Making his mark at Southend United as a teenager, Kane Ferdinand quickly established a reputation as one of the brightest young talents in the Football League. It seemed swift progression was inevitable, and a step up two levels to the Championship soon followed with Peterborough United as summer 2012 drew to a close.
However, the now-26-year-old speaks from experience about how nothing’s a given. Preparing for 2019/20 after promotion back to the National League with Woking, the midfielder has extra cause for perspective after seven months out injured recently. The former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international looks back on some of the experiences, the personalities, and the lessons from his career to date, with the desire to earn a return to the top four divisions an undeniable additional fuel.
Favourite team and player growing up
Growing up, I was a Man United fan. It was one of those things, the first team I was exposed to and a lot of my family were United fans, so it stuck with me. I guess a player that kind of stood out when I was around 10/11 was Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a sad day when he left.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why?
One that definitely stands out was only about six weeks ago actually; play-off semi-final (against Wealdstone) when we were 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go and we managed to turn it around (and win 3-2). That’s definitely one of the most memorable games of my career. There was also a game a few years back now, I think it was 2012, when I was playing for Peterborough and we beat Bolton Wanderers 5-4. As you can imagine, nine goals, it was a proper up-and-down game, and fun to be a part of.
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
Every manager in your career, they bring something different; everyone has their own way of thinking, in terms of the game. I guess the one who stands out would be my first one, which was Paul Sturrock (at Southend). He was kind of like a father figure in the way that he moulded me into the team. He wasn’t too harsh on me; there were one or two times where I deserved the harsh treatment I got! Other than that, he was pretty cool and lenient with me, and really helped me as a teenager.
Paul Sturrock’s a manager who’s enjoyed plenty of success, and also someone not shy to make his point through the years! He’s sadly had his health issues to contend with during his managerial career, was he generally quite mellow, or could he still lose it?
He did lose it once or twice! Not so much on the sidelines; on the sidelines he was more the calm character and we had our assistant Graham Coughlan, he was more the voice. It was when we got back in the changing room that Sturrock would let you know about it; what he was really feeling. Still a great guy and I wish him well, I hope he’s doing okay.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
That would have to be Liam Dickinson. He’s a right character. That was at Southend as well, and me being quite a young lad, he kind of took me under his wing. Yeah, he’s a character – there’s not a lot I can kind of reveal! He was a funny geezer; every day in training, always up to something. Christmas do, he wanted to be the main man and that. Just a real top man.
And Bilel Mohsni was there at that time as well…
Yeah, also another character! Different kind of character. Once he got on the pitch, he was fiery, wanted to do anything he could to get the win, but then off the pitch, nicest man ever. It was incredible, it was literally two different people.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
When I think back, I feel Lee Tomlin, when I played with him at Peterborough. Of course he did play in the Championship for quite a while and got his move to the Premier League (with Bournemouth), but I don’t recall him making too many appearances. However, more than capable of playing in the Premier League week in, week out. Some of the things he was doing in training, he was pretty much a genius.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
Most probably one of my first seasons at Southend, where we were pretty much in the title race all season. It’s one of them where the season’s going well, I chipped in maybe eight or nine goals as well, and every other week we were kind of winning. There’s that good, positive vibe throughout the whole season really. We didn’t end up going up, we lost in the play-offs (to Crewe), but that season, I learned a lot as well. I think I was 19, the year we lost in the play-offs, but great season, as I say, learned a lot, scored quite a few goals, and it was really enjoyable.
Hardest moment/experience as a player
That would have to be getting relegated on the final day with Peterborough. I think we were actually five minutes away from staying up; we were 2-1 up away against Crystal Palace and that was good enough to keep us up (Peterborough had a better goal difference than Barnsley, so a point would have been enough). I don’t know what happened, I don’t know where it went wrong, but the last five minutes, they turned it around and scored a couple and we ended up losing 3-2. After that game, I remember we were all just sick; there wasn’t a lot of words.
The week before that, you’d won at home to Sheffield Wednesday, a great free-kick from Grant McCann, and there were huge celebrations at the end, with the fans on the pitch. Was there a feeling that you’d more or less achieved safety, or was it just enjoying the moment, and the pitch invasion made it seem more than it was to some people?
Yeah I think more the feeling was we’d been in the bottom three pretty much all season, and a week to go, winning that game, it’d left it in our own hands. It just kind of felt good that going into the final game, ‘it’s down to us, we can control our destiny here.’ That’s why it felt for us and fans, ‘we’re on to something good here.’ As we all know, it wasn’t quite good enough, but we went down with 54 points I believe, and that was quite a high way to go down. So we felt hard done by, but it is what it is, and we all had to learn from it.
From the managers you’ve played under, who’s understood you and how to get the best out of you the most? What kind of approach works best with you?
(Pausing to think) Bit of a tough one. I think I’m a character where I don’t need so much reassurance, and going the other way, I don’t need the praise. Don’t get me wrong, the praise is good, however, I know if I’m keeping up to my own standards; I know if I’ve misplaced a pass, I know if I’ve done something good. Some managers will be harder on you, some managers aren’t as hard on you, they kind of let you figure it out for yourself. Probably the ones who let me get on with my game I’ve excelled under the most really. Like I say, Paul Sturrock, he probably understood me the best so far, hence the best season of my career probably.
That time at Peterborough and the season in the Championship, for you being 19/20 at the time, what was that step up like? Was it ‘wow, look how good some of these opponents are,’ or did you feel you adapted quite well?
Yeah as you say, going from League Two to playing in quite a lot of Premier League stadiums really, I’d grown up watching a lot of Premier League football, and a few teams that had been relegated, Blackburn, Bolton, teams like that, and then I’m playing in these stadiums. It was like ‘wow, I have to adapt quickly,’ because every team in that league was strong, like the Championship is now. It was a massive learning curve for me, playing up against some great players. I enjoyed it. Ultimately it ended bad, but I enjoyed it.
At this point in your career, how do you feel? You’ve played high up the leagues, just won promotion back to the National League, is there that real urge to move back up higher and higher, prove anyone who’s doubted you wrong, or are you looking at it differently, where just being happy is more important?
As you say, playing higher up when I was younger, it makes you realise how hard you have to work to get back up there. It was good being up there when you’re young; there’s a bit of a buzz around you, like potential, ‘you could be this, you could be that.’ Ultimately, I’ve gone the other way, so the motivation is of course to carry on trying, and to try and play as high as you can. Proving people wrong is always nice, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to do it for yourself. That’s what I want to do, I want to prove to myself that I can be back in the League very soon.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
Typical week, it’s not too different. We train one less day than other teams normally would, but in terms of me keeping fit, I’ve always been pretty active away from football, whether it be the gym or just going for a run or something. Other than that, just normal training.
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football/family?
I’m still pretty much a sporty person, even away from football. Pretty much any kind of sporting event I’m into. Of course family as well, you have to put them first. Every now and then I’ll be playing other sports, if I’ve got a bit of spare time or a couple of days off.
Is there a funniest/most memorable/surreal thing you’ve seen at a game? Or in the changing room, in a team talk etc.?
I remember one time, I was at Luton, and a couple of the boys were having a bit of banter and that. It’s quite extreme the way it can escalate! I believe a player moved another player’s trainers from his peg, and you’re thinking ‘okay, that’s not a big deal,’ but then all of a sudden it escalated to ‘okay, I’m gonna take his car keys and park his car round the corner.’ Next thing you heard, the guy has gone and got rubbish from the rubbish dump, and put it in the other guy’s car. So his car is stinking out when he’s got to drive home. It’s not that extreme, but how’s it gonna escalate that quickly?!
Any change you think could be made to the game at this level? Anything the players talk about and think could be tweaked to improve things?
Not so much in that sense. Playing at this level, of course everyone wants to play as high as they can, and last season was kind of a great motivation for that. We were willing to be promoted at any cost, so if we weren’t happy with the level we were playing at, or whatever it may be, we just said ‘we’re not gonna moan about it, we’re just gonna make sure we get promoted then. We’re gonna give everything we can to be playing as high as we can.’ That’s where I feel at Woking we’ve got a great dressing room at the moment. A lot of the players have stuck from last season and I think it’s that mentality that got us promoted in the end.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true?
I don’t know, maybe. Maybe, but that’s football and that’s the world we live in today, especially with social media and forums or what have you. People are gonna talk about anything and everything, so it’s never really been one for me. I’ve never really got involved in it too much, but you can’t please everybody, it’s the way life is.
Has there ever been a transfer rumour about you that wasn’t true at all, or a deadline day where you’re watching Sky Sports on the sofa and someone says you’re signing for this club or that?
There might have been some. Maybe they were true, maybe they weren’t, but I remember the day I moved to Peterborough was on deadline day. I remember being at training for Southend and a phone call came just as we were about to go outside. So it was around 10am, getting my boots on, Paul Sturrock comes in the changing room and says ‘Son, it’s been a pleasure, but you’re off.’ I said ‘Really? Where am I off to?’ He says ‘Peterborough.’ I said ‘okay’! Shook his hand and got on the motorway.
Who are some who’ve been the life and soul of the dressing room at Woking, or any of the other clubs you’ve been at?
Definitely Dicko. Liam Dickinson, he’s just one of them happy, positive people. Even in the changing room today, at Woking, we’ve got Jake Hyde. He loves a night out, he’s always positive, he’s always bubbly and that. Ben Gerring, he’s the DJ at Woking; he says we’ve never lost when he puts the music on! So he’s a bit of a character as well, but you need them. There’s loads of different personalities in football but those guys are there to keep everyone happy.
One singer/band/artist you’d sneak on to the team playlist? And have you ever done the changing room music anywhere?
I haven’t been in control of it, however, I’ve been in changing rooms where each player gets to pick one or two songs. Drake’s always been my guy, so I’d definitely sneak maybe one of his older songs, like from the ‘Take Care’ album. (A slower one or a bit more hyped up?) Depends really, if it’s a big game and you’ve got to get up for it then maybe something like ‘Stay Schemin’’ (Rick Ross featuring Drake and French Montana).
What have you been impressed with in your time at Woking, and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
I’ve been here what, two-and-a-half years now, and it’s been good times. Even in the dark times, the fans stuck with us; it’s been a very kind of group ethic, if you know what I mean. When I mentioned that Wealdstone game, the semi-final, we were 2-0 down, 15 to go, the fans remained right behind us, and I do believe played a part in getting us over the line that day. We’re gonna need even more support now. We’re gonna be going to some big stadiums, some big teams, but anything is possible. If we believe in what we can do, which I think we do – as I say, we’ve got a mentally strong group – then we can go far this season.
Finally, what has this time in football taught you the most and has it changed you at all?
Yeah I’d say it definitely has. It’s just learning as you go along, I feel. As I said, when you’re 19/20, you’re not thinking about life too much, you’re just kind of enjoying it, enjoying being in the moment. For me anyway, I wasn’t concerned about ‘if I don’t keep my standards up’ or ‘if I don’t do this or don’t do that, then I’m not gonna progress or I’m not gonna even maintain where I am.’ However, due to me dropping my own standards, it’s made me realise you can’t do that, and trying to get back up to that level is twice as hard. It makes you realise you can’t act a certain way any more. If you want to get back to where you were, or beyond that, you’ve got to put the work in.
Interview by @chris_brookes