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Played for Both: Dale vs Bolton Wanderers
Played for Both: Dale vs Bolton Wanderers
Friday, 10th Jan 2020 10:02 by AtThePeake

He came from our academy Buckley, Buckley, he dived to win us penalties Buckley, Buckley.

It wasn't an easy route to the academy we sang about him coming from, but Will Buckley first joined Dale's youth ranks in 2006, having impressed the club sufficiently enough to earn a trial during his studies for a B-Tech sports course at Hopwood Hall.

By the 2007/2008 season, in which Dale reached the play-offs, the young attacker was featuring from the bench intermittently whilst continuing his studies at the Sixth Form college, even appearing as Keith Hill's final substitute at Wembley in the play-off final versus Stockport.

With the likes of Kallum Higginbotham and Adam Rundle still performing at a high standard throughout that season - and Ben Muirhead providing an option from the bench, it was always going to be difficult for Buckley, who only turned 18 in the November of that season, to establish himself as a first-team player and those first glimpses we got of him would be no indication of the quality he was about to show in the coming campaign.

His rise actually started in pre-season when, in a friendly at Rossendale (a club that unfortunately went out of existence not long after - but I am glad to report after falling into a bit of a Wiki wormhole just now are seemingly on their way back towards a semi-pro standard) he started on the right hand side of the midfield and continually ghosted past the hosts backline. Eventually, he capped an eye-catching performance with a wonderful goal to make the scoreline 6-0 and celebrated by running into a group of slightly overzealous Dale fans gathered behind the goal.

If that wasn't enough to gain him a cult-hero status, the season that the youngster was about to have certainly was.

Dale made a poor start to the campaign, winning just one of their first six, but Buckley wasn't introduced to the team until September and he managed his first professional goal in a 2-2 draw at Rotherham and he followed that up with two further goals in his next two games - wins over Chesterfield and Accrington Stanley.

By now, Dale's promotion push seemed to be back on course and Buckley, alternating between a starting berth on either wing or just off the main striker, was cementing his position as one of our most creative, dangerous attacking players and his ability to ghost past defenders was starting to become more and more obvious.

It was becoming impossible for defenders to face him up as the youngster's confidence grew with each passing game. His acceleration over the first yard was too much for most League Two defenders and after stopping the ball dead, he could be gone within seconds, ghosting past you and streaming down the wing, so much so that he would find himself being hauled down inside the box time and time again to give Adam Le Fondre a chance to score from the spot. And there was always contact. Always. Honest.

With Dale fighting for a top seven spot once again, Buckley was a key component that season and would go on to score 10 goals in the league and it was in a 3-0 home win over Bradford City in March when it became apparent that the young winger had quite simply outgrown League Two.

The Bantams tried four different right-backs to try and quell the threat of Buckley's surges down the left hand side, with all four picking up bookings in the end and Le Fondre converting two penalties to put Dale in a comfortable position in the play-off spots.

Unfortunately, the team's form suffered in the final few weeks of the campaign, although Buckley did manage a vital winner in a home victory over Port Vale, and in the end Dale went into the play-offs with little momentum behind them, succumbing to a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Gillingham. By now however, Buckley was arguably the star turn of Hill's side and unsurprisingly, had plenty of interest from clubs higher up the pyramid, but the boss somehow managed to keep hold of him for the upcoming campaign.

There was also an injury-time consolation goal for Buckley during this poor end to the campaign in a 2-1 derby defeat to Bury. Of course, the Shakers would end up missing out on promotion due to one goal difference - you can guess which goal Dale fans decided was the one that saw them miss out!

Buckley continued his rich vein of form into the 2009/2010 season as Dale raced towards the top of the table in the early stages of the campaign. An injury for Buckley came just as we reached December, but by this point he had already helped lift the side towards the top spot in the division thanks to some stunning performances and three goals, the pick of which was a wonderful curled effort from outside the box in a 1-2 win at Northampton.

Upon his return from injury, it was clear that Buckley was on his way to bigger and better things and the board finally succumbed in January, accepting a £300,000 offer from Watford for the Oldham-born winger's services. Dale would go on to win promotion with a raft of loanees looking to fill the spot left vacant in the side, whilst the player himself would appear six times in the Championship for the Hornets over the rest of the campaign, scoring once.

Buckley established himself at Vicarage Road the season after, winning Young Player of the Year for the Hertfordshire club after four goals in 33 appearances, earning him a move to Brighton & Hove Albion who shelled out a club record fee of £1m for the now 20 year old.

He was a regular with the Seagulls for 3 seasons, playing over 100 times and scoring 19 goals in all competitions and was a hit with the Brighton supporters too, even scoring a deflected winner in an FA Cup win against Premier League outfit Newcastle - which perhaps went some way to prompting Sunderland to swoop for him with former BHA manager Gus Poyet bringing an ex-player with him to the Stadium of Light.

Despite playing 22 times in his first season in the Premier League, Buckley never really settled at the Stadium of Light and his career perhaps started to take a turn for the worse at this point. A lack of fitness and perhaps a lack of the physicality required to compete in the top division held him back somewhat and he would never score a goal for the Black Cats, spending his second season out on loan in spells at Leeds United and Birmingham City.

Another season out on loan at Sheffield Wednesday followed but resulted in just a handful of appearances and Buckley finally left the Stadium of Light to join newly-promoted Bolton Wanderers in the Championship at the start of the 2017/2018 campaign.

Having now racked up over 60 appearances for the Trotters, Buckley has been re-united with former Rochdale manager Keith Hill this season, but has made just five appearances having continued to struggle for fitness, despite being a regular in the second tier over the last two campaigns.

Now aged 30, it's fair to say that Buckley's career hasn't really lived up to the promise that he showed during those formative years at Spotland, perhaps aside from his impressive spell at Brighton & Hove Albion. The youthful exuberance that saw him terrorise defender after defender at League Two level during his time at Spotland may have gone from his game, but Dale fans will no doubt be reminiscing over some of those performances should he take to the pitch once more at Spotland for the Trotters this weekend.

Photo: Action Images

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