Craig Tanner began his career at Reading and spent time out on loan with Plymouth Argyle (twice) and AFC Wimbledon. Tanner enjoyed a good career in the Football League before joining Scottish Premiership side Motherwell in 2017.
Craig endured a long-term injury that put him out of football for nearly two years but he bounced back and has done just that since joining Aldershot Town midway through the 2019/20 season.
Tanner discusses his time in the Football League, life at Reading, Scottish football, what life was like without football, his time at The Shots and some interesting hobbies too.
From the beginning, where did football start for you?
“I was playing for my local team, Camberley Town. I was playing in an age group higher than me. I played at tournaments and went to a few trials at a few teams.
“I ended up trialling at Reading and I would’ve signed for them but I was too young so I still played at Camberley on a Saturday and Reading used to play on a Sunday so I would go and play for them as well.
“They didn’t have an age group for me at the time so I always had to play an age group up because I was too young to officially sign.”
How was life at Reading?
“Reading was class. They were close to my local team so I used to go and watch the first-team play with my Dad on the weekends and then we used to play on a Sunday.
“As I got older, I would finish playing on a Saturday and go and watch the team anyway. We tried to watch every home game that we could.
“It’s a family club down there. I loved my time there and I’ll always have a fond memory in my heart of Reading.”
Is there anyone you played with at Reading that fans would recognise now?
“If you look through the age groups there was a thread on Twitter of a youth team that won the first-ever Premier League like FA competition. A lot of the lads that were like 13 or 14 play in the top leagues now.
“There was Jack Stacey from Bournemouth, Jake Cooper from Millwall, Jordan Obita who is still in the first-team set-up, Aaron Tshibola who is playing abroad with Aves in the Portuguese Primeira Liga and Alfie Mawson who is at Fulham.
“The thread had a lot of talented players and it was ridiculous to see those players together looking at how far they’ve come.
“James Rowe was even there at some point when I was at Reading.”
You played at Football League clubs such as Plymouth Argyle, AFC Wimbledon and of course Reading. How did the journey from those clubs take you to the Scottish club, Motherwell?
“I was at Reading from the age of eight until the age of 21 I believe, maybe even longer. I was there for about 15 years or so and then I went on loan to Wimbledon.
“When I was at Plymouth, I was there for two years playing around 80 games for them. I had a very successful time there and in the first season, I helped them to the League Two play-off final. We lost to Wimbledon in the final and I believe we got promoted the next year.
“I was getting cold feet and I wanted to experience new things and challenge myself in a division that I hadn’t proved myself in yet. I wanted to see how I adapted on and off the pitch and I had offers from League Two but I felt like I’ve already proved myself in that league already.
“Motherwell came in with the opportunity to play against the likes of Rangers and Celtic and explore the country a bit more. I thought that it’d be good to take the gamble and go up there.”
There was a period of time where you were out of football for a long time. You had a bad injury that was really tough on you. How did you come back from that to get onto the football pitch again?
“There was a long period of time where I didn’t think I was going to come back. I was in a very dark place but luckily I had really good support around me. My girlfriend and my family were there for me.
“I just had to dig in deep and I managed to get back to a fitness level that I was happy with. A lot of people wrote me off, they didn’t think I was going to come back. Some wrote me off in terms of walking properly and didn’t think that I could come back to a professional level.
“I managed to come back and get through a whole pre-season at Motherwell and the whole journey to get there took a lot out of me at the time. I got to a point where I was out of football for like 15-16 months and had three operations. I wasn’t enjoying training or looking forward to it.
“I felt mentally and physically drained. I made the decision to step away from football for a bit and just focused on keeping myself fit and revitalise myself. It was a tough decision for me and my girlfriend to make at the time but I look back now, thinking that it was the right decision to make.”
What took you to Aldershot Town all the way from Scotland. What persuaded you to come back to England?
“I wasn’t earning any money so I came back home to find some work. I’m from Camberley and I had a property down there so me and my girlfriend moved back down to pick up some work and get a bit of income coming in.
“I was on trial at a few teams that I was unlucky with for various reasons. It happens all the time, it’s just football, it’s the ugly side of the game. One of my Dad’s business partners is really good friend with the chairman (Shahid Azeem) and said ‘I don’t know if you know this but Craig Tanner is available and fully fit. He’s been out for a long time but you can see if Danny (Searle) would want him to come in and train.’
“I agreed to it and went and trained with Aldershot. There was one session where Danny pulled me aside and said that he wanted to sign me. It was a nice feeling.”
Now that you’re playing regular football and starting to get your form back. What advice would you give to footballers that have had an injury as bad as yours? What should they do to come back stronger?
“I still feel like I’m not at my best yet but I think I’m improving every game. I’ve still got the skills that I know I’m capable of doing and it feels really good. I can’t wait for the season to be up and running again so that I can continue my good form.
“A bit of advice for footballers that I would say is that you should never lose the faith in your own ability because your ability will always be there so sometimes you have to step out of the intense rehab and just take a break and have a bit of fresh air.
“It’s key to reevaluate things and it’ll work itself out. Try not to beat yourself up too much and make sure you have a good support network around you. Don’t rush things, try to step back and be patient and you’ll be back to football soon.”
How different was the National League to the football in Scotland? Was it hard to adjust?
“I’d say Scottish football is quicker and a bit more intense as well. You get a lot more coverage and there are more fans at games but overall the standard isn’t too different.
“A lot of Scottish teams such as Motherwell, Hamilton, Partick Thistle and Dundee, they get a lot of their players from the National League so the market is definitely more in the National League than the Scottish Premiership I’d say.
“I just focused on performing well consistently as I think that is the best way to fit into most leagues.”
Playing in the National League, who is the hardest defender that you’ve come up against?
“I’m not too sure. I don’t really think of my opponents like that as I know that if I do my job and show what I’m capable of then I can give most defenders a handful on my day. I know a lot of players who know exactly who has been the hardest for them but for me I can’t analyse my opponents like that as I have to focus on my own game.
“Some look at opponents for their weaknesses, strengths, what they can do but I think more in a way that If I go out there and play my game, I have the confidence to beat my man.”
Outside of Aldershot Town, what hobbies or interests would fans not know you get up to?
“I would say my dog Elvis but I think he’s well known now due to the 10k followers or so he has on Instagram. I do like to walk my dog and go for a walk with my girlfriend as well.
“In my spare time, I love to play Football Manager, bit of FIFA and I’ve taken up baking as well. I like to do some banana bread and lemon drizzle cake when I can. I can’t go outside as much now but I just like to chill out. I’m a laidback guy so nothing too extreme is good for me.”