Harry Toffolo has stated that Swindon Town will always hold a special place in his heart following a hugely successful season at The County Ground for the Norwich City loanee.
Toffolo became an instant hit with the Robins’ faithful following his arrival in Wiltshire back in October, the wing-back playing a pivotal role as Town soared to the top of the League One table.
His pace, direct running, trickery and his ability to whip in menacing cross after menacing cross made Toffolo the perfect fit for Town’s left-flank, a position that had caused Mark Cooper plenty of headaches in the early stages of the season.
Whilst the 2014/15 campaign ended in heartbreak for Town with a crushing 4-0 defeat by Preston North End in the League One Play-Off Final at Wembley on Sunday, it was a season packed with more highs than lows for Toffolo.
Seven assists and a goal plus a first-ever call-up to the England U20s setup are the perfect markers in which to gauge Toffolo’s remarkable progress, in what was only his first full season as a professional footballer.
Having returned to parent club Norwich City this week – with the Canaries celebrating their promotion to the Premier League – Toffolo talked at length with FLIC SPORT about his time at Town and why the club will always hold a special place in his heart.
First, we reflect on the heartbreak of Sunday’s thumping defeat at Wembley, an experience Toffolo believes will only stand him in good stead further down the line in his career.
“I never thought that I would come from U21 football and be playing at Wembley at the end of the season, and I now know that it is very fine margins in football and it’s not an easy game to play,” Toffolo said.
“It’s very difficult but to have the chance to walk out at Wembley and sing the national anthem on the pitch was something that will live with me for ever, and I can’t thank Swindon enough for giving me that opportunity.
“We got goosebumps as we came out for the warm-up because we never expected anything like it, that really kicked it off and we were just relishing the opportunity.
“Unfortunately the result didn’t go our way but I’m sure the boys that played in that game will take a lot out of it.
“It’s all an experience and I remember saying to my dad after the game ‘why are you taking pictures of me at the end of the game whilst I’m all sad?’
“He said you can look back on that moment and never want to feel that way again, which is true and I never felt a low like it, there have been a lot of highs in my season at Swindon and for all of the boys.
“It was a real awful time and it’s going to happen again in your career, whether you play at Wembley in a cup final or you have to go away and you’ve got to win a certain game, so you’ve got to take those experiences and use them in everything that you do.”
When Toffolo first arrived at Town back in October, the youngster was a relative unknown as he embarked on his first taste of professional football, but he wasted little time in showing off his talents.
Succeeding where predecessors Brad Smith and Amari’i Bell failed, Toffolo proved to be the instant remedy to Swindon’s pains on the left flank as he quickly caught team-mate Nathan Byrne up in the assist stakes.
Town were more than happy with their latest acquisition and soon extended Toffolo’s stay until the end of the season, a move that certainly had a wealth of benefits for both parties.
“It was surreal because I was playing in an U21 game on BT Sport, I caught the eye in that game and within three days I was at Swindon and on the bench in the League One match against Rochdale at home,” added Toffolo.
“I didn’t make my debut that night but it was all surreal and I thought to myself ‘this is my chance now, I’ve got out on loan and I’ve got to go for it.’
“I had three or four games where I came on from off the bench and I got my chance in the team against Preston at home, I took it and I took that into every game and I was fighting to keep my place in the side.
“I will definitely take what I’ve done with Swindon this year into next season.”
In the majority of pre-match press calls that the local press have attended this season, the close knit nature of the Town dressing room has always cropped up and, despite a chunk of the class of 2014/15 now expected to move on to pastures new, Toffolo fully expects everyone to remain in touch as time goes on.
“It’s really good to see Ben (Gladwin) and Mass (Massimo Luongo) get the opportunity and you look at the boys from Southampton as well, I’m sure they will get a chance at Southampton for the success they’ve had this year.
“We are a very tight knit group, we’ve got all our WhatsApp groups together and no one wants to leave it – we said we’re going to keep the group for life.
“It’s a really good group and everyone has been really good to me and helped me settle in, it’s a very unique team and it’s such a shame that it is going to split up next season.”
Finally, with it not being certain that Toffolo will return to The County Ground for the 2015/16 campaign with Norwich wishing to assess him in pre-season, the hugely popular 19-year-old expressed his thanks to the fans and everyone at Swindon Town for what has been a truly unforgettable season.
“I just want to say thank you for absolutely everything, to the kit man all the way through to Wes Foderingham, it’s one of those where the support has been excellent throughout the whole season.
“We got to Wembley and it was such a shame that we could not give the fans promotion – it just wasn’t our day – but I could not have asked for more this whole season.
“When you are walking through town and you see certain fans and you see the little boy who says ‘that’s Harry Toffolo,’ it’s quite surreal getting recognised in the town.
“It’s a massive thank you to everyone, not just the fans but Swindon Town Football Club who gave me the opportunity to play first-team football.
“It’s a club that will always be close to my heart.”