Veteran Australian defender Aaron Downes is on track to get back into the Football League with National League leaders Cheltenham Town.
Downes joined Cheltenham in May and has played every game for the club this season. The Robins are riding high in England’s fifth division, sitting on top of the National League with 50 points, four points above second-placed Forest Green.
“That’s the goal, to get promotion,” Downes told FourFourTwo.
“Cheltenham spent so long in the league and I think they’re sort of budgeted to go up. Anything less than promotion would I suppose be deemed as failure. That is the remit for the management team and us players.
“There’s a little bit of pressure there and so far we’ve dealt with that. We’ve had to overcome a few obstacles early on in the season and we’ve done that. We’ve got a never-say-die attitude.
“If we can keep that for as long as possible then we’ve got every chance. You see people shy away from that but we’ve stuck our necks out and said we want it, we want to get promoted. That is our aim.”
Cheltenham has lost just two of its 24 games this season, with Downes captaining the team from central defence and contributing four goals. The 30-year-old arrived at the full-time club this year after three seasons at Torquay United.
“I’ve settled in well,” Downes said
“It’s a great bunch of lads. The area itself is lovely, it’s a beautiful part of the world. As soon as I had look at the training ground and spoke to the manager, he sold it to me straight away. The decision was made really early on.
“I had three years there at Torquay. Last year was quite tough for everyone involved. The cub has hit some financial troubles, they’re struggling really to pay a decent wage.”
Originally from country NSW, Downes moved to the UK as an 18-year old. He had gone through the AIS and arrived in England for a trial at Bolton Wanderers.
While Downes failed to land a deal with Bolton, he signed with Chesterfield in 2004. Eleven years later he is still plying his trade in the Old Dart.
“It’s been a very different journey, it’s not the most natural route that most people would take,” Downes admits.
“But leaving Mudgee to go to the AIS for two years was fantastic. It was two of the best years of my life really. I learnt so much there in football. When I finished at the AIS the NSL had just broken up and the A-League was to start in about 18 months.
“It was a case of do I hang around until it starts, and hope to get an A-League club, or I had an offer to go to Bolton Wanderers in England. So it was kind of a no-brainer really, I always wanted to play in England.”
“I went to Chesterfield, I had eight years there. It was good. It was a great education to the league and to play 120 league games for them. I had my nasty injury and I was out for two seasons with it, and I met my wife there, so it was a good time there.
“I’ve played my whole career in the Football League and last year was my first sort of taste of dropping out of the league and into the conference now. I knew a little bit about it from last year, and believe it or not, it is a good league and there are some good players.
“There’s a lot of players like myself who have been in the league they’re whole career and have dropped down for one reason or another. It’s not like it was five, eight years ago. There’s some good clubs at this level like Tranmere Rovers. It’s a tough league and anyone can beat anyone on their day.”
Downes made more than 170 appearances for the Spireites and captained the club. He’s endured two serious cruciate injuries but has battled hard to resurrect his playing career.
“At the minute I’m feeling fantastic,” Downes said.
“My body is as good as it has ever been really. I spend quite a bit of time before and after training doing a lot of strength work. I look after my body a lot better now.
Downes played for the Young Socceroos at the 2005 Under-20 World and was part of the Olyroos squad that qualified for the 2008 Olympics, but he was not selected for the Beijing Games.
In 2005 the Young Socceroos, a squad containing the likes of Mark Milligan and Adam Federici, were coached by Ange Postecoglou.
“It was a brilliant experience,” Downes remembers.
“To represent your country – I’m very patriotic and I’m a very proud Australian – it was definitely the highlight of my career, without a shadow. Ange was brilliant with us.
“He didn’t leave anything to chance, there was a lot of detail in his coaching and his methods. Our squad was a really good team but I think we let ourselves down, we under-performed when we got to the finals.”
“To represent the Olyroos was another highlight. As much as I would have loved to go to Beijing, just to be part of it and the qualifiers was a great experience and an honour. It was bittersweet.”
Known for a being a threat at set-pieces, Downes is hoping to lead Cheltenham Town back into League Two this season.
“To be top at Christmas is great, it keeps us on target,” he said.
“We have scored the most goals and conceded the least amount so can’t be much better. But we haven’t won anything yet so the manager is keeping us grounded and we know we can improve, so we are working hard to get better.”
The experienced defender is also planning for life after football. Coaching is his primary aim, but he has also completed a course in sports journalism.
“You want to play as high as you can for as long as you can I’ve started to plan and prepare for life after football,” Downes said.
“I’ve also got my UEFA B license in coaching. I’ve also got my referee’s license as well, so I’ve got a couple of things up my sleeve. Coaching seems to be thing that interests me at the minute.”
(Main photo - Cheltenham Town FC)1 comment