‘I walked in the door and fell in love’: Tilt at Cup glory adds to Aldred’s Aussie odyssey

Teen Thomas Waddingham fires Roar into final

Brisbane Roar captain Tom Aldred talks candidly about highs and lows of a career he never expected to lead to Australia.

It’s somehow appropriate that it’s the Australia Cup which Tom Aldred aims to lift on Saturday night, because Australian is what this English defender aims to become in the near future.

A footballer whose first taste of the game came at The Cliff, Manchester United’s famous old training ground, and who literally traversed the length of the UK on his professional journey, has ended up settled in Queensland. Just quietly, he couldn’t really love it more.

Four years after Robbie Fowler plucked Aldred out of a loan spell at Motherwell in Scotland to be his Brisbane captain, he and his family have permanent residency and are on the path to full citizenship. Victory in the Australia Cup Final over Sydney FC would add another layer to this Antipodean love affair.

At 33, Aldred has most kind of experiences under his belt, and a bit of painful honesty to relay to the numerous young faces in the Roar dressing room. He’s come a long way since his mum took him to The Cliff for United’s Football in the Community schools program, and Queensland wasn’t in his plans for much of it – now his Australian home is at the centre of everything.

“It’s gone quite quick – though to be honest with you, I think the COVID year was almost two years in one,” he says. “This off-season was the first time I’ve been home.

“Four years has enabled me and the family to get our permanent residency in Australia and we’re looking to try and get our Australian citizenship soon.

“It would be good to have citizenship for the family and obviously for the football as well. But when I moved to Brisbane, when Robbie Fowler brought me over, we walked in the door and I just fell in love with the place.


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“It was just incredible. Queensland, Brisbane, Gold Coast, these are places that I used to pay a lot of money to go on holiday to in the offseason!

“So now to actually live in a place like this is, it’s pretty incredible. But more importantly,  it was always about the football and I’ve loved the league out here in Australia.”

Not everything about life in Queensland is an improvement on the north-west of England, where Aldred grew up and first made his name – for a start, “I love Oasis, and none of these lads would have a clue who Oasis are,” he notes with dismay of his teammates’ taste in music.

But he remembers what it was like to be a young footballer on the rise, with pressures and decisions to make that can take your career in all sort of different ways.

“I made a mistake when I was 19,” he says. “I broke into Carlisle United’s first team, played five or six games, did really, really well and probably did too well. 

“You know what it’s like at that age, a young centre-half, people were looking at me with that kind of potential and Watford paid money for me.

“That was great at the time, but realistically, looking back now, and I always tell this to young players – don’t move too soon. I moved too soon and then as a knock-on effect, I kind of struggled to settle for like the next two years.

Tom Aldred in action for Accrington Stanley in 2013.

“It was just like you say, going to various clubs and just couldn’t settle. It was only when I moved to Accrington at 22 years of age where I really found a home.

“I was back where I was from, the north-west of England, and I managed to put together near 100 games and that’s really where my career probably started as a first team player.

“Previous to that, I would say I was a young player with potential and as a centre-half, unfortunately, potential is not good enough. Managers rely on you, you’re a key part of the team and I just never really put games together.

“Look, in the end I feel like I realised the potential that was why Watford signed me, but it took years of learning and gaining experience.”

There are plenty of obvious lessons for the juniors in the Brisbane dressing room here: don’t rush, earn your spot, deal with frustration and work hard enough to make things happen.

“The centre-half pairing at Watford at the time was Adrian Mariappa, who obviously had a spell at Macarthur, and Martin Taylor – they were a good pairing,” he says.

“I never really got an opportunity but I’m not going to sit here and blame them. That’s football, that’s life, sometimes doors don’t open.

“There’s a tinge of frustration that I never got the opportunity at Watford in the Championship as they were at the time.

“But in time I worked hard and multiple doors opened and I went on to have what I would class as a good career.”

That has included 84 games for Accrington Stanley, 92 for Blackpool – including a play-off final win at Wembley – and more than 50 for Motherwell. But the four years at the Roar are his longest stint at a club, beginning with being made captain by Robbie Fowler on day one – but it might be the arrival of new head coach Ross Aloisi that puts the biggest shine on things.

Tom Aldred holds the trophy aloft after defeating Exeter in the League Two Playoff Final in 2017.

“Ross coming in has completely… well I don’t know if it’s the right word but I’m going to say, revolutionized the way we’re playing,” Aldred says.

“We’ve always had the bones of a decent side here at Brisbane, just fallen at the short end of things.

“But Ross has brought players in, the likes of Flor (Florin Berengeur), and we’ve seen players come of age now like Henry Hore as well as bringing young lads like Thomas Waddingham into the first team.

“Ross has been fantastic, he’ll tell you himself he’s just come from Japan and you can see the way these people work over there.

“It’s incredible to see, you know, obviously you’ve seen the success the likes of Ange Postecoglou have had after working there. 

“Just the way of playing – some of the terminology at first was a bit hard to get used to, it’s a bit different to the way they speak in Scotland!

“But we’re playing some good stuff. It’s a huge game on Saturday against a good Sydney side who have some huge players within their squad.

“We’ve got to play at their stadium too… but we’re looking forward to it.”

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar
Date: Saturday, October 7 2023
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Kick-off: 7:45pm (AEDT)
Broadcast: live and free on 10, 10 Bold in Perth, and 10 Play.
Tickets: start at $12 for a junior ticket, $15 for a concession ticket, $25 for adults, and $65 for a family pass.