Alfie Mawson Wycombe is full of stories from his “short but sweet” career in Barnsley, Swansea, England, and his return to Wycombe, where he announced he was quitting football at just 29 years old last month. to Wales.
Mawson was 22 at the time and was confused about joining his first Premier League club, but wasn’t quite sure where Swansea was. “I thought it was closer to home (Read) than Barnsley, so I’m going to see my family more,” she says. “But I’ll be honest, my geography of England, Wales and Scotland was terrible. I was thinking, ‘He’ll be next to Cardiff, right, big rivals’. We’re driving past Cardiff on the M4 and the sat nav says we’re still an hour 20 away and I said, what? I kept driving and looked left and said is that the sea? I am shocked.”
When he finally got there, Mawson faced a new challenge. Swansea’s training ground was on Gower, a rugged rural peninsula. “Some mornings you were about to be late because sheep and cows were passing by and I thought ‘you’re going to punish me here’. It took some getting used to the accents, but we loved our time there, we absolutely loved it.”
This is a story that neatly sums up Mawson: clear and real, humble and sometimes a little naive by his own admission (he spent £60,000 a year on injury insurance before discovering he had been scammed at over 800 percent of the outgoing rate), as if he were the most normal lad in the world. He speaks as if he has fallen into the glamorous, brutal world of elite football.
He was playing out of league for a moment, then he looked around and he was a pro. He was suddenly promoted to the Premier League and played every weekend for Swansea against some of the best forwards in the world. His teammates used to make fun of him for being too enthusiastic and “high in life” – but in retrospect, this may have had implications for his love of sweet treats. “I’d say yes, who would have thought I’d be here? That’s great! That’s not real. It’ll still be me, I’ll always have dessert. But not many people can say they got there, so no matter how I got there, I would accept it.
He scored a winning goal against Liverpool, received praise from all corners of the media and was included in the last England squad before the 2018 World Cup.
He describes training with the England senior team with a sense of admiration – John Stones was “a player”, Dele Alli was “absolute flames” and the standout was the “enormous” Jack Wilshere – and he left camp completely exhausted. intensity. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was difficult, it was truly foreign to me. I was with the U21s but the progress was huge.”
Gareth Southgate didn’t give Mawson a chance on the field, and this was the closest he’d come to fulfilling his dream. “I wish I had five seconds, 30 seconds just to say ‘yes, I played for England’.”
The journey there was a whirlwind, and no one expected it to end faster than it began. Following Swansea’s relegation, the move to newly promoted Fulham offered a fresh start in the Premier League but broke his troubled knee. His manager, Claudio Ranieri, told the press that Mawson was in the locker room while he was taking off his boot, it’s a catchy saying and it turned out to be lost in translation. “He didn’t realize it, he was just saying it, so he gave the press something to write about and laugh about. But he was a true gentleman, a cool, nice old man.”
After Fulham sacked Ranieri, Scott Parker took the reins, and Mawson barely showed up once more instead of spending time on loan in Bristol City, hinting at a broken relationship. “I’m pretty outspoken, so if I disagree with things, I’ll give my opinion. I’m not going to just sit around and do this or go against myself. I was comfortable being involved and not playing as much as I used to, it’s frustrating and upsetting, but there’s a lot you can do to make yourself stand out.”
He failed a health checkup at another Championship club with concerns about the longevity of the series, and so he returned to Wycombe last summer knowing this might be where he could see his career, but with no idea how soon that day would come.
Manager Gareth Ainsworth allowed Mawson to listen to his body by training once a week and putting on outstanding League One performances over the weekend. But in January he was summoned by a knee surgeon to a face-to-face meeting to discuss the latest scan results, and this immediately went off in his mind. He’d had six surgeries so far on his lateral meniscus, “the door between the bones that stops the cartilage wearing down,” and he could sense something wasn’t right.
The doctor seated Mawson and warned him that what he was about to say was not advice or medical advice, but a bitter truth.
“He knew me and knew I didn’t want to risk my health. I haven’t had kids yet, but that was a big deal, I wanted to play with them in the garden one day. Maybe you could play a few more games, but then he said you’ll never be in shape; he’ll take another little move and you’ll be in big trouble. He said I could show it to a hundred other knee surgeons and they would say the same thing – that would be retiring.
“It was ruthless. When I initially went to meet him, I was holding on to some hope, a kind of injection to take me back to summer and reevaluate. But I didn’t want him to lie. He knew me as a person, he knew what I was going through and how I wanted to feel after football, and he made that decision very clearly for me.”
Once you leave this room, please, said the doctor, never run again.
“Ultimately having to finish football blew me away,” he says. But he also has a remarkable sense of perspective. He enjoyed indulging his love of food. He has seen his family more in the last two months than in the previous 10 years. He wants to be a better uncle to his nephews and a better brother to his cancer-fighting sister. “Football is great and I loved it, but much worse things happen in the world than my bad knee.”
Mawson hasn’t decided what’s next. He’s busy biking and golfing, two activities the knee can handle. His wife, Beth, wants to travel, and he owes it to her after traveling around the country so many times in her career. “I will let my wife drag me in Asia or elsewhere. It will be a strange, different experience for me, but I look forward to it.”
When they come back, he will think about the next. “If I can help someone who’s been through what I’ve been through, then I will.” But before that, he wants to take on the 10,000 challenge: Eating 10,000 calories in 24 hours. He’s already mapped out: Nandos, Wagamamas, 12 cans of Krispy Kremes with Coke cans in between. “I will beat him.”