James Wesolowski

Former Player Remembers: James Wesolowski

James Wesolowski speaks to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his time at Leicester City, also talking about his international involvement with Australia and his life after leaving Filbert Way.
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A combative midfield player, he made his Leicester debut as an 18-year-old, going on to make 58 appearances for the Foxes between January 2006 and September 2008, during which time he suffered a broken leg twice. 

James started by explaining how he came to Leicester. “I was born and grew up in Sydney,” he began. “When I was a kid, I played all different sports. I didn’t start playing football until I was 10 or 11. Once I picked it up, I just loved it. I had the best time playing with mates.

“From there, when I was about 13, I was playing regional football for my state, New South Wales, in the national championships. At that time, I was at a club called Northern Spirit who played in the National Soccer League (NSL) in the time before the A-League was set up.

“They were based in Northern Sydney. I used to go and watch the senior team play with my dad and ended up signing for them. The club doesn’t exist anymore. Whilst playing for New South Wales I was spotted by a Leicester City scout called Bob Windsor, who was from England but based in Australia.

“On his recommendation, I went to Leicester for a two week trial when I was 14. Then I went back home and Leicester offered me a place in the Academy. I stayed back home for about six months, which were probably the worst six months of schooling I ever did in my life because I knew I was leaving for Leicester and didn’t feel the need to work hard.

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James Wesolowski

The midfielder made his full LCFC debut away at Plymouth Argyle in the 2005/06 season.

“When I returned to Leicester I came over on my own at first. My old man came over probably a year after me. I was absolutely fine being a 16-year-old on the other side of the world. I was at the age when I just didn’t care. I was happy-go-lucky and I just went with the flow. I loved it.

“From the age of about 12, I’d watched a lot of Premier League football on TV and it became one of my major dreams to play football in the Premier League. I knew that coming to England and signing for Leicester, who were in the Championship, gave me the opportunity of maybe achieving that.”

James made such good progress that he signed professional forms in September 2004, just after his 17th birthday. A month later, Craig Levein replaced Micky Adams as manager. Later that season, James gained experience playing for the reserves. And in the summer of 2005 James was selected for Australia to play in the FIFA World Youth (Under-20) Championship Finals in Holland.

“That was crazy,” James continued. “I was only 17. Looking back it must have been pretty daunting, but when it happened, I just got on with it. Our manager was Ange Postecoglou. It was a great experience playing international football.”

Less than a fortnight after returning to England from Holland, James then found himself on the Foxes’ first team pre-season tour to Norway.

Thinking back, James recalled: “I wasn’t originally in the squad to go to Norway, but in a training session a day or two before the tour started, I tackled Stephen Hughes, who was the nicest guy in the world. It was a pretty fair tackle but I injured him. This meant he couldn’t go to Norway and I got the call up instead.”

After I’d played against Cardiff, I played in the next four games and then I broke my leg again!

James Wesolowski

Three days after returning from Norway, and a month before his 18th birthday, James played for the first team in a prestigious pre-season friendly at Filbert Way against Martin O’Neill’s Glasgow Celtic.

“Craig Levein gave me this chance. I wasn’t expecting it. He just threw me in there. I remember playing in that game thinking that I was where I was meant to be. I just felt so comfortable and everything was going just great and then Bobo Balde went through me and broke my leg.

“At that age I had a mindset and a mentality which made me think, ’OK, my leg’s broken. How long is it going to be for me to recover? Alright, let’s get back to work and try to get back quickly’. It sounds like a cliché but that was honestly how my brain worked then.”

Six months later, 18-year-old James made his first team debut in a home fixture against Cardiff City. He came on as a substitute and then three days later made his full debut at Plymouth Argyle. After the defeat at Plymouth, manager Craig Levein was replaced by his assistant Rob Kelly who won his first three matches. The first of these was at Queens Park Rangers.

“After I’d played against Cardiff, I played in the next four games and then I broke my leg again!” James remembered. “One of those games was at Queens Park Rangers, when I laid on a goal for Richard Stearman. I remember that moment. It was amazing!”

James also played in the following fixture, a home victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers and then he suffered another major setback in the next game against Brighton & Hove Albion.

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James Wesolowski & Iain Hume

Celebrating with Iain Hume after scoring against Fulham in the FA Cup Third Round Replay at Craven Cottage in January 2007.

“I broke my leg again at Brighton. It was the same leg. At first the doctors thought my bone was bruised but the x-rays showed that there was a break. This time I felt more gutted than I had with the first break.”

In August 2006, James was called up to the Australia senior side just before his 19th birthday. However he immediately withdrew from the squad, because although he had just returned after his injury to the Foxes’ first team that month, he had only made two substitute appearances.

That season (2006/07) James went on to make 24 league and cup appearances in the first team. He was an ever-present in Nigel Worthington’s team following his appointment as temporary manager for the last five games of the season when relegation from the Championship was avoided.

“Nigel Worthington was good. He was old school. I think that’s the way a lot of us liked it. In the warm-ups, we didn’t do things like dynamic stretches. We’d just run around the pitch for 20 minutes and then go and play.”

At the start of the following season (2007/08), Martin Allen began his brief four game spell as Leicester City’s new manager and James’ good early season form was rewarded by another call up to the Australia national squad for a fixture against Nigeria at Craven Cottage in November 2007.

The 2007/08 season was bleak. The Club had three permanent managers. Martin Allen was sacked in August, Gary Megson left in October and Ian Holloway was appointed in November. In addition, interim managers and coaches that season included Jon Rudkin with Mike Stowell and Steve Beaglehole in August and Frank Burrows and Gerry Taggart in October.

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James Wesolowski & Scott McDonald

Competing with Scott McDonald during Australia training in 2007.

No fewer than 40 players made first team appearances during the season at the end of which the Club was relegated for the first and only time, to League One.

“With all the turnaround with managers and players, this was bound to happen,” James reflected. “New mangers come in and sign their own players. We ended up with a massive squad. Towards the end of the season the signings seemed to be random and made in desperation in an attempt to avoid relegation.”

During the summer of 2008, Nigel Pearson replaced Holloway as manager and he began planning for an immediate promotion from League One.

“In pre-season training, Pearson came across as being a good manager, but he didn’t like me. That’s the way football is. I always think that was weird because at Leicester I’d had eight managers and they all liked me as a player but eventually someone is going to come in and you’re just not their cup of tea.”

James played four cup games for Pearson at the start of the season. These were his last games at the Club.

“I went to Cheltenham (in October 2008),” James continued. “They were managed by Martin Allen. He was old school. I loved playing for him. He was the style of manager that got the best out of me, but after four games, I broke my ankle!

People congratulate me on my goal from the half way line against Hull. They think I'm Joey Guðjónsson! I still get this to this day, so now I just take the credit for Joey’s goal!

James Wesolowski

“After I recovered I went on loan (in February 2009) to Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership for the rest of the season. They were managed by another of my old Leicester managers, Craig Levein. After that, for the whole of the next season (2009/10) I went on loan to Hamilton Academical in the Scottish Premiership. I really enjoyed playing for them.

“It was the season I was most proud of. We were a small club. Their ground only held about 2,000 people. We did quite well. I think we came sixth in the SPL. The manager was Billy Reid, who was recently Graham Potter’s assistant manager at Chelsea.”

After his loan spell at Hamilton, James left Leicester City in June 2010 to sign a two-year contract for Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough United. He was a key member of the side which was promoted to the Championship at the end of the season.

“I was on top of the world, but the day after promotion Duncan Ferguson spoke to me. I think he liked more technical players which probably wasn’t my strength and he said I could leave. So I went to play for Oldham in League One.

“The manager was Paul Dickov and his assistant was Gerry Taggart, who were both ex-Leicester City players. I had three good years there, playing over 100 games. My best season there was the third one when I’d really got myself in shape.

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James Wesolowski

Wesolowski scored twice in 58 appearances for Leicester City.

“I left Oldham (in June 2014) when I was out of contract. I had the option to go back to Australia to play for Perth Glory, but I went to Shrewsbury Town instead where I had a great season and we got promoted to League One.”

After another year at Shrewsbury, when James played for the Shrews side which defeated Leicester City at King Power Stadium in the League Cup. James later played National League Football for Guiseley, Nuneaton Borough and Hereford United. He moved back to Leicester about four years ago.

Referring to this, James said: “One thing that always makes me laugh is that people often come up to me and asked if I played for Leicester. When I tell them that I did, they congratulate me on my goal from the half way line against Hull. They think I'm Joey Guðjónsson! I still get this to this day, so now I just take the credit for Joey’s goal!”

Today, James and his wife run a Doggy Day Care Centre based at Rothley.

“I love it,” Joey concluded. “It was quite hard to think of what to do when I finished playing. All I’d done since I was 14 was play football. Working with dogs just fell into my lap because my wife opened up a Doggy Day Care Centre. This got bigger and bigger. We have our own premises and a license for more dogs. I’m working outside all day which is like a dream for me.”

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