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Look beneath the label - In depth with Dulwich's Dom Vose

Photo: Ollie Jarman

As peers past and present will attest to, Dominic Vose's credentials have never really been in question, though compatibility has often felt a crucial missing link in the chain for the former West Ham United youngster. Back in his native south London with Dulwich Hamlet, the one-time Wrexham standout has been reunited with two long-lost former teammates – belief and understanding.

In the immediate aftermath of Dulwich Hamlet’s second-round FA Cup defeat to Carlisle United in November, midfielder Dom Vose was one of the home contingent to be interviewed live on the BBC coverage. Although circumstances have helped dictate otherwise, the playmaking talent once seemed likely to have his capabilities regularly showcased to such a premier audience.

A young pro at West Ham with stacks of promise, even at Grimsby Town in League Two as a 22/23-year-old he left a firm impression on one teammate in particular. As told on here by experienced marksman Scott Vernon, who himself played as high as the Championship: “He was an unbelievable talent and you’d look at him in training and think ‘he can do things that nobody in our team can do.’”

The National League South wouldn’t seem the obvious place you’d expect to find such a player at the age of 26, though Dulwich have long enjoyed a reputation as being somewhat apart from run of the mill. Gavin Rose, the long-serving young gaffer who has received plenty of his own acclaim in recent times, has garnered a reputation for progressive leadership.

As was often alluded to by outlets during the worst of the club’s non-playing struggles a couple of years ago, he is a lifelong friend of Rio Ferdinand, but steering players on the right track is arguably what he should be most associated with. For Dom, he is also comfortably the closest manager he has had in years to properly grasping what he is all about.

“For me, I just think he really enjoys football for the right reasons, and I feel like a lot of managers don’t, in terms of the beautiful game,” he explained. “I get it’s a results business, so however you get up, you get up, but I do feel there is a ‘right’ way to go about things and how to play.”

“I think that’s how the gaffer sees football. Obviously, it’s hard at this level, because things happen where it kind of forces you to veer away from your beliefs, but on the whole, I think the gaffer wants to do things the right way.

“For me, it’s refreshing, because since being at Wrexham, I’ve had loads of managers that don’t wanna play football for the right reasons. I know I can go and talk to him about football.”

In their second season in the National League South, the League experience in the ranks includes ex-Preston North End midfielder Jeffrey Monakana, Wembley Man of the Match with Chesterfield (in 2012's Football League Trophy final), Nathan Smith, and ex-Championship winger Lionel Ainsworth, to name but three. Tasked with lighting a fuse from the engine room, Lambeth product Dom extends it to setting the pace in the dressing room on plenty of occasions – universally approved or not.

“I am kind of the DJ, but my music isn’t really for the whole changing room. I play whatever I wanna play anyway, but (if I had to choose one track) we’d probably play something like Meek Mill ‘Dreams and Nightmares (Intro).’

“We go out to that song, so I’d keep that on there.”

In hip-hop, incidentally, lies a lyric that perhaps fits well with Dom: 'I’ll tell you half the story; the rest, you fill it in...’ (Jay-Z ‘Dead Presidents II’). He feels there is 'a lot to break down' on why his football has taken the course it has in the past few seasons, but asked about any misconceptions of him as a player or personality in his career, he explains that a fair reflection has been all too often missing along the way.

“I think that’s what I’ve been battling with my whole career, the misconceptions. Opinions ain’t facts, but when it comes from higher above, it’s gonna stick; if a manager of a certain ilk says a player’s a certain way, it’s gonna spread like wildfire.

“I’ve been labelled as lazy, unfit maybe, and those ones really annoyed me, because I know how hard I work in the off-season. I remember having arguments with managers over it.

"Football’s all about perceptions. I remember at a club we were doing a 12-minute run early in pre-season, and I might have been in the top 6/top 8.

"The manager pulled me after and said ‘I didn’t think you’d be up there.’ I was like ‘I don’t know what you want me to say to that.’

"Because I play football a certain type of way, it’s normally labelled with ‘he’s a luxury player.’ Most players I think would frown upon running, but I’ll do my running, and I’ll definitely never be at the back.

"In that same 12-minute run, one of the players that finished last two or something, come the start of the season, the manager was playing him for three or four games ahead of me. I asked why, when he wasn’t scoring and we were losing at the time, and he said ‘I feel like I can trust him, he’s gonna run more.’

"This is the same person that finished at the back of the 12-minute run, so this is where perception comes in, where he runs like he’s trying harder. Football’s literally perceptions.

"Even when I look back at Wrexham, I got told I’m inconsistent, but I was the top goalscorer, top assists – so imagine if I got consistent! I got told I don’t help my full-back out, so this was me and Sean Newton; he was my left-back and I don’t think he’d say I left him out to dry.

"I think most of my career has been about misconception; of me as a person, me as a player, but that’s life.”

That spell in North Wales was his most enjoyable and certainly most productive time to date. The 4-0 win over Gateshead four seasons ago (in which he struck twice) saw him pick up possession around 40 yards out, going past one opponent, jinking inside another, one more had a nibble, then past another, and into the box before checking back onto his right as the defender slid in.

He scored to cap a sublime solo effort, though he reckoned at the time that the one he had got for Welling against Aldershot the season before was actually better. Wrexham has become a yardstick in his mind since, as he tells when asked about his happiest overall spell in football to date.

“Definitely Wrexham. Starting at Colchester to the end of Wrexham was probably my best in terms of enjoying football.

“That Wrexham period, we played the right way, I was doing well, it was a good team, so that was definitely the best time for me personally. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get that same happiness back.

“I’m alright at Dulwich at the moment, but I think I’ve struggled to find it, because I think I’ve come across management and teams that are different to myself, whereas Wrexham was just a perfect match.”

Having hit double figures for goals and assists by January 2016, he was at a high point, though manager Gary Mills said with him out of contract at the end of the season, it was the right decision to accept a bid from Scunthorpe United. In his quotes at the time, Mills would question his consistency, though he had also hailed him as ‘unbelievable’ just a few weeks earlier, saying of his Gateshead goal: “It was the Dominic Vose that we know; give him the ball and anything can happen.”

He joined League One Scunthorpe on a two-and-a-half-year deal, but would only play twice. With Mark Robins just sacked prior to his arrival, Nick Daws and Andy Dawson were in temporary charge when he signed. Daws was handed the job soon after, only for Graham Alexander to be appointed a month later.

Wrexham’s National League rivals Grimsby had bid for him before the move, and he would eventually play for the Mariners, on loan from Scunthorpe in League Two in 2016/17. He mentions now-Cardiff City striker Omar Bogle from that spell, but cites Sheffield United’s on-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson as the one example of a teammate whose ability he has been taken aback by. Henderson, he says, told then how he would go on to be (parent club) Manchester United and England number one, and Dom backs him to soon do exactly that.

After Grimsby came Whitehawk, Bromley and Chester, with the latter of those during a perilous time for the club. Ultimately relegated from the National League that season (2017/18), the Blues’ very future was in serious doubt, with well-publicised fundraising efforts.

Dom joined for the final three months of the campaign, receiving only expenses, but glad of the opportunity to get back into the action.

“I didn’t have a club from pre-season, and I think I went to Bromley around November. It just didn’t work out at Bromley, I wasn’t getting enough game time, and Marcus Bignot was my old manager from Grimsby.

“We played against them and he told me to come back up and play, but I was at the stage where I’d been up north for the last two or three years and it hadn’t worked out. That was what the delay was, so it got to a point where I wasn’t playing at Bromley, gave him a call, and he said ‘we can’t afford to give you any money, but we’ll pay for expenses.’

“I said ‘let’s just go and play some football.’ He said ‘Dom, you’re gonna play, help us not get relegated etc.’

“I didn’t manage to do that but I did play some football. For that period, it was enjoyable, considering at the start of the season I wasn’t playing.”

His previous captain at Dulwich was Magnus Okuonghae, a former Colchester teammate and a player who sits alongside a select few when it comes to standout personalities he has been around in football.

“When I was at Barnet, I had Graham Stack; he’s a top man. One of my friends, they grew up together, and when I signed, he just put a word in for me and Stacky put his arm around me.

“I think I was 18/19, under (player-boss) Edgar Davids, and Stacky took me under his wing. Colchester, we had a few senior players; Brian Wilson, David Wright, Magnus Okuonghae, Clinton Morrison.

“(Asked about Morrison) I’d kind of known Clinton from before I was at Colchester, just from playing football and training camps in the summer. Me and Clint got on, Clint’s crazy anyway, he’s hard to explain.

“Good advice, but he’s one of the boys; as much as he’s a senior player, he’s a young man at heart.”

Indeed a great deal is to be said for holding on to youthful exuberance. Entering the pro-club system at a young age, does Dom feel he had years of enjoying the freedom of the game growing up – playing at school, in the street, at the park – or did pressure come into play and cloud it?

“It was always about just playing football. Even to this day, a group of my friends, we go in the summer and play football to enjoy it, and these are players that are playing in the Premier League, Championship, League One.

“When I got into the system, I never really felt a pressure in terms of ‘I’ve got to perform.’ Going from playing in the street, Goals, to academy football, it all felt the same.

“It was different in terms of the structure, how you had to carry yourself, and I think that’s probably what I struggled with, early days at West Ham. I dropped out of school to go and play full-time at West Ham at 14/15, so maybe the authority thing was a bit different for me, because I didn’t go to school.”

Explaining that ‘a bollocking doesn’t really do anything for me’ when asked about the approach that gets the best from him, Dom says coaching points and guidance are what he needs. Down at Champion Hill, Gavin Rose has seemed to have a good handle on it.

“The gaffer trusts me in terms of how I’m gonna go and play my game. We don’t really have loads of back and forth about ‘Dom, you need to do this, you need to do that.’

“I think he trusts me to do the right things, and I think, on the whole, I do. The defensive side of the game, with me being an attacking player naturally, that’s always something I’m working on.

“I’m playing central midfield and previously in my career there’d be question marks over whether I can play there; I think I’m proving to a lot of people that I can play there. The gaffer knows what I’m in the team for; as much as I’ve got to do my defensive work, I’m in the team to try and control the game and bring the team from A to B.

“He allows me to do that without too many questions asked.”

While acknowledging the strength of leaders Wealdstone, Dom, who played 45 games last season, believes no team in the National League South have given Dulwich reason to believe they are inferior. Currently 15th in the table, he says the quest is for a so-far-elusive winning run to elevate them into the play-off picture.

The crowd of 3,336 for the Carlisle cup game was a new record at Champion Hill, with their run in the competition bringing in £36,750. Dom considers whether there was anything about the club he didn’t realise the true extent of until he was wearing the pink and blue himself.

“Being from south London, you always had that awareness about Dulwich. The management, I’ve not known them but have had mutuals since I was a kid, so I’ve always heard good things, about pushing players through etc.

“Being there, you realise that the club’s actually massive. You get 2,500/3,000 fans at every home game; for a Conference South team, that’s not bad.

“With that, the club really needs to push on to magnify everything, because I think that’s what the club and the fans deserve.”

In terms of his own ambitions, could that stretch to international football as well?

“My dad’s parents are Jamaican, so maybe one day I could play for Jamaica. I still have faith in my ability to push on; maybe it’s a bit different in ‘do I have faith in the football system?’

“I back my ability at 26 to play as high as I can; I don’t think I am done, in terms of pushing on. I’ve got friends that play internationally with Caribbean countries and they come back after getting that sun on their back, so it would be nice to get a little international break.”

English-raised players have been a consistent part of Jamaica squads for over two decades now. In what currently remains the Reggae Boyz’ heyday, in the era of their qualification for the 1998 World Cup, the team regularly had their own in-squad ‘hype man’ to run up and down the team bus with microphone in hand.

Regardless of any future opportunity with them, Dom has of course often had to step up to the more figurative mic, singing for his initiation when joining a new club.

“Every team, I think. My first one I think was Colchester.

“I signed off a trial, signed Thursday/Friday, and I travelled the same day, so I was nervous, I’m 19. I think I sung Usher ‘Nice and Slow,’ but I think my go-to one ever since is Mario ‘Let Me Love You’.

“You get the boys singing along to that one; takes the pressure off yourself!”

No matter the level, what undoubtedly remains is the joy or relief a win brings, the disappointment and frustration of a loss, and certainly the need to recover after games. Outside of that, Dom has found an additional outlet for release.

“The last two years, a hobby of mine has been boxing, because obviously last year at Dulwich we weren’t full-time, so I’d wake up and have nothing to do. It’s a bit alien for me, so I started doing boxing.

“I’ve done it for two years now; I’m a bit on and off now because we train full-time. I bought my own boxing gloves.

“There’s nothing else really; maybe that’s something I’ve got to do this year, open my eyes to other things.”

In the meantime, he gets to continue what he hopes will ultimately prove an emphatic personal revival on the pitch, while helping advance a club steeped in inclusivity and streaming with kaleidoscopic support. Players with his creative ‘X factor’ will always be worth their weight in gold (or pink and blue...).

Fundamental to anything he goes on to achieve will be continuing to look within.

“Hand on my heart, I can look at myself in the mirror and say there’s nothing I look back on in my career and say ‘I should have done this more,’ or ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ The changing point was I think the Wrexham move to Scunthorpe, because there was I think a lot of things that happened behind closed doors that to this day I don’t know the answer to.

“I had an interview before I left where I said I thought I could get 20 goals before the end of the season, so if I was allowed to stay at Wrexham for that period, I don’t think things would have happened how they have. There’s gonna be other people that feel different, but from what I feel, I think football’s always about luck and opportunity.”

 Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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