Humbled by loan, rocked by tour omission but Graham is elated at Spireites breakthrough and New Zealand call up

Chesterfield Reserves vs Gateshead Reserves - Liam Graham - Pic By James Williamson
Chesterfield Reserves vs Gateshead Reserves - Liam Graham - Pic By James Williamson

After being ‘humbled’ by a non-league loan spell and ‘rocked’ by his pre-season tour omission, life at the Proact is finally getting exciting for Liam Graham.

The defender made his Football League debut at Bury, filling it at left-back, and swapped to the right hand side of the back four on Tuesday night against Gillingham.

And having received the news this week that he’s been called up to the New Zealand international squad, it’s a far cry from the end of last season.

In March, Graham was sent out on loan to National League South side South Whitehawk

The 24-year-old admitted a Spireites first team breakthrough didn’t feel within his grasp.

“I felt quite far away,” he said.

“It was quite humbling to go and play in that league but I think it served me quite well.

“It gave me 15 games in six weeks and at the time it was the only real option I had.

“I think there were three more reserve games, but going to play in a first team environment, albeit Conference South, I think it was good.”

Graham was determined to come back to the Proact in the summer and try once more to impress Danny Wilson.

Things didn’t initially go to plan, however.

“I thought I could finish the season on a positive note, go on my holidays with a clear mind and come back in pre-season and do the same thing, get myself into the team,” he said.

“But at the start of pre-season I was a little bit rocked when I was left out of the Hungary tour.”

Things started to look up when Chesterfield returned home, Graham involved with the first team once more.

“The gaffer kept playing me in pre-season and I kept performing well,” he said.

“When he called me up to travel with the team to Oxford for the season opener and when he started putting me on the bench I knew I was near. It was just a matter of where and when.”

Injuries to the likes of Dan Jones, Paul McGinn and Dion Donohue have opened the door for Melbourne-born Graham and he’s delighted to have been given a chance.

“I feel bad (for injured colleagues), no player wants that for his team-mates,” he said.

“But the opportunity is there for me to take and I’ll be looking to grab it with both hands.

“It’s extremely exciting. The first game is a good one to just get through and now I can try and bring my own brand of football to what the manager is doing with the team. Saw a bit of that on Tuesday night with Gillingham and hopefully I can continue to keep playing.”

No sooner had he been brought into the first team by Danny Wilson, than another manager got in touch.

Graham qualifies for the All Whites through his mother, who was born in New Zealand, and he was over the moon to get a call up.

“I was emailed by them a while ago asking for some passport details because I might be in the squad travelling to the US. I didn’t really think much of it.

“I got an email on Monday morning that I’d been selected but it didn’t really sink in.

“I got a text on Monday night from the manager saying it’s Anthony Hudson are you free for a talk? He called me and said everything players want to hear.
“That really sunk in for me, then. It fired me up even more for Tuesday night’s game.

“It’s going to be a brilliant experience.”

Hudson had Graham’s progress tracked in pre-season and was apparently waiting for him to break into Wilson’s first team before making a decision on the defender’s international future.

Now that the door has been opened, it could lead to something 99 per cent of League One players will never come close to achieving.

“We’re an unknown entity but there are big name players in our team, Premier League, Championship and players playing in Europe,” said Graham.

“We’re looking to qualify for the World Cup and hopefully I can be a part of that.”

Graham hopes to be in the team to face Bradford City on Saturday at the Proact and he’s confident of a positive outcome in his final domestic action before flying out to American on Sunday to begin his international career.

“We’re very optimisitic. At Bury had had chances and they had chances, whereas the Gillingham game, we should have won that game.

“The positives are there and there are plenty of them. It’s just a bit of tweaking and we’ll be there.

“We’ve got another big game at home and it’s a chance to get a really good result.”