’ve learnt a lot from those players. I’m not at that level but anything you can pick up and learn is vital.”
You get a stark sense of Haines’ character when you talk to him, despite it being a virtual interview the desire to win trophies and compete at the highest level, whether it’s the language he uses or the obvious leadership skills he portrays, there’s a captain in the making.
“I want to play football to win things I don’t want to play for money,” Haines says. “I’ve always said to Ivor I play football to win, I hate losing at Atherstone I’d be miserable after a defeat. I didn’t come here for the money, I joined to help this season and then hopefully really push on next season, anything I can do to help these young lads I’ll do it.”
This season has been the first full season with fans at this level in 2 years and Haines revealed how he coped during the quiet months of summer 2020 when the UK was in national lockdown.
“It was actually good to start with,” Haines tells me. “I wasn’t having to travel to work all the time it was good, to begin with. The longer it went on however the tougher it became, not being able to see your mates, friends from football or even exercising. It was quite taxing on the mind, I was sitting on my kitchen counter all day working before moving into the living room, it was a cycle that didn’t seem to end.
“I’m a big family man, I would ring my mum as often as possible. I have two sisters who have children, so not seeing my nieces and nephews was tough.”
Haines reveals that when he was at Atherstone, the players decided to do a 5K challenge, but this didn’t go well for the reliable centre-back: “We did a 5K challenge and even that got hard, I pulled my calf on the fourth day, so I had to stop doing that it was ridiculous.”
When asked whether he enjoyed running: “No!” came the reply from Haines with a smirk on his face. “I didn’t mind doing it as it was just something to do, and we were posting times in the group chat but obviously I had to give up, unfortunately.”
The defender will be hoping to put that behind him and help lift a trophy to cap off not only a great introduction for Haines, but also a great season for the club as a whole.
By Shaun Webbley