AS a teenager, Saints academy’s most prolific goalscorer was sat down by football chief, Les Reed, and told ‘we still look to you to be our next striker’.

It was a wave of reassurance that washed over Ryan Seager, who had been with the club since he was just seven years old.

An ACL injury while out on loan had sidelined the striker for 12 months, just 10 minutes after he was celebrating scoring his first Football League goal.

The youngster was backed up as top scorer from the 2014-15 U21 Premier League and its inaugural Player of the Month – a trophy that still sits pride and place in his living room.  

But the best and worst thing about football – “a brutal game of opinions” – is that things, and the people around, change quickly. Past opinions soon become worth very little.

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Under Ronald Koeman, Seager was training regularly with a supremely talented first-team and had made two brief substitute appearances. Under next boss Claude Puel, after so long out of the picture, he was forgotten.  

Daily Echo: Ryan Seager in action for Saints in 2015 (Pic: PA)Ryan Seager in action for Saints in 2015 (Pic: PA)

“I think I was 18, I was only on a month loan at Crewe but I was just getting a taste for league football,” Seager told the Daily Echo. “The adrenaline you get, there is no feeling like it.

“For the first few weeks it was unreal, and the lower down (the leagues) you get players are needing performance bonuses and you learn very quickly it’s all or nothing.”

In the 37th minute of a League One tie away at Rochdale, goalscorer Seager went up to contest an aerial ball.

“I felt it pop three times,” he grimaced. “They had a scan and it was an ACL. Halfway through I still couldn’t straighten my leg.

"I had to have another operation to fix something behind the knee. I didn’t really train much with the first-team after I came back.

“That (Reeds’ comments) gave me confidence throughout my rehab. But things change, Ronald Koeman left and a new manager came in.

“It’s a game of opinions, which is fair enough. You don’t really realise that at the start, but you get more experience in the game and you realise how it is.

"You go into clubs and managers have their favourites, you’ve got to really stand out to get into the team. I don’t know if Puel looked at me but I didn’t get the chance to train with him – they went on a pre-season tour and my name wasn’t on the list.”

Despite a rat race of unsuccessful loans that followed and resulted in a future in non-league football – not as the next St Mary’s hitman – he is not soured.

Seager and his beloved wife – a relationship which has flourished in spite of her family being Portsmouth fans – have just had their first child, a baby boy that was sleeping in his father’s arms during our interview.

The youngster – a term I’ve enjoyed using to refer to the new-born after its cliched and continual use in football writing – is just getting to the point where he is sleeping through the night, sparing Seager a few more hours of rest.

More time to ponder again on memories from a place of newfound peace. At Saints, Seager was influential in a well-liked academy development team and is still close friends with a number of the players with whom he used to share a pitch.

The likes of Matt Targett (Newcastle United), Jake Hesketh (Eastleigh), Jake Flannigan (Bognor Regis), are among those he is closest with. Other players included Harrison Reed (Fulham), Sam McQueen (Retired) and Dom Gape (Wycombe).

Daily Echo: Matt Targett now stars for Newcastle United (Pic: PA)Matt Targett now stars for Newcastle United (Pic: PA)

“It was such a good breakthrough,” Seager recalled. “The team that we actually had, they’re all playing, some in the Premier League, across the Football League and some in the National League.”

Under coach Martin Hunter, Sam Gallagher’s (Blackburn) extra-time winner fired Saints to a first bit of youth silverware since 2006 with a 2-1 win over Rovers in April 2015.

Daily Echo: Saints lift the Under-21 Premier League Cup (Pic: Daily Echo)Saints lift the Under-21 Premier League Cup (Pic: Daily Echo)

“It was our first experience of winning anything, I’m 26 now so that was about seven years ago and you don’t win a lot in your career,” Seager, who netted the opener that day, insisted.

“There was like 13,000 there at St Mary’s and it was such a good occasion for everyone - five or six of us had been there since like five or six years-old.

Daily Echo: Ryan Seager scored in the final - but also netted a hattrick in the semi (Pic: Daily Echo)Ryan Seager scored in the final - but also netted a hattrick in the semi (Pic: Daily Echo)

“Everyone got on at that time, there was no big time players and it was the hardest time to break into the first-team because everyone was doing so well.”

Seager made his debut as a substitute in an FA Cup clash with Crystal Palace in January 2015, also picking up his only Premier League appearance a week later.

“There was a lot of big players and you could feel that, so when five or six players made their debut it was a huge achievement,” he continued. “I was glad to have that opportunity.”

That season had begun with an almost unprecedented level of excitement from the summer transfer window’s activity – orchestrated by Koeman and Ralph Krueger, with some of Mauricio Pochettino's leftover plans in place – continuing with highs of second-place after the opening dozen matches.

The signings of Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane, amongst others, helped inspire Saints to finish seventh in the Premier League, clinching Europa League qualifying.

As such, proving you deserved the chance to play in one of the best Saints sides of the generation was no mean feat – and came with more than a fair share of anticipation.

Seager got as far as taking his bib off and having Erwin Koeman run him through his set-piece and positional duties on the touchline, before the moment was taken away.

Fellow Yeovil-born academy graduate Lloyd Isgrove, on as a substitute himself, required several minutes of treatment after a clash with Ipswich Town’s Luke Chambers.

“I was like, ‘oh my god, this is it,” Seager laughed. “That drove me on for the next time to be fair, playing at St Mary’s as well having been around the club all my life,” he added, revealing that Isgrove was instead bandaged up and continued.

Seager and his academy teammates were not only aspiring to a European-chasing first-team, but following in the footsteps of one of the club’s golden generations.

The likes of current Saints captain and legend James Ward-Prowse and the then-most expensive teenager in football history – Luke Shaw – had just come out of Staplewood.  

Daily Echo: Saints captain James Ward-Prowse (Pic: Stuart Martin)Saints captain James Ward-Prowse (Pic: Stuart Martin)

“Everyone was hoping they would be the next big thing,” Seager reflected. “You look back now and think it was a big deal, but at the time we were just playing football and going with the flow.”

Seager still aspires to play at the highest level of football he can, even if it has not worked out that he was to succeed the likes of Pelle in front of the Itchen.  

The 26-year-old went from loans to MK Dons, Yeovil and even Dutch side Telstar while on the books with Saints, and to Havant & Waterlooville after making a permanent move to hometown Yeovil.

It was a period of almost as many years as it was league goals, just struggling to get into teams and get a run of games under his belt.

That was, until, a move to the sixth tier of English football in the summer of 2020 – with Berkshire-based Hungerford Town.

The perpetual cycle of not playing therefore not scoring and so therefore not playing was broken with the run of games he needed.

Seager scored 41 goals in 59 matches across the last two National League seasons – one curtailed early due to COVID-19.

Daily Echo: Ryan Seager representing Hungerford Town (Pic: Jeff Youd Photography)Ryan Seager representing Hungerford Town (Pic: Jeff Youd Photography)

“It’s not like League One where I could have had a run of games and say I’ve proved my doubters wrong or anything, but it is nice to play and to score goals,” he admitted.

“I feel like there was a stigma that I get injured a lot, but all the clubs I have been at I haven’t been injured – I’ve just not been played.

“But I’ve never gone anywhere and been like ‘right I’m not going if I’m not playing’, you’ve got to earn the right to play. It has been really nice enjoying my football again, the feeling of being wanted."

Seager continued: “Football can be a lonely game sometimes, loads of players go through it where you’re not feeling wanted going from club to club.

“Higher up you’re in a bubble, having to get a job and realise maybe you won’t be playing football full-time is tough and it was tough at the time.”

Alongside playing for the part-time Crusaders, Seager worked as a teaching assistant in a Southampton school – very much enjoying it, and striking the right balance.

Occasionally, he will look at his phone and smile at a message from a Saints fan. Seager insists he still gets a few, saying ‘it’s nice to see you do well’.

“It was tough leaving Saints because I never had the chance after getting injured, where I was there as a little kid, that was tough,” Seager said.

“I’d known all the staff there for a long time but after my injury a lot of them had changed. It’s a brutal game. Obviously I wish I didn’t get injured but you can’t change it.”

He might start to get a few more messages as Jeff Stelling reads confirmation of his goals on the 3PMs, following a move back up to the premier division of non-league this month.

Daily Echo: Ryan Seager is now a Dorking Wanderers player (Pic: Steve O'Sullivan Photography)Ryan Seager is now a Dorking Wanderers player (Pic: Steve O'Sullivan Photography)

The forward will now line up for newly-promoted Dorking Wanderers. It’s set to see a switch back to the full-time game for Seager, coming in this time knowing he is a wanted man to fire them up the National League.

At 26-years-old, the former England youth international could yet continue doing what he always did best for Saints. In a game of opinions, Seager knows scoring is the best way to change them.

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