WHEN Forest Green Rovers fans look back on the Jim Harvey side that earned the club its highest ever league position a few years ago there are many stand out individuals but not many are held in as high regard as Darren Jones, writes Richard Joyce.
The Newport born centre back made 165 league appearances for Rovers over two separate spells with his second spell, a three year stint under both Gary Owers and mostly Jim Harvey, bringing the Welshman the most success as he formed a significant part of the Forest Green side that earned their first third round FA Cup tie and a 8th placed finish at the end of the 2007-08 season, an achievement that is yet to have been beaten.
“I’m proud to say I was part of that team,” said Jones whose versatility to play in the middle of the defence but also in midfield was called upon many times by his manager. “I’m pretty sure that record won’t stand for too much longer though.”
And with Dave Hockaday’s current crop of Rovers players producing the goods in the Blue Square Bet Premier this year Jones may be right, but the 28 year old who originally joined Forest Green in his second spell from home town club Newport County knew when the time was right to break ties with the club.
“I enjoyed every bit at FGR but I felt I needed a new challenge and of course it was league football.”
“Jim Harvey was the best technical manager I’ve ever played for. I’ve always felt that he should have managed at a higher level.”
Jones made the move up to the Football League with Hereford United following the end of his spell at The New Lawn and he has since gone on to become a respected and first pick central defender in the league, now turning out for Aldershot Town under Dean Holdsworth after previous loan spells in his younger days at the likes of Cheltenham Town when Jones was a scholar at Bristol City.
“Aldershot is a good club with good management and a good team. Every player aspires to play in the Football League so for me to have played the amount of games I have I’m happy with my career.”
And the Welshman enjoyed the chance to shine once more live in front of the TV cameras a few months ago as Aldershot’s impressive run in the League Cup earned the Hampshire based club a money spinning home tie with Manchester United.
“Playing against Man United on TV is the highlight of my career so far. I’ve taken great experience from playing against some of the world’s greatest players.”
And the match against a side put out by Sir Alex Ferguson which included the likes of Nemanja Vidic, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen and Phil Jones recalled memories of Rovers outstanding 2008-09 FA Cup run which saw Jones play a pivotal part in Forest Green reaching the third round of the world’s great football competition for the first time, eventually losing in a thriller to Derby County.
“For a club like FGR to have such a good cup run was great. For the players, for the fans and also financially.”
Plenty of players have come and gone at The New Lawn since Jones departure in 2009 and the club itself has experienced a change in direction with the takeover by Ecotricity but Jones still looks back with much fondness at the only club in his career so far he has reached a century of appearances with.
“I always keep tabs on what is going on up there and always check their results. I said when I left I would always want to return at some time in my career.”
At 28, Jones is already looking to the future and is understandably enjoying his time as one of the vital pieces of the jigsaw at Aldershot in League Two.
“I hope I can get one more move to a top club before my legs go! You never know it could be with FGR.”
And following the performances that made him a fans favourite and the effect he had on Rovers both surviving relegation from the Conference on that final match at The Lawn and on their history making cup runs and league finishes, I’m sure many supporters would relish seeing Jones pulling on a Forest Green shirt just one more time.