Randall reflects on Weston spell, inspired by former Seagulls loanee Watkins

Weston AFC vs Harrow Borough

Joel Randall leads the charge for Weston AFC during their 1-1 draw with Harrow Borough in October 2019. - Credit: Mark Atherton

Joel Randall is reminded every day at Exeter City of the impact of Ollie Watkins.

And the 21-year-old winger shares more links with Watkins than most people realise.

Like Watkins, Randall has spent time on loan with Weston, and following their spells with the Optima Stadium club they have gone to have breakthrough seasons the following year.

“I think everyone should go to Weston on loan and then you don’t know where it will take you, it's probably successful after that,” Randall told the Weston Mercury.

“A big shout out to Weston for taking us on loan. It's unbelievable really, if I can work as hard as him and do what I know I can do then there is no reason why I can't hopefully get to those levels one day.”

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But, despite a remarkable campaign, where he has scored 10 goals in 36 appearances for the Grecians, Randall picked up a hamstring injury whilst scoring against Tranmere Rovers on March 20, which looks to have ruled him out for the rest of the season.

However, this isn’t the whole story. It’s one full of character building and determination to claim a spot in the first team after five loan moves away in the early stages of his career.

Joel Randall in action for Bideford

Joel Randall scored six goals in appearances for Bideford between December 2018 and April 2019. - Credit: Matt Smart

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These included spells with Taunton Town, Tiverton Town, Bideford, Weston and Weymouth.

But it was at The Seagulls where Randall felt most at home, between August and November 2019, and despite being recalled by Exeter from his loan spell earl, due to an injury crisis, he has gone on to play a starring role in the club’s quest for promotion in what has been an enjoyable season for the League Two club.

“I very much enjoyed it, it was my favourite loan club out of the five I had been to,” he told the Mercury.

“They really helped me, it built my confidence playing men's football, it was my fourth loan spell out of the five and it was probably the first time I played at a good standard consistently. It was definitely a good period learning about men's football and also enjoying my football as well.

“I got a lot of love from the fans on social media and after the games they were speaking to me. I enjoyed the whole place, the pitch was amazing which helps my style of football, the staff and players I got on really well with, so everything about it was positive.”

Joel Randall in action for Weston during their 1-1 draw with Kingstonian

Joel Randall in action for Weston during their 1-1 draw with Kingstonian. - Credit: Will.T.Photography

But for Randall, he knew his chance at Weston was one he needed to take.

He had been with Exeter since joining their academy to play for the under-11s and despite signing a professional contact in February 2018, alongside Josh Key and Harry Kite, three months after making his debut for the club in an EFL Trophy tie against Chelsea U21s, when he came on in the 62nd minute for Jack Sparkes, Randall admitted it was now or never to show his parent club what he was about.

Weston AFC vs Dorchester Town. Joel Randall.

Joel Randall in action for Weston AFC during their 6-0 win against Dorchester Town in October 2019. - Credit: Mark Atherton

“It was my last opportunity to impress Exeter to move into their League Two team, it was a big loan move, and I was really positive from the start,” he added.

“I came in for the last pre-season game and I wasn't starting right at the start, but I earned the manager's trust. Scott Bartlett put a lot of faith in me, and I appreciate that.

“He stuck by me and let me go out and play my football. I really had a good relationship with him, the pitch was great and the way we wanted to play football was sort of my style.

“The boys and the fans were great with me and everything was positive, and I really enjoyed playing at The Optima.”

Action from Weston's clash with Harrow Borough

Action from Weston's clash with Harrow Borough, which turned out to be Joel Randall's last game for The Seagulls, in which he scored his fifth goal in 14 matches for the club. - Credit: Mark Atherton

Randall averaged a goal every five games during his loan spell with Weston and his last game came three days before his 20th birthday, when he netted his fifth from 14 games against Harrow Borough, with an assist from Scott Laird.

Laird had moved to the Southern League South side as the club’s new player/assistant manager following a nine-year spell in the Football League and Randall says the left-back, and the team, were pivotal factors in making his time with Weston so special and helping restore his confidence.

“Before I went there, I saw Scott Laird signed for Weston and I was intrigued really because I knew he had been playing in League One the season before with Walsall,” he said.

“I was excited when I got the shout that I was going there to learn from him, and he was great with me. He talked a lot about the professional side, he really helped, and all the lads really, they just made me feel like the player I knew I was, that’s the most important thing.

“It helped me get back to the level I knew I could play at. I learned how to deal with men's football as well because I didn't have that exposure of playing week-in, week-out, Saturday, Tuesday. It could have been any club but thankfully Weston put their faith in me, and I just had to learn and get experience and play men's teams and thankfully it paid off.”

Joel Randall nutmegs Ashley Evans during Weston's 2-1 over Merthyr Town

Joel Randall nutmegs Ashley Evans during Weston's 2-1 over Merthyr Town in the FA Cup on September 21 2019. - Credit: Josh Thomas

Like Randall, Watkins hailed the impact of Weston, calling the club a “massive key” in his development in a recent press conference ahead of England’s first World Cup qualifier with San Marino, after spending five months on loan with the Seagulls during the 2014-15 season.

And despite the campaign coming to an end for Randall, he insists he can take a lot from his story, as well as his own success in his maiden season, and aims to emulate what Watkins has achieved in future, but for now he wants to write his own chapter.

“I think Ollie is on his own journey and I am on my own journey but he's a great inspiration to everyone, especially me because he's more of an attacking player and in my sort of position,” continued Randall.

“He's great to look up to and it just shows he's been on loan, at Exeter, he has had to go through what I am going through now and he's now an England international.

“It gives you hope, a light to see that it is possible to play international football even though I am in League Two at the moment. There is a pathway and if I work as hard as him then I don't see any reason why I can't play at the highest level possible.”

Don't miss part two next week, when Randall talks of how his new-found confidence at Weston helped him on his return to Exeter City and how he is enjoying his football once again.

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