Off the back of last season's extra-time win at Met Police in the play-off super final, Tonbridge Angels are playing National League South football again for the first time since 2014. After five years of toil to get there, Steve McKimm's side are doubly determined to still be standing when the curtain falls on the campaign in a few months' time.
The opening months of 2019/20 have brought significant and overdue enjoyment on the pitch for Angels wideman Khale Da Costa. Goal of the Season winner last year at St Albans City, the 25-year-old notched a brace to start and seal the 3-2 comeback win against Billericay earlier this month.
Also training to be a teacher, the days are rarely low-key for him. Here's an insight into the world of a player with bundles of promise, and more than a dash of personality to top it off...
Obviously there's strong desire to push for higher in the table (currently 20th, two clear of the drop zone) as a team, but what's your assessment of the season so far on a personal level?
I’m definitely happy with the amount of games I’m getting. It was a slow start to the season because I had an injury, and I’ve since got into the full flow of things. I’m enjoying it and that’s something I haven’t done in a while. My stats aren’t great in the league in terms of goals, but I’ve equalled my goals in the league for the last two years already. My assists are on point, I’ve got seven or eight, which is good for me as a winger. I’m just enjoying it, I really am. As a team, we obviously wanna get higher in the table and get safe as soon as possible, but it’s about enjoying the football first as well. I feel like I haven’t enjoyed football in a while, but since I’ve come to Tonbridge, I’ve been enjoying it since minute one.
What do you put that down to? The manager, the dressing room?
I’d say a combination of things. When you start enjoying football again, it no longer becomes a chore, it’s like you wanna do it. When you’ve got a good manager you wanna play for him, like you wanna do well for him, you don’t wanna upset him. You’d run through a brick wall for him, as the saying goes, and that’s what it really is.
What sort of manager is Steve to work with, in terms of style/approach? Will he give you a lot of pointers, or more so leave you to it?
It’s a bit of a mixture of both. He does give you points, depending on who you’re facing and stuff like that, but what he wants me to do is something that I can do. I’m allowed to express myself in the right areas, which is something that I was kind of restricted on in the last couple of years. It’s been good.
Who've we got in the dressing room that can be counted on to keep it interesting?
There’s a few lively ones. Jonny Henly, our goalkeeper, he’s funny, he’s a lively one. He’s a proper lad, he loves banter and he just loves Tonbridge – I call him Mr. Tonbridge! Sonny Miles is funny as well.
What about your impressions of the club itself and its potential? What has it got going for it?
I feel like the club can go wherever it wants to go. Our home record is probably up there with the best in the league, I’d say, and the fans are great, they get behind you. It’s just a good atmosphere and they make you wanna do well, and I’d never played in an atmosphere as good as that.
Before Tonbridge, where would you say you've enjoyed your football most up to now? Is there a second place in that regard?
I’d say when I was at Concord Rangers. It was similar to Tonbridge in terms of the togetherness and everyone working for each other. It was a good club as well, Concord Rangers.
Have you always mostly played wide, or have you played centrally quite a bit? Do you prefer one side to the other?
I’ve always kind of played on the right wing. Occasionally on the left, but I’ve always been a winger really. I’ve played in the ten as well; I’ve played there this season a couple of times. The wing, though, I do enjoy it.
During your time at Fulham and Luton as a youngster, were there any standout players there? Anyone who's gone on to have a decent pro career?
In terms of Luton, there was a lot of lads that I thought would be professionals, but they didn’t end up being, so it's quite funny really. At Fulham, the best player that I was playing with no longer plays. His name was Prince Owusu, and he was a really good player at a young age.
Whereabouts are you from originally, is it anywhere near Chigwell?
I’m originally from north London, and I’ve just moved to Chigwell recently. I went to school in north London, in Edmonton, and lived in Tottenham, as well as Edmonton.
Is it a Portuguese heritage you have as well?
Yeah, my mum’s Portuguese and Jamaican, and my dad’s half-Jamaican and half-Nigerian.
With football and work, how does a typical week tend to play out for you?
I work in a school, so it’s from 8 until 3. Then on a Tuesday and Thursday, I’m obviously training at Tonbridge. I’m training to be a teacher, so I’m taking a course and I have to stay behind at work and do extras, because it’s a full-time course. I do that and then just go straight to Tonbridge on a Tuesday and Thursday from work. It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive, so I make it just in time for training sometimes. I don’t probably get home until about ten, sometimes about 11. It’s like that on a Tuesday and Thursday, and then Monday and Wednesday I just stay and do my work.
Is there a specific subject/area of teaching you wanna get into?
I was just gonna get qualified, finish off my degree and kind of just take it from there.
One song or artist you'd sneak on to the team playlist? Unless you're the changing-room DJ already...
I don’t know if you know that French World Cup song (‘Ramenez la coupe à la maison’ by Vegedream). We’ve got a French player on our team (Christ Tiéhi), and he sang that for his initiation, so now I kind of like always request it! All the boys love it, to be fair.
Have you had to do any initiations yourself when you joined a new team?
Yeah, I had to do it for the first time at Tonbridge. I always kind of got away with it before, but at Tonbridge I didn’t. Because I was lucky enough to get away with it at Tonbridge for a little while, by then the fans had a song for me, so when they asked me to sing I just went for that! Everyone joined in, so it wasn’t too bad.
Finally, what else do you have in your life in terms of other interests?
I like to read, and I like listening to audiobooks as well. People find it a bit strange! I like to listen to a lot of biographies; in the last two weeks I’ve read Ian Wright’s autobiography and Jamie Vardy’s, which were quality stuff.
Interview by @chris_brookes