Best Betting Sites UK / Non League Manager and Player Interviews / 'I had to get used to the team banter and the northern accents' - Tooting to Teesside for Middlesbrough's Sam Folarin

'I had to get used to the team banter and the northern accents' - Tooting to Teesside for Middlesbrough's Sam Folarin

Photo left: Sam Conquest

Tooting & Mitcham United have always been known as the club that produced current West Ham United favourite Michail Antonio back in 2009. Antonio has openly shared his love for the club where he started his footballing journey, and in the last two years, they have had fantastic success not only in bringing academy players into the first team, but also into professional football.

In those couple of years, Isaiah Jones and Sam Folarin signed professional deals at Middlesbrough, Abraham Odoh signed at Charlton Athletic, Lexus Beedon signed for Reading, and Hady Ghandour was on an extended trial at Charlton before the current lockdown, Saidou Khan and Razzaq Coleman-De-Graft, meanwhile, made the jump of two divisions to the National League South, at Maidstone United and Hampton and Richmond Borough respectively. Safe to say it has been a busy time for joint-managers Ashley Bosah and Cornelius Nwadialor, who have proved to be a key part of the club's youth policy, also managing the Under-23 side.

Charlie Rowe caught up with one of the aforementioned players, Sam Folarin, about the move from non-league to professional football, leaving home city London for Darlington, and what he misses about the club that brought him through...

 

You have been at Middlesbrough for nearly a season now, how would you sum up your time so far?

My season so far has gone pretty well, although at first, it wasn’t going quite so well, as I didn’t start matches as much as I would like to. It wasn’t until January, when the players that were a bit older and experienced went out on loan, (including Tooting & Mitcham colleague Isaiah Jones, who joined St Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership) which allowed me to get more game time. I would say I took my chance to perform better and it gave me the opportunity to impress my managers.

How have you settled into the area? How different is it living in the Darlington area from south London?

I’ve settled pretty well and have got to know my teammates that also live in the same place. I have made a few relationships with my neighbours too, and the owner of the accommodation. Darlington is different to south London, as it always seems to be quiet, whereas south London isn’t! I haven’t seen many estates up in Darlington either, just mainly houses, to be honest. The shops seem to be quite far to walk to, but close to drive to, whereas in south London, it would take me two minutes to get to my nearest shop.

Can you share some of your early memories of your first week? What was it like being at a full-time academy?

Some of my early memories were having to do fitness and sprint tests, and paperwork on the first day, which I found a lot to handle at first, as well as getting to know the players, my digs, and roommates that I was living with at the time. I had to get used to the team banter and the northern accents as well. Being in a full-time academy at first was hard, as my body wasn’t used to playing football every day; so I would get cramps or would get sore. My body eventually got used to it and everything just came into place. I started to get along with everyone and training was good.

On the pitch, how has your development been? At Tooting & Mitcham, you played full-back for the first team, yet you have moved into the midfield. How has the transition been?

I’d say I developed my fitness levels, my technique and really used my raw pace in an effective way, as well as analysing the game better, which still needs more improvement. Also, from playing full-back in the first team to advancing to right-midfield/ right-wing has made me play a different game, but allows me to be more expressive on the pitch, as well as taking on players, which has been good fun for me.

There have been some great goals on social media that you have scored since you have been at Middlesbrough, can you talk us through your favourite?

I would say my favourite goal was against Blackburn Rovers FC, where I smashed it in the top-left corner, and after the connection I made with the ball and where it was heading, I could tell it was going to be a goal. It looked better in my opinion than the other goals I’ve scored, too!

You are part of a line of young players from Tooting & Mitcham that have made the jump to professional football, including Isaiah Jones, who moved to Middlesbrough with you. How is it to see your teammates make this jump and be part of the journey?

It’s made me even happier to see my teammates also get to jump to professional football, and better to even be in the same team. It has made it easier to fit in the team, being with someone I already knew. To see a mate do well motivates me to push myself, as I think ‘if he can do it, why can’t I?’ We live together in the same digs as well, which is a good vibe to be in. I have also got to play against my mate in another team who also made the professional jump this season, which was cool.

In a previous interview last July, you mentioned that you saw football as simply just a hobby, until a coach told you that you had a talent. How did your approach change?

My approach has had to change in the way that when I realised this has now become my full-time job, I am employed to play football. I became more serious knowing that if you don’t perform consistently well in any other job, you could get sacked. Knowing there is always competition too, I had to take it seriously to compete in the Under-23s, or to try to get into the first team.

Going from non-league to a full-time academy must have been a big culture shock. Can you talk us through a typical week as a full-time professional?

There are a lot of differences between non-league and being in a full-time academy. In non-league, training sessions would take place 2-3 times a week, whereas in an academy, it is basically every day, unless we get a recovery day. My week is training basically every day, but each day is different, according to our training sessions, and how many metres they would like for us to cover. We have to go to the gym twice or three times a week, on top of training, too. We usually have to come in at 9am, where we have breakfast and start training by 10:30, but during that time, we have gym time to loosen our muscles/see a physio. We also do extra gym work, which finishes around 3:30pm; only if we get everything done. There is usually some individual training added in as well. Training difficulty depends on how close our next game is.

Lastly, what were your favourite memories from your time at Tooting & Mitcham, and anything you may miss about the club?

One of my favourite memories was watching one of the first-team games on the bench, hearing the atmosphere and seeing how people turn up; this is a memory I won’t forget. It made me more passionate for the game, as there are people who take their time to watch football. The thing I miss the most is the banter, and staying in the bar after training (with the first team) which was next to the training ground. I was never really involved in the conversation unless spoken to, but it was a good vibe to be in!

Interview by @Asportsfansview

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