Ashley came through the Watford academy and scored on his debut as a substitute in a home game against Millwall in September 2003. He went on to make nearly 100 appearances for the club, before joining Aston Villa for a fee of over £9 million in 2007.
He spoke to Watford Legends in 2011 before his move to Manchester United.
Hi Ashley. It’s quite well known that you were released by Watford before you made them change their minds. How did it call come about?
I joined Watford when I was 10 years old. I was playing for my school district team over in Stevenage and I was watched by three of the Watford coaching team; Jimmy Gilligan, Kenny Jackett and Chris Cummins. I got asked to come to the club for trials for three days in the summer and it went on from there.
How old were you when you got released?
It was when I was 15, and at that time when you are still at school and train three times a week, and the decision was taken before we got the full apprenticeships. It was very hard at the time but I decided that I had to turn the negative in to a positive, so I knuckled down and within the year I had my first professional contract.
How can you get in to a position where you can still change their minds? Were you still allowed to train with the club?
I was given the option to move over to a part time scholarship and too see if I could make it pro that way. It was hard to take as this was the option given to players that had been released. My team mate Gary Cohen went down that route and he was the first to get a deal, so I was confident I could do it that way.
It was a big decision in my life but I think that it happening has helped me. If ever I have a difficult bit of down time in my career I think back to that period.
Why were you released originally?
It was down to my size. I was very small then, although I’m not much bigger now! But yes, it was down to my height and they doubted that I would get in to the first team.
What do you remember of your debut?
I remember standing on the sidelines stripped and ready to come on. It felt like a lifetime waiting to get on and the ball just didn’t want to go out of play. I was there for ages, stretching, drinking water….it took forever!
I did eventually get on and it was a game on TV against Millwall when we wore the white kit. I scored a goal which really made it a great day for me and I had all my family in the stands there to see me. I was very proud.
Do you have any games in your time at Watford that are your personal favourites?
Well I think my debut as we just discussed and also the play off games a few years ago. I especially like to remember the first play-off game against Crystal Palace which was great, made all the better for me by the fact that I scored a free kick. I was actually talking to Jordan Stewart the other day and we were reminiscing about that season and the play offs. Those memories will certainly stay with me.
You played under Ray Lewington and Aidy Boothroyd whilst at Watford. No two managers could be more chalk and cheese. How did you enjoy working for them?
They both gave me the chance to play in the first team and I’ll always be grateful to both of them for that. Under Aidy I was told that I was free just to go out there and play which is what you want to hear when you are playing up front or as a winger. Certainly I consider both Aidy and Ray to have helped my career massively, and I can’t thank them enough for putting the effort in with me to help me get where I am.
Do you have a favourite goal?
I think the Crystal Palace free kick that put us two nil up was a favourite, as it was an important goal to put us in the driving seat for the return leg. And then Springy made it three which was even better. It was a special goal as it was at such a great time for the club.
When we look back at the play off game against Leeds it is clear that the game was firmly won in the tunnel. A lot of bawling by the Watford lot made Leeds look very uncomfortable. You certainly did your share of the bawling. Did you feel the game was won?
That was one of the things that Aidy had instigated. He reminded us that we must stay focussed as you don’t spend every day playing in a play off final. So we really geed each other up in the tunnel. When you look back at it there were definitely a few worried faces in the Leeds team.
It also helped that we went down to the Millennium Stadium in the midweek to make sure that nobody was nervous.
When we went back there on the day of the game there were no nerves, we knew what we had to do and we went out there and did it.
You played in a couple of Derby games, and even got sent off in the two one win at their traveller camp stadium.
It’s a massive derby and I enjoy playing in derby games. Luton’s ground is hostile as it is a small pitch and the fans are very close, especially as a winger. Even retrieving the ball for a throw was a nightmare! We knew what it meant to the Watford fans to win that day.
You seem to score in derby games; I think you scored for Villa against Birmingham also?
Yes I did. As I said, I enjoy playing in derby games. The second city derby is different as it is a city derby and on a large scale whereas the Watford and Luton rivalry is very fierce. Any derby is massive and it’s great to score in them.
You’ve been at Villa four years now. Doesn’t time fly?!
Yes someone reminded me the other day how long I’d been up here and yes, it’s flown by. I’ve had a lot of rewards for coming up here. I’ve won player of the month, player of the year – awards which I’m very proud of.
I’m really enjoying my time here. I’m an ambitious person and I want to win things. We’ve come close, FA Cup semi finalists last year and Carling Cup finalists also. So fingers crossed we can have a decent cup run and get to Wembley. Hopefully also we can get out of the sticky situation we are in at the moment in the league.
Every time we open the paper you seem to be linked elsewhere, whether it’s Spurs, Man U, Barcelona etc etc. Does all the speculation get on your nerves?
No, you just have to accept it. Its only speculation. It’s always nice to hear that clubs are after you, whether it’s true or not. I just have to keep working hard and doing my job and always be looking up the table to see where we can get.
At the time that you joined Aston Villa from Watford, were there any additional clubs in for you?
It was Villa and West Ham. I actually went down to West Ham before I joined Villa and met the owners and Alan Curbishley. I then went up to Villa and met Martin O’Neill. I felt at the time that going to Villa was going to be the best thing for my development and career. I think it’s worked out to be a good decision for me. I felt that going to Villa and working for Martin O’Neill was going to be great for me.
At the time that your move was going through Watford played at Villa. Must have been a strange game to watch?
I didn’t even go to the game to be honest. I was talking to Villa and Aidy asked me what I wanted to do about the game. I’ve only ever wanted to play football but felt it was going to be best to not play and so we agreed that I’d sit it out. I just sat at home and looked out for the result!
Well thanks for talking with us. All the best.
No problem lads. Cheers.
Quick Fire Round
|Favourite Ground (apart from the Vic)|
|Best Ever Player|
|Team you supported as a boy|
|Chilli Heatwave Doritos|
|R & B and HipHop|
|Favourite Holiday Destination|
|Favourite TV Show|
|106 and Park|
|The Taking of Pelham 123|
|Desert Island Woman|