As featured in our matchday programme against Stevenage, we caught up with attacker Devarn Green to discuss his career to date and his first full season in the claret and blue of the Iron.
Dev, all I know about your start in football is that it came with Burton Albion. Was there anything before?
No, not really. My start in football was at Burton. I started off quite late, so I did play for a Sunday team, but Burton was the start for me when football started getting crucial. I did go to Bristol Rovers before Burton, and I was going to sign there but it didn’t work out for some reason. I’m not sure why I didn’t sign there, I can’t remember.
Was it just local teams on a Sunday?
Yeah, that was when I was very young.
With coming into football late and not really playing for a side, how did Burton spot you, or were you actively searching for an academy club?
I actually went there for six or seven weeks. They called me in and wanted to have a look at me. They liked me, but they changed my position and tried to bring my defensive side out to get me to work on that a bit. They eventually signed me on a scholarship.
You didn’t complete your scholarship there though, did you?
I’d signed a two-year scholarship at Burton but before the end of my first year, Blackburn had seen me. I ended up moving there to finish off my scholarship before turning professional.
How does that faze you as a 16-year-old with Blackburn coming in and paying money for you to take you away from Burton?
Nothing really processed with me really. I don’t think I really knew how big it was at the time. I know Blackburn is a big club and they’d been in the Premier League, so I took the opportunity, and I was excited to start there.
I suppose you had a whirlwind few years with coming to football late, signing for one EFL club’s academy and then moving onto another in quick succession.
Yeah, it was. Burton are a big club in itself really and they have a good set-up there. With a massive club like Blackburn coming in, I just knew I had to go. It wasn’t until I got there, and they put me in digs, when it hit me, and I realised how big Blackburn is as a club. I was seeing players like Leon Best, David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen and even that added to it.
How was it as an experience coming through to being a professional there?
Very good. I think that was probably one of my best experiences so far. The environment and everything about it - the training ground, the facilities - was more or less of Premier League standard. My whole experience there was good, and I have no bad word to say about my time there.
How much do you feel they progressed you as a player?
I think they helped me a lot. As a younger player, you just want to play games and you naturally develop that way, but they had virtually a Premier League set-up, so they did help me a lot.
I guess the first real disappointment in your career came when they let you go. How did you deal with that?
It was mentally tough. That was one of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my career so far, not just that I was coming away from a big club and would have to drop down. Sometimes you have to go down that route. It’s hard to take because you’re there and it’s like a click of the fingers and it’s gone, and it was hard to get back to being myself and to get my confidence back. My confidence was knocked a bit from that. It took me a while to get going again, but when I did, it was the start of my journey here today.
Were you shocked or disappointed not to be retained at Blackburn, or was it no surprise, from your perspective?
It was a difficult time for the club, in general. Quite a few of us were let go, so it was a difficult period. Obviously, I would have liked things to be different, but that’s life sometimes. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to. You just have to bounce back from it.
It does take a strong character doesn’t it after you’re released at a young age? You see a large number of young lads never associate themselves with football again, so you have to really want to get back in.
Most of my friends, who I know from that level, have stopped playing football. That’s not just ones who have come from a big club, but some have had so many knock downs, so they’ve just given up. For me, I have good support around me. I’ve got family and other people who are around me, and they’d never let me go that far. There are times in your career where you do wonder what you’re going to do, but you’ve got to have that character to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.
It does also take character to pull yourself away from the luxuries of a big club with all the facilities and realise you have to drop down to play for a lower league or non-league club to find your feet again, and that’s what you’ve had to do.
It’s a massive difference between the two. A friend of mine got me to Hednesford. I only wanted to play games and I’d played with him before. He got me to come and play a few games with them to get my confidence back and to get myself back out there. I was there for five or six games, and people knew who I was anyway, but I started getting noticed again, and I just needed to show I was still there.
How did you take that summer after being released from Blackburn? Did it take you long to get back on track?
As I can remember, I was just trying to keep fit and trying to keep my mental state in a good place. That’s the most important thing in football. It’s not just physically, you have to look after yourself mentally as well. It’s a massive part of the game. I was just taking any opportunities that came my way which would help me to get back out there playing football again.
How much do you look back on your spell at the non-league sides you played for as a positive in your development? As we know, it’s a completely different game of football from the one you’ll have experienced at academy level and in reserve fixtures.
Yeah, definitely. Men’s football, no matter at what level it is, is challenging. Non-league level is tough, and you come up against some rough teams. You very rarely come up against teams that are going to pass the ball or see nice, pretty football. I’m still young now, but I was really young then, and I was getting to know the game a lot more. I was playing against men, so I was learning very quickly what to do and what not to do. It helped me a lot, I’d say.
It must have been a culture shock to your style of play, as you like to get the ball down and run at defenders. You’d gone from really good surfaces to some not-so-good pitches in a short space of time.
It wasn’t that hard for me to be honest. The pitches that I played on weren’t that bad. You get the odd occasion where it is, but it makes you a better player to be able to deal with that factor. Going from a good surface to playing on a non-league surface, it tests your ability and makes you better. When you do play on a decent pitch, you’ve got no excuses.
Did getting released from Blackburn prove to you how much you wanted to play football and be a professional?
Yeah - that’s all I wanted to do as a kid. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t play football. It gave me that drive to come back. Like I said before, I did take it as a massive knock, and it did take me a long time to build myself back up again from that.
You touched on your family - did they have to put you back on the right track in any way?
I was already there, but they’ve always been a strong part of my career, on and off the pitch. They’ve always been there even when I didn’t really need them. That’s what family is about, so I’m quite lucky for that.
Let’s focus on you getting back into football then. You began at Hednesford, then Stourbridge and then went to Tranmere Rovers who were still non-league at the time, and a big club at that level too.
Stourbridge is local to me, and I knew a few of the boys from younger ages, being at different clubs, and playing against each other. It was handy for me because it was on my doorstep from where I live in Birmingham. I needed to play games to keep getting noticed and that was my main focus. Tranmere are a massive club, and they didn’t deserve to be where they were. They were in the National League, and it was a good experience for me to be in that environment, pushing for the play-offs. The team got to Wembley and got promoted back to the EFL while I was there.
I remember reading something when you signed from Stourbridge to Tranmere stating it was a big move for you.
It was. The stadium is nice, and the facilities are good as well. They definitely didn’t deserve to be down there.
You played three games for Tranmere, scoring one goal, but appearance records are a little bit sketchy before then. Can you remember your record before?
At Stourbridge, I played a few games. It was probably six or seven games. Things happened quite quick, going from Hednesford to Stourbridge and then onto Tranmere. The more games that I was playing, the more confident I was getting, and the more consistent I was in my performances. People start to talk, so I ended up at Tranmere. It’s fair to say, it didn’t quite work out there, so I moved onto Southport and that’s when things started coming fast for me and ended up in me coming to Scunthorpe.
Is there a reason, that you know of, why it didn’t work out there?
I don’t think I had the chance that I would have liked to have there. Whether that was my own doing, or not breaking into the team, I don’t think I had the chance to show what I had during my time there.
Would you say that Southport was the first time that you did have a proper chance at that level to show what you could really do?
Yeah, I did feel as though that was the time to turn it on and show how good I am. It did start off a bit slow during my time there. I was playing, but I was in and out of the team, but my confidence was there. When I started playing more, getting a good run of games, in my second year, I started scoring goals and making things happen. I was a regular.
I suppose that’s where Scunny sat up and took note of your progress. What’s going through your head when a league club came in for you again?
It was massive. I knew how big the club was and I just wanted to get back in the league. Even though I was at Blackburn, I never had the chance to play league football and I was never sent out on loan either. It was a massive move for me, and it was probably the biggest moment for me when I knew I had to move for myself.
When you hear about the interest, was it about doing it as quickly as possible for you?
I wanted to be here, I wanted to make it happen whatever it took. I wanted to be playing in the league, and this was an opportunity to get back in.
How was the club sold to you, if you can remember? You obviously arrived in the middle of what has been a difficult three years for the club.
Every club goes through patches, no matter at what level they’re at. For me, it was the lure of getting back into the league. Scunny is a big club with great history behind them with a number of promotions. I wanted to get back in the league and to open other doors. The more I play, the more goals and assists will come. I am improving my game just by playing against better players and experienced players who have played at higher levels.
I can’t remember who I was speaking to recently, who came as part of the media cohort of an away club, but he saw you play for Southport only a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe how much you had progressed since he last saw you play. Do you see that in yourself?
I do, yeah. I feel stronger and I feel like I’m supposed to be here, playing in the league. That’s not being big-headed or anything. It improves your whole game. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to play in front of crowds this year, but that improves your game as well. Hopefully we will again next season. It helps you step up a little bit more.
We spoke about you progressing at Blackburn and how non-league football helped you, but how much do you feel you’ve progressed from your starting point to the present day?
I feel like I’ve got a lot more to give. You don’t stop learning and there’s not a period in your career where you stop getting better. It’s down to you to keep pushing yourself to get better. I think I’ve developed a lot. I understand the game a lot more now. When you’re younger, you just play and try to develop that way, but now I’m getting older, I think I understand the whole game a lot more; what’s important and what needs doing.
I’ve touched on this with a couple of other lads like Alfie Beestin and Jai Rowe. It must’ve been disappointing for you that last season was curtailed having just got into the team, making your debut at Port Vale a couple of weeks earlier?
It was, yeah, especially as it was in front of fans. The fans are football and without them it’s not the same, as everyone knows. It is as it is at the moment. I just hope we can get them in as soon as possible.
How hard has it been for you without fans, especially coming from non-league where you can hear every word, and the fact that you’re a flair player and that encouragement can see you beat players, especially with your pace?
You don’t get as many fans at that level as we do here, but football isn’t the same without fans. It was tough for me at the start because you have to try to get yourself going before the game, and it’s not quite the same. As the season has gone on, we’ve got used to it, not just myself but all the boys. We’ve had important games, so we’ve had to focus on that. It is what it is, so we’ve had to keep going. Adrenaline will be high when they’re back. I just want to show the fans how good I am, and hopefully bring a lot to the club, both personally and as a team.
If you take the team out of the equation, how would you evaluate your season personally?
I think I’ve done okay, but you can always do better. Next season has got to be better.
Is this year the foundations for you then?
Yeah, this was about getting used to playing regular football. I started off where I’d struggle playing Saturday-Tuesday, but my fitness is there now. There’s definitely more to come. For me, it’s about finishing this season positively, work hard in the off-season in the summer and come back ready to go. I’ve got to stay focused, keep fit, and feel fresh when football starts again next season.
You’ve been deployed in a few positions this season. Given the choice which would you prefer?
I like to play on the left. It’s just because it gives you more options with what you can do with the ball. You can cut in, and you can mix up your game more. I’ve always played on the left, and that’s where I’d tend to drift out.
All things considered - COVID, the injuries, the young squad and all of the factors you can put in there - is survival in League Two deemed as a success, even if there’s disappointment too?
I remember we started the season slower than we wanted to. It’s been a tough season, not just football, but with what has been going on in the world. Mentally, it has been draining for a lot of people. For us to stay in the league is massive for everyone - for the fans, the manager, and the team. We train every day and work hard, so it means a lot.
You touched on the gaffer there. It’s obviously been his first season as a league manager, how do you think he’s done?
It’s not easy for any manager, whether you’ve had 10 clubs or not. He’s a great manager and is only going to get better. Hopefully, we can all continue to help him and do well for this club.
What has he, and the staff, done for you this season in terms of progressing you?
I’ve spoken to the manager a few times this season on how I can improve. He’s given me some great information and he’s also given me the ability to show that by giving me a run of games, which I needed. That was my issue at the start. I needed to play, and when you’re in and out of the team you can’t really get that flow. He’s given me that chance, and I full respect and appreciate that.
You said at the start, you feel there’s more to come from you. What do you feel is there to come?
Goals, creativity, and that excitement in general that’s needed in a football team. That’s my aim every game, I try to give my best in what I do best.