Albion’s first £1m signing Will Buckley once rejected by Trotters

Will Buckley holds a very special place in the hearts of modern-day Brighton fans.

He ensured his place in the club’s history books when he came off the substitute’s bench to score twice, including a last-gasp winner, as Albion played their first competitive league match at the Amex on 6 August 2011.

That winner in the 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers is the stuff of YouTube legend, coming as it did in the eighth minute of added on time, and is right up there alongside memorable Albion goals from across the eras.

Manager Gus Poyet had turned a few heads when he secured Buckley’s signature from Watford that summer, making him Albion’s first £1m signing.

It wasn’t long before the Albion faithful were adapting the chant fans had previously attributed to former favourite wideman, Elliott Bennett, and were singing ‘Wil-liam, Wil-liam Buckley runs down the wing for me’.

The lanky Lancastrian was unusual in being a 6ft winger but his skill and pace on good days could bring the crowd to their feet, especially with his knack of scoring too.

Unfortunately, with his pace came plenty of hamstring injury issues and Buckley became no stranger to the treatment table during his three years with the Seagulls.

Also, once Poyet had taken the reins at Sunderland, it was evident Buckley was on his shopping list and what Albion fans witnessed in the second part of the 2013-14 season was a player whose head seemed to have been turned by the promise of a move.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Born in Oldham on 21 November 1989, Buckley sought to make his way in the game with his home town club, but his hopes were dashed and they released him.

He then had trials at a number of other north-west clubs, including current employers, Bolton Wanderers, who at the time were managed by Sam Allardyce.

“I played a few games for a Trialists XI against Bolton’s Under 15s or 16s. But I never got asked back, so that was just that,” Buckley told the Lancashire Telegraph.

After getting nowhere with Bolton, Buckley subsequently had trials at Bury and Accrington Stanley before deciding to go to college to do a football academy course. That eventually led to him being picked up by Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft at Rochdale.

Signed as a youth scholar in 2006, he progressed to the reserves and then got his first team chance in February 2008, when coming on as a sub as Rochdale lost 4-2 at home to Hereford United.

His first start came in a 1-0 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers but he was mainly used as a substitute in that breakthrough season, including getting on at Wembley as Rochdale lost to Stockport County in a play-off final for a place in League One.

When the 2008-09 season got underway, he began to claim a starting place and soon scored his first goal, in a 2-2 draw away to Rotherham.

By 12 January 2009, The Times hailed him in 49th place among the top 50 rising stars in the English game, suggesting his progress at Spotland would soon see him playing at a higher level. Interestingly, the recently-departed Sam Baldock (then at Milton Keynes Dons) was at no. 46.

The Times clearly had an eye for talent because, a year later, having scored 13 times in 69 appearances for Dale, Buckley rose two leagues to the Championship to join Watford.

Watford boss Malky Mackay gave him a three-and-a-half-year contract and described him as “an exciting young talent”. The fee was officially ‘undisclosed’ although reports suggested it was around £200,000.

However, perhaps as a sign of things to come, injury curtailed his impact at his new club to just six appearances, and one goal, in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, in his one full season with the Hornets, Buckley made 37 appearances and was named their Young Player of the Year.

Perhaps rather tellingly, Buckley’s move to Watford from Rochdale was handled by head of football business and development, John Stephenson, who, lo and behold, by the summer of 2011 held a similar post with Brighton!

Watford were canny though and ensured a 15 per cent sell-on clause as part of the deal with Brighton, meaning they netted a further £225,000 when Buckley eventually left Albion to re-join Poyet at Sunderland.

buckley move to Sund Mail

Poyet told the BBC: “He is very quiet, shy, but with his feet when he is on the pitch and he’s got the chance to attack you, he’s a nightmare.”

Sunderland fans weren’t quite sure what to expect and their fans’ website Roker Report sought the views of Albion fans after he signed for the Wearsiders. Probably not surprisingly, the main issues they shared were Buckley’s problems with hamstring injuries.

Under Oscar Garcia in 2013-14, Buckley had scored only three goals in 23 league and cup games plus 10 appearances from the bench, and two of them came in one match! However, you can imagine they must have given him special pleasure, coming as they did – in the 13th and 65th minutes – at the Reebok as Albion beat Dougie Freedman’s Trotters to maintain their play-off push.

Buckley’s last game for Albion came in a 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday that was the opening fixture of the 2014-15 season.

The much-speculated move to Sunderland came shortly after and he departed the Seagulls having scored 19 goals in 109 games.

As to what’s happened since, the record books show what can only be described as a disappointing few years. Buckley played a couple of dozen games for the Wearsiders in the Premiership but, as soon as Poyet was sacked, he found himself out of favour and was shipped out on loan, spending time at Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City.

On his release from Sunderland in June 2017, as his three-year deal expired, he joined Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers on a two-year contract.

“He’s a player with a lot of Championship experience and we’re looking forward to working with him,” said the Bolton boss.

Buckley scored twice in 25 matches in his first season, where former Seagull Craig Noone was also added as a wide option. But they only narrowly avoided the drop back to League One.

will buckley action


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