Striker Billy Paynter has got off to a flying start with his new club Hartlepool United, racking up three goals in his first three games this season and helping his team get off to a decent start in League Two.
After Pools’ miracle last season, which saw them claw back a 10-point deficit to stay in the Football League by the skin of their teeth, fans will be hoping they can start afresh and challenge at the other end of the division this term.
Now that manager, Ronnie Moore, has got to know the club after being there for a good eight months, momentum should continue to be maintained.
Paynter’s selection of captain will no doubt aid Hartlepool, with the experience of the 31-year-old crucial throughout a long campaign while the host of other signings will also look to influence matters and provide plenty of depth to what is now a stronger squad.
Throughout his career, Paynter has represented a string of clubs, including the likes of Hull City and Leeds United. Now up in the North-East, he talks to Shoot about the 2015/16 season and his career so far.
Hartlepool have made an impressive start to the season with three wins out of four. How vital is it to get off to a good start in such a competitive league?
“It’s very vital at the start of the season to get a win as it gives confidence to the lads and then we can move onto the next game in high spirits knowing we have three points already. Now we’ve won four on the bounce with the cup win as well, it puts us in a good position to push on.”
You’ve already scored three goals in your opening five games of the 2015/16 season. Do you set yourself targets at the start of each campaign?
“I’d like to get to double figures, that’s the main thing. It was a nice start to score on my debut and, as a striker, it’s always good to hit the ground running and I’ve done that in my first three games.”
Ronnie Moore was delighted to secure your signature back in June and stated how valuable your experience was to the squad. How influential has he been so far this season?
“We had a couple of chats on the phone and he seemed really positive. It’s always nice to feel wanted as a player and he said on the phone that he really wanted me. He seemed a nice guy, down to earth and it’s a manager that I can get on well with.”
You have been named captain of Hartlepool for the upcoming campaign. How much of a responsibility is it on and off the pitch?
“It’s a shock to me that I was given the armband. Ronnie’s got me in for the experience and hopefully I can help some of the younger lads in the team. It’s the first time I’ve ever been captain and it’s certainly more responsibility in terms of looking after the players and talking to them if they’re getting fined or disciplined, but it’s nice having young players here that can look up to me and come to me.”
In terms of your league campaign, there are lots of strong teams including the likes of Leyton Orient and Portsmouth in the division this year. How do you think Hartlepool will fare in what looks to be an interesting season?
“I think if we’re consistent enough, we’ll be alright. We need to be lucky with injuries and hope that players can stay fit; obviously it’s going to be a long season and there will be knocks and problems but hopefully we’ll be okay. The likes of Portsmouth and Leyton Orient have got money which means they can probably go and bring in players whether permanently or on loan so they’re at an advantage there.”
Ronnie Moore has made a string of summer signings this year. How easy has it been for the team to gel together with so many new faces?
“It was quite easy to gel really because we went to an army camp and stayed over for three nights. It was quite good for team bonding because we were all stuck together and had to work things out so it wasn’t too hard to get to know one another after that.”
You’ve played for a lot of clubs over the course of your career. Do you have a particular highlight which stands out above the rest?
“Yeah, winning the League One championship on the last day for Doncaster in 2013. We played Brentford on the final day of the season and they missed a penalty in the last minute so we could have ended up third. Then Bournemouth drew at Tranmere so we went from second to third and then from third to top all in the space of a minute so that was some feeling.”
You’ve now scored over 100 goals in the professional game. Does that feeling of hitting the back of the net ever get old?
“No, it’s the same feeling. It’s the buzz that I thrive on and that I want to do quite regularly. I’m going to try to do that a lot this season.”
In your final season at Swindon Town, you formed a formidable partnership with Charlie Austin as the pair of you scored a total of 49 goals. How evident was his potential back then when he was still a youngster?
“You could always tell that he had a nack for goal. He had leapfrogged up the divisions from Poole to Swindon so he was always working on his game and you can see that now where he has come on so much.”
It must have been tough when things didn’t quite work out at Carlisle last season. Was it hard to stay positive throughout this time?
“It didn’t work out but that’s football. Some managers like you and some don’t, you’ve just got to move on. We’ve got them this weekend though so it’ll be nice to see some familiar faces.”
Do you still feel as strong as ever when you’re playing football?
“Yeah I do! To be honest, as I’m older now, I do need to look after myself a lot more as a professional, but I still feel good when I play the game.”
Finally, is there anything else you would like to achieve in a career that is already rather impressive?
“I’d like to get a couple more promotions during my career and just to continue scoring goals.”
Do you have any pets? No.
Which team did you support as a boy and why? Everton.
What is your favourite sport outside of football? Golf.