In January, Mark Walton began his new job at Glamorgan as the Club’s new junior academy coach and player mentor.
It’s fair to say it’s been an unusual path to the role for Mark, who as well as being a former teacher, was also a professional footballer for 17 years with Cardiff City, Norwich, Brighton and others.
The club’s media team caught up with him to learn more about his new role and his interesting and varied career.
You started your job as assistant academy coach at the beginning of this year…can you tell us a little bit of what your role will involve?
It’s a fairly wide remit. Primarily it will be looking after the junior academy and pathway, which has come across from Cricket Wales to Glamorgan ownership recently. It’s supporting the coaches within that and helping young players develop to their full capacity.
The other part is based with the professional players and supporting them and overcoming any barriers they have in regards to learning or performance. I helped the playing squad a little bit last with that and it’s something I’ll look forward to doing again this year. It’s likely to be a busy summer so I’ll probably sling down some balls in the nets to them too!
Your background is in professional football but where does your love of cricket come from?
Cricket has always been a passion of mine. I’ve always played but that became more sporadic when I focused on football, but I always tried to sneak in the odd game here and there which was often in mid-week.
I played some league cricket in Norfolk, Essex and Wales and was able to represent Wales Minor Counties. Then about 20 years ago I fell in to coaching and it’s prospered from there and I’ve coached every age group within Cricket Wales.
You mentioned Glamorgan have taken over the pathway from Cricket Wales. What’s the thinking behind that change?
It’s been in the pipeline for a while and it’s something other first-class counties have control over. I don’t think there will be too many differences, but it does give young players the opportunity to be coached by the professional coaches at the club and I think that’s quite motivational, but also very helpful for coaches to help build a relationship with players.
How much potential and talent do you think there is in Wales?
There’s no more talent anywhere, but it’s just a matter of being able to identify and develop it and hopefully now with the club taking over the pathway system there will be more thing in places where we can actually develop players.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but there’s a really good crop coming through in the academy and it’s about us working really hard with young players from eleven to get the absolute best basics they can do and then hopefully in years to come we have this conveyer belt system. There’s plenty of ability out there but there’s lots of ingredients that go in to getting that ability to flower and that’s the club’s job really.
How do you go about talent spotting at a young age?
Cricket Wales are running the regional set up, so that will be a really good ground to initially look from but also going out and having a network of people who will scout players and send in recommendations and I think it’s critical to keep the net as wide as possible, for as long as possible. In the past the net has been fairly tight and if you got picked at 11 you’re probably playing at 14 or 15 but if we can hold this net longer and longer we’re giving people more opportunity to develop and I think that’s a critical area we’re going to look at and improve. Some people develop very early based on a variety of factors but others more slowly so we need to be switched on to giving everyone as long as possibly because you just never know.
You’ve had a 20 year career in cricket now but you’re probably best known as a former Cardiff City goalkeeper back in the early 2000s - what are your favourite memories from that spell?
I had a really good time at Cardiff. I joined the setup when I was about 30 and the club escalated rapidly during my time there. Seeing the growth of the club, from one that was struggling with the takeover to how it developed was a fantastic experience and I was probably old enough to appreciate the direction it was going in and how quickly it came.
You played with some other big clubs, including Brighton and Norwich. What was that experience like and how do you think it could help you in your mentoring role?
It seems quite a long time ago now, but they were some great times. You meet some varied people and within this role, something I hope to bring to it is people operate very differently and it’s appreciating that and trying to get the best out of players.
At Norwich it was great to be alongside some outstanding players and watching them operate and how they went about their business. Brighton was very similar to Cardiff. They’d fallen from grace but were rebuilding so it teaches you many lessons when you reflect and I think that’s critical to be able to help players now.
And finally, can you tell us a bit about that FA Cup run with Norwich?
We had a few good wins that year and got one step away from the biggest game of all but sadly we fell just short. It’s a memory I’ll never forget and when I reflect on it, it’s really good experience because you can help people who are going through similar things. Sport brings so much to people and gives so much but there is always the other side of it where it’s an emotional rollercoaster. I like to think I can help players who might be going through similar things.