ALEX Pritchard has been double-checking exactly when he was born in an attempt to extend his time at Swindon Town, which he has dubbed his “best year in football”.
The Tottenham Hotspur loanee plays his final game for Town at Notts County this afternoon after 10 months in Wiltshire, during which time he’s established himself as a firm fans’ favourite, the second best player in the division according to the Football League awards and a nailed-on future star.
Ahead of his last appearance in the red of Swindon, Pritchard told the local media how much he feels he has developed under the tutelage of Mark Cooper and Luke Williams, how much he will miss the camaraderie and team spirit of the Robins’ dressing room and just how much he has come to enjoy life at the County Ground.
Under the terms of his youth loan from Spurs, Pritchard cannot play against Rotherham United on the final day of the season, his birthday, as he turns 21. He even called up his parents just to check, as he explained: “I actually rang up my dad and asked him what time I was born. He said it was eight o’clock in the evening, or something like that, but I haven’t really checked up on it. I’m just gutted it was my last home game and I’m looking forward to Notts County, getting a win there, hopefully Peterborough slip up and we go into the last game of the season needing a win to get in the play-offs.”
Pritchard can reflect on reaching the third round of the Capital One Cup and the area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, and helping his team to what looks like being a seventh-place finish in League One during his first full season in the senior game.
When asked for his personal highlights, he said: “Big games against QPR, things like that, Smudge’s winner against Coventry, little things like that, the Bradford game, my goal against Bradford, the fans who have been great. It’s been my best year in football.
“Growing up a lot, getting fouled a lot, getting up and trying not to react, which I’ve done a few times this year, stopping backchatting to the referees.
“I’ve stopped that. I got a couple of bad tackles against Bradford at the weekend but didn’t react to it. I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’m sad to go.”
Given his size, and a difficult spell at Peterborough United at the end of last season, there were some doubts about Pritchard’s ability to step into the Football League. But he has made a nonsense of such notions with a series of tricky, dynamic performances.
He said: “I don’t think people thought I’d really live up to it, they didn’t think I’d be able to deal with it. I had to deal with it otherwise I wouldn’t be able to play this kind of football. Going from reserve league to League One is a massive difference.
“Football-wise you play against the likes of Chelsea in the reserves league, where both teams play football. Yes, there are some tackles, but it’s not strong. Then you come to League One and play against teams like Bradford, who just want to put it on the diag and things like that. It’s a battle in the middle of the park and you’ve just got to live up to it and get used to it.
“You’ve got to deal with it. It’s hard, coming from a reserve league to League One; it’s different but I’ve enjoyed it.
“I played in the Championship last year and it was hard, I found it very tough but when I came back I had to think about myself going to League One with the same sort of tempo and physical. I’m used to it now, I’m ready, I’ve just got to kick on and see what happens.
“I’ve always believed in myself and I believe in my own ability and what I can do on the ball. I know I can get better off the ball. My defensive side this year has totally changed, in possession and out of possession. I’ve never doubted myself and if anyone wants to doubt me they can doubt me.”
Leaving the Town dressing room will obviously be an emotional moment for Pritchard. There’s a tinge of sadness in his voice as we walk beside the County Ground pitch and he mentions something about “not playing here again”.
Speaking about getting ready to return to Spurs, he said: “I’ve already spoken to Nathan (Byrne) about it and I’m going to miss it but it’s just one of those things, you have to move on, don’t you.
“I’ve met a lot of new teammates and friends but obviously the Tottenham lads I’ve known for goodness knows how long so I’ll keep in touch with them, and most of the other lads as well.
“The fans have been brilliant, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I had a tough couple of games at the start and I think I’ve kicked on from there and started to play my football. The fans have been great for me and I appreciate it.”