AFTER suffering two major setbacks in his life at the age of just 16, Paul Musgrove is better equipped than most to deal with life’s ups and downs.

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The Walsham-le-Willows midfielder was set to play his 350th game for the club since they joined the Eastern Counties League in the John Banks Suffolk Premier Cup against Ipswich Town last month.

However, the first-round tie was postponed due to the fact that Walsham’s draw at Hadleigh United in the FA Vase meant the replay at Summer Road, which they lost 3-2, took priority over the match against Ipswich Town.

Although he was denied making his landmark appearance for Walsham against the club he trained with during his childhood, Musgrove brushed it off.

“Although I was looking forward to playing my 350th game at this level against Ipswich Town, I was just coming back from a knee injury, so the fact that it was postponed might have been a blessing in disguise!” he said.

However, that disappointment pales into insignificance when compared to the double whammy he suffered as a teenager.

Musgrove, who trained with Ipswich Town from the age of nine, was released at 16, and inside three weeks suffered an even more crushing blow when his mum Diane died from cancer.

“It knocked my confidence at the time, but it made me stronger,” he admitted.

Although he subsequently had trials with both Colchester United and Lincoln City, Musgrove never made the grade as a professional footballer.

After a short spell with Bury Town when Tony Godden was the manager the then 17-year-old joined Walsham-le-Willows, who were still a Suffolk and Ipswich League Senior Division side at the time.

Former Sudbury Town striker Paul Smith was appointed as Walsham manager during the 1998/99 campaign and promotion subsequently followed for the village side to the Eastern Counties League at the end of the 2003/04 season.

Musgrove recalled: “Smithy took over as manager and we kicked on. He has been my guiding influence and like a father figure to me. He has been the reason I have stayed with the club.”

Although the 31-year-old has twice been tempted away, spending short spells at Mildenhall Town and Needham Market, Musgrove has otherwise remained loyal to Walsham over the past 15 years.

Highlights have included playing for Walsham in the Suffolk Senior Cup final, against Needham Market at Portman Road in 2005, and winning Division One of the Ridgeons League in 2006/07.

“Getting promoted stands out because all the lads were local and were the right age at the right time, which is what Walsham-le-Willows is all about – local lads sticking together.”

Musgrove also credits ex-Ipswich Town striker James Scowcroft and former Cambridge United striker and later manager John Taylor, who is now assistant manager at Walsham, for the part they have played in his career, as well as his father David.

“My dad took me everywhere when I was younger, although he now splits his time between watching Walsham and Stanton, where my brother Matt plays.

“I am good mates with James Scowcroft. Although I was born in Bury St Edmunds I grew up in Stanton (where Scowcroft was born and bred) and he also had a big influence on my career when I was younger.

“So I have had both Smithy and Scowy to look up to and the arrival of John Taylor last season added a new dimension to the training.

“I still enjoy it immensely – I have met so many mates through football. A key part of my week is keeping myself fit, and I hope to carry on playing for another season or two, and then I want to go into coaching and management. “

The re-arranged Suffolk Premier Cup tie is now taking place next Tuesday, and Musgrove said: “I am an Ipswich Town fan, although I am more of a Manchester United fan, if I am honest.

“I have played a pre-season friendly against Ipswich, but this will be my first competitive match against them, so it will be quite an occasion for me to play against the club where I started my career.

“Hopefully we can catch them on the hop and if everyone is on top of their game maybe we can knock them out – it would be nice to beat them and go on in the competition.”

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