Matt Healey continues the series.
Stuart Fleetwood was born in Gloucester on the 23rd April 1986 as a youngster he was a talented rugby union fly half, but decided that football would be a better option after he scored 104 goals in one season for Newent youth. He joined Cardiff City at the age of 12 and eventually made it through to the 1st team playing 8 games for the Bluebirds.
I asked him how Graham Turner managed to sign him for Hereford United. Fleetwood told me “It was a strange one really, I was billed as the next big thing at Cardiff City , but I got myself involved in a bit of trouble and was also convicted of drink driving. Dave Jones was the manager back then at Cardiff and he released me with about six months of my contract left. Graham Turner got in contact and I knew Hereford was a big club, plus with me having a driving ban it wasn’t too far away from my home city of Gloucester so I signed for the club”
Fleetwood made his Hereford debut in a 3-0 win at home to Cambridge United on the 31st January 2006. “It took me a couple of games to get into it. I scored my first goal away at Canvey Island”
Fleetwood was also on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win live on SKY against Stevenage on the 27th February 2006, the previous season Graham Westley’s team had knocked the Bulls out of the Conference Play Off Semi Finals, so this result was extremely sweet.
Fleetwood would score five goals for the club as Hereford finished in 2nd position for the 3rd year running. It was onto the Play Offs and a two legged Semi Final against Morecambe which Hereford came through 4-3 on aggregate. Then up next was a trip to the Walker Stadium, the home of Leicester City to face Halifax Town for a prize to play in the Football League next season.
“I was disappointed I wasn’t starting but Graham went with Andy Williams and Adam Stansfield up front, it was the biggest game of my career, we took so many fans and all my family came down. I was so desperate to get on and came on just before the end of the 90 minutes, it was a topsy turvy game but we came out 3-2 in the end after extra time. Ryan Green scored the winning goal. I had known him going back to our Cardiff City days, a left foot curler from outside of the penalty area. He didn’t score many of those!”
“The celebrations were fantastic, there was champagne everywhere in the dressing room, we got back to Hereford on the bus and went straight to a nightclub in our tracksuits, we partied for the next few days”
During the summer of 2006 there was speculation that Fleetwood would attract the attention of bigger club’s but he would remain at Edgar Street.
“There was interest, but I wanted to play regularly, when the squad numbers came out and I was given the number 10 shirt it solidified my position in the team, it was me & Andy Williams up front which raised a few eyebrows as we were both 19”
The goals were flowing for Fleetwood in pre season and he started the new season with 5 goals in 5 games. He also had the distinction of scoring Hereford United’s first goal as a returning Football League club in a 2-0 opening day win at Stockport County on the 5th August 2006. For the record Ken Wallace was the original first Football League goalscorer back in 1972.
This was followed up a week later with the opener in a 2-0 home win over Chester City and then a hat trick against Championship side Coventry City in a 3-1 surprise League Cup win on the 22nd August 2006.
Fleetwood was also back in the Welsh Under 21 squad and was close to a move on transfer deadline day which fell through near the end, but things took a turn for the worse that Autumn.
“I remember feeling poorly and ended up being on a drip in the hospital with a virus. I never normally get ill, but I felt so fatigued and ended up losing two stone. It took me a while to get back in the team and I lost my form”
Graham Turner had bought in Steve Guinan on loan from Cheltenham Town and Fleetwood’s first team opportunities were restricted, he went out on loan to fellow League Two side Acrrington Stanley to get some match fitness, but would be released at the end of the season.
“It was out of my hands. I wanted to stay, but these things happen in football. I hadn’t played much in the 2nd half of the season and the manager had a decision to make. Graham (Turner) was honest with me, he spoke face to face and sat me down and told me he was releasing me. I want to get into management at some point and these are the decisions that need to be made”
Fleetwood would then drop into the Conference signing for Forest Green who were managed by former Hereford United midfield maestro Jimmy Harvey. After a successful season at the Lawn scoring 32 goals. Fleetwood was sold to Championship side Charlton “I remember seeing Graham Turner a few years later and he said he regretted letting me go, but I needed to get my form back and I got myself back in the Championship after leaving Cardiff at that level a couple of years earlier”
Fleetwood would only appear for Charlton once, ironically in a League Cup tie against Hereford and spent time out on loan to Cheltenham and Brighton. He would return to Hereford in the Summer of 2010.
“Simon Davey (Hereford Manager) rang me and told me he wanted to sign me. He offered a great deal for League Two, it was less than what I was on at Charlton, but my partner had a baby on the way. I wanted to come back to Hereford as I was settled in the area and I knew it was the right move for me”
In the Summer of 2010 Hereford United had undergone a sweep of changes. After 15 years at the club Graham Turner had departed. A new Chairman called David Keyte had taken over and optimism was high that fresh impetus would see the Bulls challenging for promotion.
The club had a great pre-season, which included a 2-0 over a strong Swansea City side and when nearly 1,000 Hereford supporters travelled up to Cheshire to see a 1-0 opening day win at Crewe Alexandra things were looking extremely bright. It then went horribly wrong.
“We started so well, pre-season we looked great, but then didn’t win again under Davey. I got on with him, but looking back there were too many players, lots of loan players joined, there seemed to new players in training every day and there was no continuity, the board had a decision to make and after 10 games we were rock bottom, so they got rid of Davey and his assistant Andy Fensome”
Physio Jamie Pitman would take over as caretaker manager. “I knew Pits from when were players and he knew the club so well. Hereford fans will always get behind a player that works hard. Jamie trimmed the squad, he got a core group of players in and it breeded stability which is what we needed”
On the 16th October 2010 Hereford faced Northampton Town at the Sixfields Stadium. At half time the Bulls were 3-0 down, Fleetwood scored two in a dramatic 2nd half comeback where Hereford came out 4-3 winners.
Fleetwood and Mathieu Manset would then go on a fantastic scoring run, the pair notched nearly 30 goals in the space of three months, but off the pitch the relationship was strained.
“Its a bit like Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham when they played at Manchester United. I didn’t get along with him, he would shout at me, usually some expletive in French. We would fall out in training, but on the pitch we complimented each other so well. He was big and strong whilst I was quick and we scored a lot of goals together”
Manset would then depart in January 2011. His goals alerted Championship side Reading who signed the temperamental Frenchman for a six figure sum.
“I felt a lot of pressure when Manset left, but I loved it. Towards the end of the season it was only me who was scoring”
Fleetwood’s later equalizer against Bradford City in a 1-1 draw on the 30th April 2011 secured the Bulls Football League survival.
“The day started well as I won something like 3 out of the 5 player of the year trophies. We conceded a late penalty which they converted, but near injury time we got a free kick on the edge of the box. I don’t normally take them, but I just felt I could score, I remember it going in and feeling an almighty sense of relief. I got quite emotional at the end as we had done enough to secure our safety”
The next season would be a disappointment for the club which ultimately ended in relegation. “Pre-season was ok, but it didn’t feel the same”
Hereford would lose their first three league games which included a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Macclesfield Town on the 16th August 2011.
Fleetwood would depart on transfer deadline day at the end of the month.
“I want to set the record straight as there were people saying I engineered a move away from Hereford which was totally untrue. What happened was about 5 hours before deadline day Jamie Pitman called me and said the board had accepted a bid from Luton Town, they were the league below but a massive club (Now Championship) . Pitman said he didn’t want me to go, but the board had accepted Luton’s offer and the ball was in my court.”
Fleetwood continued “I was settled in Hereford with my family, but if the board accepted the offer in my mind they wanted me gone. Luton were in the conference but were a huge club at that level, they offered me a better deal so I decided to move down there and sign for them. David Keyte asked me to go the office to sign the transfer forms, but he kept me waiting two hours, it left a bitter taste in my mouth as I loved the fans, but it was the board who wanted me gone”
Fleetwood was part of the Luton Town team who reached the FA Cup 5th round in 2013 and spells at Eastleugh, Forest Green, Sutton United, Bath City, Merthyr and Redditch followed.
Fleetwood scored for Redditch in a 5-2 loss at Hereford FC on New Years Day 2018. I asked him if he was ever close to signing for the phoenix club. “I spoke to Pete Beadle a few times in the early days, but it just didn’t materialize. I just didn’t want to drop down so low in my career. Winning 5-0 every week in a lower standard league wasn’t for me. I wanted to play as high as I could”
Fleetwood is now player coach at Yate Town and also works as a personal trainer in Gloucestershire.
Thank you to Bulls News & Andy Compton for the Hereford United Photographs that were used in this article.