It was a season-long slog that had ended in promotion. But as Sirdic Grant’s Hereford team-mates celebrated, a strange juxtaposition of feelings washed over him.
While Grant had played a leading role in helping the Bulls to the Midland League Premier Division title, he wouldn’t get a taste of the tier above that his efforts had deserved.
This is no hard-luck tale that saw Grant fall out of favour with his boss in the campaign’s closing weeks though. The Ghanaian was being held back by the FA’s rules.
In the UK on a student visa to study at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, the youngster would be forced to watch from afar as Hereford went up. He’d be finding a new club rather than preparing for life in a new league.
“Knowing that I can’t couldn’t go up with them was gutting for everyone,” Grant recalled, as he looks back at last season.
“It was very frustrating. To play in front of 2,500 fans every week is amazing and you don’t get that at some clubs in the Football League. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go up, so I just focused on enjoying my football instead.
“At the end of the day, I couldn’t do anything about it, and I just had to keep my head and keep playing.”
Grant didn’t have to go far for his next move. Despite a host of interest from Step Five clubs in the region, the midfielder ended up moving just 350 yards from Hereford’s Edgar Street ground and holed up at neighbours Westfields instead.
But rather than spending the season enviously looking over the park as the Bulls continue to climb up the leagues, Grant has been part of an even greater story: one that has seen his new side reach the FA Cup First Round.
And after succumbing to a late equaliser to draw with National League North side Curzon Ashton in the initial tie, Grant and Westfields have got another crack to go one step further when they travel to Greater Manchester for the replay on Monday night.
“Curzon are three leagues above us, but they’re not doing really well in the league so, when it’s a one-off match, we’ve still got a good chance,” said Grant.
“When we started our FA Cup campaign in August, we didn’t expect to get this far. When we won our first game, we hoped to get to the second qualifying round, but we never thought about getting to the first round proper.
“Then as we’ve gone on each step, we realised that if we played well then there’s a possibility that we could beat teams, even if they were one or two leagues above us.”
It’s the latest step of an already extraordinary career for the 20-year-old. Growing up in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, Grant always found himself being drawn to the football pitch.
So when the chance came to launch a career with the celebrated Right to Dream academy, he jumped at the chance – even if it would mean leaving his family behind.
It’s a decision that’s since been vindicated, as he’s experienced football in several countries, joined up with Manchester City’s academy and started a sports business management degree at Hartpury.
“My family supported me to follow my dream because I wanted to play football,” Grant said. “When I was younger, I used to have to stay at my manager’s house some of the time, so I wasn’t at home much anyway.
“My mum works in trade and my dad is retired, but they’re happy that I’m getting the chance to travel and try to make a career in football.
“Football is a better life and has opened my eyes to see different places. My first trip out of Africa was to the 2008 Nike Cup, and since then I’ve been with Man City to Abu Dhabi, and visited France, Germany and Holland too.”
An FA Cup run is another career achievement ticked off for Grant. But he doesn’t want it to end in the first round – and he has already set his sights on who he’d like to face in the round three. Should Westfields make it that far.
If the Fields can get past Curzon Ashton, they will face Bury or AFC Wimbledon at home in the next round. Then, if they can get somehow get through that tie, Grant is dreaming of making a trip to the Emirates Stadium.
“I’m a Chelsea fan, but I’d rather play Arsenal if we get to round three,” said Grant. “I like the way Arsenal play and how they give the young boys a chance.
“My dream is to play for Arsenal one day, so it’d be a good opportunity to show how good non-league players are and test myself against them to see how I could do at that level.”
If Westfields upset the odds and somehow line up against Arsene Wenger’s men, it would be the second of England’s major stadiums that Grant would have played at in the past 12 months, having turned out at Wembley for Hereford in May’s FA Trophy final.
He played in the same side as another Right to Dream graduate, Mustapha Bundu, who has since left to join AGF Aarhus in Denmark after he was blocked from going up with the Bulls too.
The pair look set to be next stars from Right to Dream to take the long way round to make an impact in the world game, with Grant hoping to emulate Chicago Fire forward David Accam (right) and Lorient’s Abdul Waris who also went to Hartpury before becoming Ghana internationals.
“Waris and Accam were the main reasons I came to England and went to Hartpury, so I could hopefully do the same as them and find a pro team to sign me after getting a degree,” Grant added.
“I spoke to them both before coming here and they spoke highly about how good the football here is. When I have got my degree, I hope to go elsewhere to become a full-time footballer, and get the requirements to come back here and play one day.”
Westfields’ FA Cup run will have done Grant’s reputation no harm. At least this time, he’s been able to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Article: Chris Evans (@ChrisEvansWrite)