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Jon Challinor: I thought I was on the footballing scrapheap
9:45am Wednesday 16th May 2012 in Sport
JON Challinor is hoping to become a Football League player for the first time at the age of 31 just months after he felt he had been left behind on the soccer scrapheap.
The York City right-back endured a nightmare 2010 when he dropped out of the professional game to sign for part-timers Brackley before ending the year with the briefest of spells at Newport.
He then joined Kettering but was only on non-contract terms with the Poppies when City boss Gary Mills offered him a deal at Bootham Crescent in August.
Challinor’s last game for Kettering was as a substitute in City’s 5-1 victory at the Northamptonshire club, who would end the season relegated.
But the ex-Rushden trainee’s career has since been rejuvenated by Mills who has successfully switched him from midfield to full-back, where Challinor has performed with distinction for most of the campaign.
He started 35 of City’s 46 league games during 2011/12, which is the most he has managed at any club since ending his second spell at Rushden four years ago.
Speaking on his unexpected renaissance after also being a member of City’s winning team at the FA Trophy final, Challinor said: “To win something for the first time at 31 means everything to me but to win promotion would be another thing all together.
“It would cap a great season because I have come back from nowhere to get this opportunity. I thought I was on the scrapheap to be honest and I will always hold Mark Stimpson in high esteem after he got me back involved at Kettering but, ultimately, the gaffer and Geebo (City assistant manager Darron Gee) have helped me go from strength to strength.”
City are the ninth Conference team Challinor has represented during a nomadic career that has seen him ply his trade at Rushden, Aldershot, Exeter, Cambridge, Forest Green, Mansfield, Newport and Kettering.
In that time, he has twice suffered the anguish of missing out on promotion in play-off finals, in 2007 with Exeter and, two years later, as a Cambridge player.
Having broken his Wembley duck against Newport, though, he is desperate to taste victory under the arch again.
He said: “It’s certainly different to have the jubilation of going up those steps to pick up a trophy. Having been on the losing side there twice, it’s not nice and I felt for Newport but, at 31, I want to win things now. We know what to expect and what it feels like to win at Wembley and we’ve got to take that momentum into Sunday.”
Challinor also feels the brand of football his current team plays marks them out as better play-off final prospects than the Exeter and Cambridge sides he was a member of, adding: “We rely on our football to get through games while, previously, I have played for teams that look to go from back to front quickly and I have said on numerous occasions that I love the way we play.”
Despite Luton fans being expected to vastly outnumber their City counterparts this weekend, Challinor also does not feel that will be a significant factor in the final outcome. He reasoned that the Minstermen sold fewer tickets than Newport for the Trophy final but their vocal support was by no means drowned out by the Welsh team’s followers.
Challinor said: “The fans make themselves heard wherever we go. They get behind the team and push us forward and I expect them to do that again on Sunday.”
For a team whose last 33 goals have included only five before the half-time interval and who specialise in late strikes, Challinor added that City supporters might need to be patient again on Sunday.
He said: “At the start of the season, people did not really know much about the way we played. They probably wised up to it and we’ve had to work the ball into different positions a bit more to wear teams down.
“Then, we can play our football and cause sides problems. Saturday was always going to be a tight affair against Newport.
“I think it will be more of the same on Sunday – tight and tough.
“We are expected to win on previous results but it’s a totally different game – a one-off match – so we will need to dig deep first and then start to play our football, which we have done in previous games against Luton. I think if we do that, we will be fine.”