Read the full interview with Stephen Walker which featured in last Monday's edition of Red Dot...
Stephen, how are you finding life at MK Dons?
“I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a good experience for me to get out on loan and I really feel like I’ve developed as a player during my time here. When I go back to Middlesbrough, I’ll be a better player from my time with MK Dons.”
How do you think you’ve performed when given the chance?
“I feel like I’ve done okay. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I feel like when I’ve come on, I’ve brought something different to the team. I like to be direct and get at defenders so when it’s late in the game, when the defender is tired, I feel like I can bring something. Hopefully, I can keep getting more minutes between now and the end of the season. I just want to help in any way that I can.”
How are you finding life under Paul Tisdale and his management team?
“I’m really enjoying it. They are a great set of staff. It’s a lot different from working under Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough. I take every experience as a learning curve and working with different managers can only be good because it helps me learn new things.”
MK Dons has proven to be a good place to learn your trade, with plenty of young players coming through both the Academy here and spending time with the Club on loan. Did that play a part in your move here?
“Without a doubt. I spoke to Marcus Tavernier before I joined and I asked him what it was like, if he enjoyed it, and he only had good things to say about the Club. He said it was an ideal place to play his football. I could see the improvement he made as a player when he returned from his loan - he was twice as good. I thought this would be the best place for me to develop as a player, playing league football and picking up minutes.”
Are you enjoying learning from the experienced strikers we have here at MK Dons? How much can you learn from them?
“I take every day as a learning curve and I’m fortunate that I’ve got a lot of experienced players to learn from here. Chuks [Aneke] is a big strong lad. He can pin his defender and then turn in behind. He’s so powerful when he runs too. Kieran [Agard]’s movement is so impressive, and his positioning and finishing is class. Simmo [Robbie Simpson] is great in the air and has some of the best hold-up play I’ve ever seen. David Wheeler is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in the air and he’s not even six foot! They all have qualities that I can learn from. Every day I try to learn something new from each one of them and hopefully that’ll help me develop as a player.”
You currently share a place with Jake Hesketh. What’s he like to live with?
“He’s a good lad. Whenever I walk in the front room he’s always losing at FIFA - I think he needs to learn a few tricks from me! He’s a great little chef and, once you get to know him, he’s got a sly bit of banter about him too.”
How have you found living away from home?
“It was always going to be hard moving away at 18. It was hard leaving my two little brothers and my little sister but those are the types of sacrifices you have to make if you want to develop as a player. I think I’ve learnt a lot of life lessons and skills because of it. While I feel I’ve grown as a player here, I also feel I’ve grown as a person.”
What do you do in your spare time to take your mind off football?
“I just like to relax to take my mind off things. When I’m at home, I like to see my friends and socialise. I don’t really like staying in the house doing nothing. I’m alright at FIFA so I’ll play that sometimes. I think I’ve covered Netflix three times over since I’ve been here as well!”
You are Middlesbrough born and bred and you progressed through the ranks at the Riverside Stadium. What was it like making your debut for your hometown club?
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous for a football match as I was on my debut! When I was coming on, I had butterflies in my belly straight away. After the first five minutes, though, I just relaxed and played my game. I started moving the ball and beating my defenders. I ended up chipping in with an assist and I just got more confident as the game went on. It ended up going to penalties and I was the first person to nominate myself. I was confident I was going to score. I didn’t hesitate, and luckily for me it went in. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Who was your football idol growing up?
“The two that probably stand out the most are two that come from Middlesbrough, just like me. Stewart Downing first of all. He played for England and Liverpool and had a wonderful career. Jonathan Woodgate also. He was one of the best centre backs at one point and ended up playing for Real Madrid. I’d say them two.”
You’ve represented England at youth level. Can you explain the feeling you get when wearing the Three Lions badge on your chest?
“I feel so proud to have represented my country. Scoring for England is one of the best feelings in the world and hearing the national anthem is up there as well! Going away with England is a different experience to club football. You’re playing a different brand of football against other international sides who have their own way of playing. Sometimes as a striker you don’t get the ball as much, as with England we are retaining possession a lot. I think it has helped me become a smarter player, though, because I’m making a lot more runs and learning to lose my marker.”
It appears as though the squad here is a close-knit group. How important is that togetherness, if you want to be successful?
“It’s really important. You want a close group that is all together. You want to know that everyone has each other’s backs and I think we’ve got that here. There are a few young lads and a few older ones but I think that dynamic works well. We blend well as a group.”