As featured in one of our final programmes of the season, we caught up with Alfie Beestin about his career to date and first full campaign with the Iron.
We’ll start with your early years, Alfie. Talk us through growing up.
I started playing football when I was about three-years-old, just kicking the ball about, even just watching football. My mum used to say, as a kid, she would put me in front of the TV when football was on, and I’d just sit there and watch it all day.
When did football start becoming something you’d play ‘properly’ for the want of a better word?
I used to kick about with friends, but it was when I was about six-years-old when I joined my first team called Rothwell, which is a place in Leeds. I played there for a few years, and I loved every minute of it. As a kid, when I woke up on a Saturday, I was just really excited as all I ever wanted to do was play football. That was my first-ever team.
As someone who didn’t come through an EFL academy, I’d imagine there were a lot of teams in Leeds to choose from. How many teams did you play for in your younger years?
I went from Rothwell to Chapeltown, which is another team in Leeds, when I was about 11 or 12, until I was 14. I then went to Gipton, in Leeds, playing there until I was 16. I had trials with youth teams, but it was always travelling that was a problem for me as my mum and dad didn’t drive. It was always getting there that was the hard part. I had Hull City who wanted to sign me, but I had difficulty travelling there. It was just too much for me as a young kid, as I had to get trains, so it didn’t work out.
That must have been frustrating, as I’ve spoken to so many young players who say, “my dad drove me to X, Y and Z to trial”, but you were a bit restricted.
It was frustrating seeing the kids getting an opportunity when I felt like I was better than them. Obviously, they had the advantage of their parents driving, but I’d never ever put it on my parents not driving. It’s not their fault as they never got around to learning, and I’d never blame them for that at all. My parents did the best they could for me to get into teams, and I will always appreciate that. I’m here at Scunthorpe now, so it didn’t stop me for getting where I wanted to be.
Did it mean you had to work harder to get to where you are now?
Yeah, I think so, but it was always going to take hard work to get into professional football. It’s every kid’s dream to get into it. The main thing to be a footballer is hard work. You can be as good as you are, but if you don’t work hard for it, you’re not going to get it. Hard work was always the basis.
Has that mentality always been instilled into you? A number of young footballers do seem to lack it sometimes and think their ability will do the talking.
I’ve never had it easy. I don’t come from the worst area, but it’s not the best. I’ve not had much given to me in life, so I’ve always had to work hard for it. From a young age, I’ve always worked hard and done anything I can to get to where I am right now. I’ve always had that belief that I wanted to be a footballer, so nothing was going to stop me getting where I am now.
With the lack of travelling not going to stop you, you must have had a number of local clubs to choose from too?
There are loads of teams around Leeds, and some good ones as well. I ended up going to York College and they had a very good academy. It’s made three professionals too, including Ronaldo Viera, who is one of my best mates. He’s playing in Serie A. It’s a good academy, they’ve got a good set-up there and I loved my time there. It was basically like a professional set-up. Even though I haven’t been in an EFL academy, I’ve had very good coaching, so I’ve learnt a lot of stuff from them.
You see a lot of these academies around the country now and, at the young age levels, there doesn’t seem to an awful lot of difference between those and the EFL ones.
I still, to this day, say that the coaches I had at i2i were some of the best coaches I’ve ever had. Some of the stuff they taught me is what I used in my game today and most of the stuff I’ve learnt is from them. I can only appreciate them for helping me to get to where I am. They train three times a week, so it’s near enough the same as at academy level. Now, they’re even into university level, so they’re expanding even more. It’s a good academy and basically the same as EFL youth level.
I would imagine they get you to focus on the education side of things that little bit more, don’t they? As the realistic assumption is the majority don’t make it.
It’s even better for some people from that aspect, as you can get the academic levels that you want at the same time, and it’s not just the football side. It obviously doesn’t work out for some players, but then they’ll still have the academic side of it as well.
Did you get many during your time there?
I did my BTEC in sport. I got my Level Two and had started my Level Three, but Donny wanted to sign me, so I didn’t get to complete that course.
You were also into adult football from a very early age too, weren’t you?
Yeah, from the age of 16. That helped me a lot really, to help me get used to the roughness and the physicality of the game. It was tough at first to get used to big tackles coming in. I feel like I’m a big lad anyway, so it didn’t take me long to get used to it. I think my best decision was to go into adult football at 16, so I could get used to it because you see kids now turn 18, come into the first team and the physicality is a bit too much for them.
Was it Sunday league teams you played for as well?
Yeah, I played for Saturday league teams and Sunday league teams. I was only at the academy three times a week, and unlike an EFL academy, you don’t exclusively play for them. I just wanted to play football as much as I could, so I played at the weekends for different teams. I was playing near enough every day. Looking back, you can see the difference, as I was able to do that, but the amount I put in now takes a bit more recovery time.
It must be a bit strange looking back to think you were playing Sunday league not too long ago - and for people reading this, they can look at it and know that it is possible, if you put the hard work in.
Definitely. Look at Jamie Vardy - he got into the Premier League when he was 30, so it’s possible for anyone. You’ve got to believe in yourself and never give up. That’s the best example I can give and look at him now! If you want it enough, there’s always a chance to get into professional football.
Did you believe that you would get into professional football, or were you just doing it for the enjoyment at this stage?
I was just doing it for the enjoyment, but I always believed in my ability that something may come up at some time. I was just enjoying playing, but I believed that it would happen one day. I want to keep hold of that now. I’ve obviously dropped out the league once and I did my best to come back. Now I am, I will do my best to stay, and I want to play as high as I possibly can.
How did the interest from Doncaster come about?
When I was at i2i, I was playing as a striker and was scoring a lot of goals. I signed for Doncaster Rovers when I was 18 and it took me a while to get into the first team, but when I did, I played a decent number of games at a good level, and I think that’s helped me a lot. I just wanted to come to Scunthorpe and emulate that, playing a long run of games. When I first heard of the interest there, I thought I was going to train with the Under-18s. However, when I arrived, I was training straight with the first team on a week’s trial. I impressed straight away, but I got injured on the last day. Thankfully, Darren Ferguson told me that he’d already seen enough, so I’ll always be thankful to him for that, and he’s been a massive help for me.
It must have been an eye-opening week for you, in terms of the standard.
I felt that, technically, I was at the standard, but it was the pressing and the fitness levels that were crazy. On my first day, I did the yo-yo or bleep test, and I was just shocked. I wasn’t used it and it took me a while to get into it. My first season there was me getting to the levels required and then the following year was my breakthrough season.
You touched on Darren Ferguson there and I’ve read interviews from him on how much potential he saw in you. How good was he for you?
He was class. He was so good. He had so much belief in me, even without seeing me in the game. He offered me a contract after less than a week and that just gave me so much confidence. He wanted me to express myself and even the assistant Gavin Strachan was a massive help to me. Both of them were like father figures to me and both would do extra after training with me to work on stuff. They always gave me confidence when I was playing, and I was never nervous going into games.
How much do you think you came on under them?
I felt physically better. They told me what I needed to work on, and I needed to physically get better. I felt I did that, and I got rewarded with being played. I was then rewarding them with good performances on the pitch. He played me for most of the season, so I’ll always respect him for that.
Was it hard when Darren Ferguson left the club?
Yeah, it was tough. He was going to offer me a new contract that season, but then the thing happened with his dad, and I think that had an effect on him leaving as well. When he left, I was on holiday at the time, and when I found out, it hit me quite hard. I was shocked. When I got back into pre-season, Grant McCann had come in and didn’t really take a liking to me. Managers have always got their own opinions, but it meant that the season was a bit tougher for me.
Was there a reason for that, or is it just that you weren’t one of his players?
I don’t think I suited his system. He was playing me on the wing, and I’ve never been a winger. I’d always been a number 10 or in a striker role, and he didn’t see me as a lone striker. It just didn’t work out with him, so that was a bit frustrating.
I can probably guess one of the highlights you’re going to say, but what were your highlights at Donny? That goal against us?
There are a few. I scored on my debut and that was massive for me, as I was only 18. It was unreal. My first EFL goal was a massive moment for me as well, but then, yes, obviously the header here. It was a big moment at the time - the 95th minute in a local derby. We’ll forget about that one now!
You ended up getting released at the end of that season. How did that leave you feeling?
It was frustrating because when I was playing, I felt like I was one of the main players. To go from that to being released the following season knocked my confidence massively. My head just wasn’t in it, and I’d fallen out of love with the game. That summer, I was stupid. I didn’t think about football at all, I just went on holiday and tried to enjoy myself. I should have been working hard to try and get back into another team. Thankfully, during last season, Scunny gave me a chance and I’ll always be thankful to them because they didn’t have to take that gamble on me.
You speak about falling out of love with the game and we know you did end up going back to playing local football. Did you almost have to press the reset button and go back to what you knew you enjoyed about the game?
It was just about getting back into it. The coaches at Tadcaster always believed in me and I think it hurt them as well to see me get released as they’ve always believed in my ability. I was just enjoying my football again - playing, training and going to have a laugh. I was able to go out on a Saturday and I was enjoying it again. It gave me that little bit of freedom again which I needed at the time. It helped me out massively.
Do you regret that summer after you were released in terms of forgetting about football?
I had offers from clubs to go on trial and I felt like I didn’t need to go on trial to prove myself. I had a situation where my ex-girlfriend was living in a different country. I went over there to live with her, and I was about to sign for a team near her, but that didn’t work out. That knocked me as well and mentally my head was in a really bad place. I didn’t want to do anything; I didn’t want to leave my room. I just wanted to stay in my house and do nothing. I didn’t want to work hard anymore, and I didn’t want football. It was a hard time for me, but I had my friends and family around me to help me get through it. I feel like I’m a better person for it now and I’ll never take chances like that again, and I’ll never take anything for granted.
You’ve sort of pre-empted my next question, but how much did that period of your life mature you as a person?
Massively. I was a stupid kid then. I just wasn’t making the right choices and I feel like I wouldn’t make those mistakes again. I needed that experience to help me become a better person.
Did you think your chance in professional football had gone?
I always felt like I was good enough to get back in the league, it was just whether I wanted it enough. I was at the point where I felt that I didn’t want to be in football anymore. I just wanted to have a laugh with my friends and play football socially and just enjoy it. I knew, though, that I needed to get back into football to provide for my family. I wanted to try and be a role model for the younger people in my family. They look up to me and had seen me play league football and it hurt them as well to see me not enjoying myself. I felt like I had to prove to them that I wanted to get back into the league and make them proud.
Was there a lightbulb moment for all that, something that made you realise that you had to get back to working hard?
It came to a point where I just wasn’t doing anything. I was just in my room watching time go by. I wasn’t earning any money really. I was getting £100 a week at Tadcaster which is no good for anyone. I wanted to start earning money again and the only thing I knew I was good at was football, so I knew I had to get back into it.
When you arrived at Scunthorpe, did you still have an on-the-fence mindset, or had your mentality shifted back fully into football?
When I came, I didn’t know what it would be like and I had no idea whether or not I’d enjoy it again, like I had before. The first week I was here, I realised just how much I missed it - the same feeling I got in the first week when I joined Donny. I was back to playing football every day, among a good set of lads who make it enjoyable. I’m just buzzing now looking back that I was given that chance and I’ll never take anything for granted again. I never want to drop out of the league again.
There must have been a few tests of your resolve and mentality since you’ve been here too. Up until we had the Covid issue away at Exeter, you weren’t really getting a look in, which seems hard to believe now. I bet you were thinking whether your chance would go again, without really getting a chance.
Exactly - it was a tough time for me. When I first came here last season, I knew I wasn’t fit enough to start games. To be fair to the gaffer back then, he put me on straight away and gave me my debut, so I’ll always be thankful for that. The Covid situation happened, so we didn’t play football for five months. When we came back, I felt good, but there wasn’t a position for me in the team. It took me a while to get in, but I always believed that I’d get in. I feel like when I’ve been played, I’ve put in good performances. I’m playing regularly now, so I just want to keep playing as much as I can. I’ve scored five goals this season, which is the most I’ve scored in a season, and that includes starting in a more defensive position. I’m happy with my individual performances this season, but it’s about the team and obviously we’re not where we wanted to be.
Having only come in on a short-term contract last season, you must have had uncertainty in your head during the pandemic?
I signed until the end of the season, and I didn’t get many opportunities to play, so when we were off I was wondering whether I’d be offered a new contract or not. I’m still very thankful to the chairman for offering me a new deal. I feel like I’ve rewarded that decision now, and they’ve given me a new contract again, so I’m thankful for that as well.
You touched on having five goals this season and, but for the most recent one at Morecambe, all of your goals have been significant ones and gained us vital points. That must feel good as an individual?
That’s the main aim. You want to score important goals and I feel I’ve done that this season. The one at Morecambe didn’t mean anything, but it’s good to get another goal under my belt.
Your goals have gained us eight points this season. Winners at Cambridge and Colchester and that last-minute equaliser against Southend are the ones that stick in my mind. They could be massive come the end of the season.
The goal against Southend helped keep them away from us in the league at the time and it’s massive for me to help the team. There have been a few other players who have scored big goals for us this season too, like Lofty and Eisa. It’s not just me, we’ve all contributed to the points that we’ve got. It’s a team game.
It is a team game, but how would you sum up your season as an individual?
I’ve been happy with my performances and scoring a few goals has been a big plus for me. I feel like it’s been one of my best seasons in football so far. The last few games, I have tired a bit, which is why the gaffer has rested me a little bit, which is maybe what I needed.
Coming into the season, I guess you had no idea what would happen, but did you set yourself any targets and have you met them?
I wanted to be starting, playing as many games as I could and scoring as many goals as I could. I never really set out any targets. The main aim for me is starting and winning games. We’d like to be a bit higher in the league.
How much of it will be building on this season for next season now? You’ve got that new contract so you go into the summer without uncertainty, so you can go away and really prepare yourself.
Exactly. I want to try and help get this club back where it belongs. We need to keep working hard to try and do that. My aim is to keep working hard, better my own performances and give the team the best chance of winning games. I don’t need to worry about what I’m doing at the end of the season as I know exactly where I’m going to be. I can just focus on coming back flying next season ready to help the team as best as I can.