Pigott will bring on and off-field class to Ipswich Town
- Credit: ITFC
Striker Joe Pigott is Ipswich Town's seventh summer signing. STUART WATSON profiles the man who goes down as an AFC Wimbledon legend.
I DON’T LIKE CRICKET...
Football wasn’t the only sport Pigott excelled at as a child when growing up in Maidstone.
“I was playing cricket to quite a high standard from the age of about 11 until 15,” he told the AFC Wimbledon programme in 2018.
“I was a bowler, but I batted a bit too. I really enjoyed watching Kevin Pietersen play.
“I played quite a few games for Kent's second team and had a choice to make. Football just felt a little bit more natural though and I enjoyed it more.”
Deciding to start a scholarship with Charlton, as a relatively late starter at 15, soon proved the right decision.
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He was part of a team that reached the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals in 2012, eventually losing 3-2 against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Pigott then played a big role in the Addicks winning the inaugural Professional Development League South title in 2012/13.
Chris Powell handed him his first team debut, age 19, in a League Cup game at Oxford United at the start of the following season. The teen front man scored the final goal, from the spot, in a 4-0 win that day.
“I loved it,” he said. “It was my first game and I really wanted the penalty. Luckily the other lads backed down.
"Hopefully there will be more (goals) in the future. I have great confidence in myself that I am going to take chances.”
A first Championship outing soon followed, as a late sub in a home win against Leicester, and the Addicks quickly got him tied down to a new three-year deal.
'A TOTAL MESS’
Charlton then changed manager seven times in three seasons and Pigott was pushed from pillar to post.
First, Powell loaned him to League One side Gillingham in the second part of 2013/14. He scored one goal in seven for Martin Allen’s men before being recalled by Jose Riga.
Bob Peeters loaned him to League Two side Newport County for the first part of 2014/15. He scored three goals in 11 games for Justin Edinburgh’s men.
Peeters loaned him out again in the January – this time to League Two side Southend United. There he scored seven goals in 23 appearances as Phil Brown’s men secured promotion via the Play-Offs.
Brought on as a second half sub at Wembley, Pigott scored a dramatic equaliser in stoppage-time of extra-time and then netted the first penalty in the shootout victory.
Guz Luzon loaned Pigott back to Southend at the start of 2015/16. He scored five in 28 for the newly-promoted League One club, who then opted not to make the deal permanent come January.
Karel Fraeye was soon sacked. Riga was re-hired. Pigott was loaned to League Two side Luton, becoming reunited with his former youth team boss Nathan Jones. There he netted four in 15.
Charlton appointed Russell Slade that summer and Pigott was released having made just four starts for his boyhood club.
“I still love the club and keep track of things, even though they treated me really poorly,” Pigott told the South London Press in December last year.
“That wasn’t the fault of anyone who is at the club now though, that was just how things were with the ownership and all the rest – it was a total mess.
“My career at the club not working out was just a by-product of that unfortunately.
“Being a young lad you just want someone to give you direction, and to put their arm around your shoulder at times. The game can be pretty brutal as it is. I just had way too many managers. That was really detrimental to me.”
DROPPING INTO NON-LEAGUE
Pigott was handed a one-year deal by League Two side Cambridge United, but soon found game time limited.
“He had a fantastic pre-season for us and for whatever reason he’s struggled in the first part of the season,” boss Shaun Derry told the Cambridge News.
“He’s found himself perhaps further down the pecking order than he would have liked. That’s the game – it waits for no-one.”
Midway through his debut season at The Abbey Stadium, Pigott was loaned to his hometown club Maidstone United.
Six goals in 17 games convinced the National League side to sign him on a free transfer that summer.
A further 13 goals in the first half of the following season, for a side that was battling relegation, attracted the attentions of several Football League clubs.
“He’s a league player and there will be clubs looking at him,” Maidstone boss Jay Saunders told Kent Online.
“He’s got a bit of everything. Even if he’s not scoring goals his work rate’s outstanding. He’s great in the dressing room and the boys all respect him.”
League One side AFC Wimbledon won the race for Pigott's signature in January 2018.
“I've gone to watch Joe twice in the last 10 days and he has certainly got the quality for this level,” said boss Neal Ardley.
Pigott scored five goals in the second half of that season as the Dons finished safe in 18th.
He subsequently bagged 18 in his first full season there, including seven in the final 10 matches, as Wally Downes’ men beat the odds to stay up on goal difference.
Swansea and Reading were among the clubs linked that summer, but Pigott stayed put and scored nine more goals in the curtailed 2019/20 season as Wimbledon again narrowly beat the drop.
After Pigott failed to convert two penalties in a League Cup defeat to MK Dons, boss Downes said: “I’ve got no problem with Pigs today. He’s a top striker, one of the best strikers in this division and can comfortably play above this division.”
In March that year, just before Covid saw the season halted, Downes said: “When I first came in I knew Joe was a goalscorer, but it was just about getting him to be a bit stronger up front. He’s definitely doing that now. He’s been magnificent.”
Pigott kicked on again last season, netting 22 goals across all competitions as, once again, Wimbledon survived. This time, the Dons wouldn't be able to keep hold of their star man.
Having scored 54 goals in 130 starts and 27 sub appearances for Wimbledon, Pigott turned down a new deal at the end of last season.
“This has been the toughest decision of my career,” he said, in a heartfelt message addressed to Dons fans.
“It’s been an absolute privilege to play for this club as it represents exactly what the game is about - the fans. To not have been able to play in front of a packed Plough Lane is something that upsets me.
“To help play a part in stabilising the club in League One has been a pleasure. I’m sad to be leaving my home, but excited for what the future holds. I’m sure we will cross paths soon. Will miss you all. Love Pigs x.”
Championship clubs Nottingham Forest, Derby, Bristol City, Birmingham, Huddersfield and Luton have all been linked, as were League One sides Sunderland, Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday.
“Joe is training with us – he wants to keep himself sharp,” said Dons head coach Mark Robinson last week.
“Some people might think that is a bit bizarre, but he scored (almost) 60 goals for us and was a huge part of keeping us up for three seasons. He is part of the family.”
Reflecting on his progress during last season, Pigott told the South London Press: “I’ve massively improved compared to when I left Charlton.
“I’ve always scored goals when given opportunities, but it’s just about the rest of the game, you have to get experience with that and develop.
“To drop into non-league was a massive deal, two or three years after starting with Charlton in the Championship.
“I knew I had the quality and the belief to come back, to put things right, and to prove people wrong.”
LEADER AND LISTENER
After being nominated for League One Player of the Month in September 2020, Dons boss Glyn Hodges said: “Joe has had the captain’s armband. Will Nightingale is the club captain, but injury has meant he hasn’t played so many games and Pigs is next in line. He’s proud to do it and is leading from the front.”
Current Wimbledon head coach Mark Robinson, in paying tribute to the departing striker, said: "I remember Wigan away, which was our first game together, and I was doing analysis at the hotel in the evening.
“I had always been told you should never do more than 15 minutes with first team players as they switch off! After at least half an hour I thought it might be best to stop, but Joe spoke out and said; ‘No Robbo, keep going, it's good’.
“For one of your senior pros to say that is so powerful to the rest of the group and it set the tone for everything we wanted to achieve.
“He has been absolutely brilliant on and off the pitch. He’s a real Dons legend and so popular with all the players and staff.”