Mike Cecere was born in Chester and played for five Football League clubs in a career that was curtailed by injury. He was a centre forward who linked up well with others and perhaps didn't always get the credit he deserved. He takes up the story of how got his break in football...
"I played for Ellesmere Port Catholic High School and had trials for Liverpool. In those days you had to write off for trials. There were a few clubs I had a response from, 'Thanks but no thanks' like Man United, Wrexham and Chester but I was given the opportunity to have trials for Liverpool. I only had about 5 or 6 training sessions with them, but whilst there a Oldham Athletic scout who spoke to my father and I was invited to go to Boundary Park."
"I signed on there as an apprentice for two years before signing on as a professional and had two and a half years there as a pro. Joe Royle was manager and his assistant was Willie Donachie who was very passionate towards his football. My first team debut for the Latics was coming on as a sub in a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup against Bradford City with my first goal coming in a 2-1 win against Brighton." He went on to record a hat trick in a game against Blackburn in 1986. Then came a £100,000 move to Huddersfield Town with whom he formed a good partnership with Craig Maskell but the move had reservations for the striker,
" It wasn't a good move for me. Eoin Hand signed me but I didn't get on with the manager although his assistant Peter Withe was brilliant and I learned a lot from him." Then in August 1990 came a move to join Walsall initially on a month's loan. Mike gave his thoughts on his new manager and the problems at that time. "I think Kenny Hibbitt had a difficult task on his hands in terms of the team's budget, the new stadium effect and of course he was a new manager."
"He was a good man and a good coach and in training he was the best player out the lot of us! He never wanted to stop and he was very fit for his age. We lacked a little bit of consistency which was understandable. We were a new squad with new players but we had some very good players coming through like Martin Goldsmith, Steve O'Hara and Dean Smith etc. I settled in very quickly more than I expected. I already knew three of my team mates which helped. John Kelly and Peter Skipper from my Oldham days and Chris Hutchings from Huddersfield."
"I made my Walsall debut against Torquay United in the first league game at the new Bescot Stadium. We didn't get off to a good start though with on-loan Bristol City defender Matt Bryant putting through his own goal in the opening minute. I was more than happy to sign for Walsall on a permanent basis and I think the transfer fee was around £25,000. I remember scoring my first goal for Walsall in a 2-3 defeat against Rochdale at Spotland in a game we should have won." The goals started to flow as he scored in the following game at Bescot in a 3-0 win over Scunthorpe. Mike played in both Football League Cup games against Chelsea and enjoyed that experience. On his first couple of strike partners at Walsall he observed, " Stuart Rimmer was very quick and we complimented each other and Rod McDonald was very powerful."
"For my second season we made some very good signings with more experienced players arriving like Derek Statham, Kevin MacDonald and Colin Anderson and by the start of my third season Wayne Clarke had arrived. He had plenty of experience and he knew not how to finish but understood how to finish, Despite me having a good season I felt the club didn't really want me to be there. Everyone was getting new two year contracts yet I was only offered a 12 month one and I felt that Paul Taylor and Kenny Hibbitt felt obliged to keep me but didn't really want me. Looking back I just wish they had been more honest with me."
"I finished that season well, scoring 7 goals in 9 games including a hat trick at Halifax. I got 2 in the last away game of the league season at Doncaster, one of which I chipped the keeper. I also scored the only goal of the game against Crewe at Bescot. Colin Methven had a great season but in the away leg of the Play Off Semi Finals at Crewe had an off day. There was a bizarre game against Doncaster that season. I was harshly judged by the referee for conceding a penalty for handball then later in the game I also scored myself." The goal Mike scored was an amusing one. Mike gamely chased a back pass towards keeper Paul Crichton who smashed the ball against him. Both players waited for a handball decision - that never came - and he simply tapped it into the empty net. A bit of justice there!
1993-4 was destined to be Mike's last season for Walsall in which he was restricted to 7 appearances with his last goal in a 2-2 draw also against Crewe. He also figured in a little bit of history for the club in the FA Cup at Scunthorpe. The game was a replay and it was the first time Saddlers had to face a penalty shoot out to decide such an outcome with the scores even after extra time. He scored his penalty as did 5 others but Saddlers lost 7-6.
According to press reports, there was an admirer of his play who had been chasing him for a couple of months, Exeter City manager Alan Ball and in January of 1994 was transferred to Exeter. "I was happy to sign for Alan Ball but unfortunately after 4 or 5 weeks he left to take over at Stoke City. Peter Fox replaced Alan but it wasn't until Terry Cooper took over that I was playing regular football again. I'd say Terry was the best manager I ever played under. Exeter finished rock bottom of the Football League but we retained our league status as in those days those who finished top of the Conference had to meet strict criteria regarding their ground to enter. Wigan were interested in me which would have been a good move for me but injury got in the way."
"From the age of 25 I had 4 or 5 hernia operations and following a short spell at Rochdale the day after my 29th birthday I had to retire. I simply couldn't carry on playing. Years of struggling to fully recover after so many operations caught up with me. In those days there wasn't the level of rehab that players can now take. There was no after care and that brassed me off. It wasn't as if I'd had a sudden career finisher like a cruciate injury for an example that finished me. It was these continual operations and endless cortisone injections. I had no desire to stay in the game like a coach after I retired I was interested in being a physiotherapist at that time though. My only involvement in the game was to watch and support my son who played Sunday morning football."
"My strike partner from my Huddersfield days Craig Maskell had a similar experience in playing a lot of games in youth , reserve and first team football. Also training on heavy pitches. We both seemed to lose a lot of pace early on. A section of the Walsall crowd were on my back at times but that sort of thing happened throughout my career. All you can do is try your best. I enjoyed my time at Walsall and got on with everyone. Chris Marsh and I were inseparable! There's no resentment in my time in football just disappointment that injury and operations curtailed it. Since leaving football I became a prison officer for 9 years and have worked in a bank for the last 14 years."