James Baxendale is loving playing regular football again after joining Mansfield Town’s play-off push from League One promotion-chasers Walsall.
And the 23-year-old said the move had brought back memories of his half-season spell at Northern Premier League Buxton where regular football at Silverlands ignited his career when he was struggling to get into the Doncaster Rovers side in 2011.
Baxendale had endured a frustrating season at Walsall, but admitted he had no axe to grind with the high-flying Saddlers as they were not going to change a winning side.
Like his time at Buxton, the energetic midfielder has shown he just wants to play football.
He said: “The team at Walsall is flying and I wish them all the best. But from the personal side of things, I had to come away to play some games and I think I’ve found the right club.
“It’s been frustrating for the last season or so as I wasn’t really getting regular football.
“When I first started at Walsall I was playing every week which was ideal and I got a good grounding there and a feel for what first team football is about. But now it’s time to come here and kick on.
“The Walsall team that started the beginning of this season have not lost many. So there’s been no way for me to bang on the manager’s door and say ‘why am I not getting a game’ as they lads have been so good.
“So it was either be happy to sit on a bench every week and watch them win or come away and find myself first team football. I am not one to sit on a bench so that’s what’s happened.”
He added: “It was a similar situation at Buxton. I started off the season in and around the first team at Doncaster. Then a change of management came and I found myself out.
“But I was only 18 at the time and a first year pro and I needed to get regular football again. You go from the youth team playing every week to no football whatsoever.
“You need to kind of do whatever it takes to get yourself ready for when you are called upon in the League.
“It gave me a good grounding. Every game you play you learn. So when you are a young lad every kind of experience you can get is invaluable really.
“It was good at Buxton. It was around Christmas time when I started playing there and the pitches were turning. So there wasn’t a lot of football played.
“But coming from the youth team, where it’s perfect football, to go to play football against men that want to kick you up in the air, you do learn.
“You learn that you’ve got to get away sometimes and you learn more about the game there than you can learn in training or reserve team football. For me it was crucial.
“The manager was Scott Maxwell. He lived in the same area I did and looked after me. To be fair he was very good with me.
“You are driven. As a young lad, if you want to make it in the game you’ve got to be driven – whatever it takes. And I just wanted to play regular football and get out there at 3pm on a Saturday, so at the time it was whoever would give me a game.
“Scott gave me games and that experience you get on the pitch you can take forward.”
Baxendale came through the youth set-up at Leeds United, but failed to break into the first team.
“The facilities were unbelievable at Leeds,” he said. “You see good players coming into the first team, and you go to Elland Road, which is inspiring as it is.
“That was what I always aspired to do – try to get out in front of that Elland Road crowd every week.”
His early loves were Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, though his footballing heroes played for neither.
“I had a season ticket at Forest when I was a kid, and then as I knew better I went to Sheffield Wednesday,” he smiled.
“But my heroes were Steve Gerrard and Joe Cole really. Gerrard can carry a team on his own – he won that Champions’ League final in Istanbul on his own in my opinion.
“Then players similar to myself like Joe Cole - well maybe not similar to myself - in the sense that he carries the ball and excites people. Football is an entertainment sport and he entertains people.”
Baxendale arrived on Mansfield loan for a month, scoring and winning man of the match in Stags 2-1 win over Stevenage on his debut.
“At Walsall I was itching for football,” he said. “So to come in on the Friday and know you’re going to play on the Saturday is exciting and something you’ve worked for for a while. I came in on the Friday and we won the game on the Saturday – you can’t really settle in much better than that.
“The lads were joking there’s only way for me now. The debut was good and then we won four of my first six games here.”
Baxendale penned an 18-month deal in the January window and said: “I was glad to get it done.
“I felt like I settled in here pretty much straight away and saw the way the club is run day in and day out. The lads have welcomed me in well, as have the management. Now it’s done and I want to kick on with the season.”