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'He'll Run Through Brick Walls For You': A Look At Harry Arter's Non-League Career

By Conall Cahill
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He's a Premier League star now, but for Harry Arter Woking FC in the Conference South was what changed his career and stopped him vanishing into footballing obscurity.

Bournemouth and Republic of Ireland midfielder Harry Arter is currently having one of the seasons of his life - at club level, anyway.

His Republic of Ireland career is yet to really take off, with Arter even having to fend off abuse from online trolls after falsehoods that he was planning to declare for England started spreading across social media. His international stagnation is not really Arter's fault. He looked set to go to Euro 2016 until a quad muscle injury ruled him out and then he missed the recent World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova with a groin problem.

So good has his club form been, however, that earlier in the season he achieved that most rare of accolades (for an Irish player, at least) - his very own segment on 'Match of the Day'.

But life wasn't always this rosy for the 26-year-old from Sidcup. A serious Achilles injury halted his progress at a crucial stage of his career as a teenager at Charlton and he was released in 2009, looking set to be just another of those young, promising footballers who doesn't make the breakthrough to professional football. But Woking FC, then playing in the Conference South (now called the National League South), and a man called Jimmy Dack, helped pick Arter up and put him back on the right path.

In an interview with the Bournemouth 'Daily Echo' early last year, Arter credited Dack - who was then the assistant manager at Woking - with helping him "fall back in love with the game" after the difficult spell at Charlton, when he "wasn't in a good place".

After a year at Woking (in which they narrowly missed out on promotion), Arter was snapped up by Bournemouth, then recently promoted to League One, for a fee that has since transpired to be incredibly good value - £4000.


(Below: Harry Arter bags a tasty assist and a hat-trick for Woking in a 5-0 win at Hendon in the F.A. Cup 4th Qualifying Round. Credit: Woking FC TV)

[Watch Video]

Talking to Balls.ie, Dack modestly said that while it was "nice" of Arter to credit him with such an important role in his career, it was the player himself who was the architect of his own rise:


Harry's done it himself, if I'm honest. We (Woking) gave him some football, put our arm around him - but it was always in him. He was always going to be a player, because he was that type of person...there was a real burning desire about him, he just wanted to get to the top as soon as possible.

I thought, this kid's got so much ability, he just needs to be given the opportunity. And we did that at Woking.


Dack says that while Arter "found the physicality side" of non-league football difficult at first, "he got to grips with it very quickly - he's a quick learner". And Ireland fans might be reassured to hear that Arter is very much from the 'Seamus Coleman' mould in preferring 'tough love' over a pat on the back, according to Dack:


All Harry wanted was honesty. I think he wanted to be told when he was not doing well, he didn't want a pat on the back all the time. He wanted people to be honest with him.

Harry's a real loyal boy. If you show him you want the best for him, he'll run through brick walls for you.

There is a hard edge to Arter's game, perhaps borne out of playing football in the lower leagues - a side to his game that, unlike many players, complements his creativity rather than compromising it. Dack admits he found it hard at times to decide whether to play Arter as a holding midfielder or in an attacking role, such was his capability in either position.


But this on-field toughness shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of sensitivity off it. Arter was clearly affected by the online abuse from Ireland fans recently, and this doesn't surprise Dack.

He's a very sensitive boy, he gives his all for the cause and that (abuse) would hurt him - because he gives everything, and he just wants loyalty, I think. He's probably not had as much game-time as he would like but he's still dedicated to (Ireland), so I can see that affecting Harry.

But he's quite a strong character as well. He'll just dust himself down and go again.

Clearly, Dack has a personal investment in Arter. But what of those outside the fence? What did Woking's fans make of the player now lighting up the highest level of English football and provoking discussion regarding his international allegiance?


Phil Batts of 'The Cards Trust' (Woking's supporters club) has slightly different memories of Arter. Batts recently saw Arter for Bournemouth against Crystal Palace and describes him as possessing "a real edge" that he doesn't recall Arter having at Woking. Indeed, the player he saw in August was one he couldn't have imagined six years ago:


He was clearly a talented lad, but my recollection of him was he was no more talented than the few others that we had.

He was clearly good. And he had the potential to go high. I don’t think anybody thought he was going to make it up to being a good Premiership player.

We thought he was a real good prospect...but you could never say, ‘God, look at him. He’s bound to play in the Premiership.'

And interestingly Batts says that Woking weren't entirely happy about the way Arter left the club, for a couple of reasons. Woking lost to Bath in a crucial promotion play-off that season - a game which Woking fans thought Arter "wasn't too bothered" about as at that stage he knew he was destined to go on to bigger things. A sign of ruthless ambition, perhaps. And as for the £4000 he cost Bournemouth, that still rankles slightly with Woking, who wanted £30,000 but had to settle for the smaller amount after going through an FA Transfer Tribunal. One would find it hard to disagree with Batts' assertion that "at this day and age we would probably have got £250,000 for him". Indeed, the way he is playing, probably several times that. Batts acknowledges that, despite the slight sour note, Woking remain "very proud of (Arter), even though he only had a season with us".

It's well established that Harry Arter has come through a lot in his young life. He and his wife tragically lost a child last year, shortly after which he put in a 'man of the match' display against Manchester United. He has faced criticism from his own country's fans and has stared footballing obscurity right in the face.

But he has come through it all stronger as a person, and stronger as a player. A player who ruled the roost in midfield for Bournemouth at the weekend against Spurs. A player who, with a bit of luck, has a long and distinguished career in a green jersey ahead of him.

From Woking to the World Cup? It poses a serious challenge.

But then again, that's nothing new to Harry Arter.

(H/T to Woking FC for their help with this piece)

SEE ALSO: 'For Someone To Make Up A Rumour Like That, I Personally Felt Like It Didn't Deserve An Answer'

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