Photo: Folkestone Invicta

This month has seen Ade Yusuff officially rekindle his fondest old footballing flame. In Folkestone Invicta, he is returning to a club he believes has come on leaps and bounds in his two years away, while the Kent side are also catching him at a time when he feels as in step with himself as he ever has.

The 26-year-old forward played in League Two with Dagenham & Redbridge, having been one step higher in the pyramid with Stevenage as a youngster, and he can count a series of other clubs on his CV. A sense of authentic value, understanding and appreciation, though, he has come to realise cannot be found just anywhere. As the 2021/22 campaign begins to slide into clear sight this summer, Invicta’s returning hotshot intends to meet it head-on.

 

Firstly Ade, how did the conversation about coming back to the club play out? Did you just get a call from the manager (Neil Cugley) out of the blue one day?

We always keep in contact, I’ve always had a really good relationship with Cugs. We just talk on and off, and if we have a conversation when off-season comes, he just asks if I know what I’m doing. I didn’t when we spoke, but things just fell into place when we started talking more. What he envisioned for the club and how the club looked when I went down there, he didn’t really have to sell it any more. It’s not the club I left, it’s a lot better, and people might not realise this because of the location, but that club is a sleeping giant. I think that there’s a lot of things that can be built at the club, and how long the players stay there, things like that, it’s all set up to have a really good year, and moving forward, to become a really big force in non-league.

This past season, you’ve been at Cray Valley (PM), then Braintree after the leagues were halted below Step 2. Overall, could you enjoy this season? Or was it really tough to almost trust in the season itself, when you’re half expecting games to be called off or the season to just go out the window?

I’ll be honest, I always try to remain as professional as I can. Playing at Cray Valley was really good, especially the cup run that kept us playing a little bit longer than other people at our level. Then I think I was off for six weeks or so and I just missed it so much. You just want to play again, and I had a couple of options in the (National League) South, but Braintree, I knew I would play if I went there. That was the main thing, I didn’t just want to be amongst it, I wanted to get minutes. But to answer your question, it was difficult, because things were getting postponed, and you hear people talk about things. I don’t have Twitter myself but there’s always things getting put out there daily about what’s going to happen. As players, we just remain focused, and we love football at the end of the day. No one came into football for the money, we came in because we enjoyed it as kids, so we just wanted to enjoy it and play, get out of the house and do what we love. We wanted to do that for the whole season, but we’re in a global pandemic, so every game I played, I just enjoyed it. That was the good bit about it.

Mentioning Twitter, did you used to be on it?

I had Twitter for a brief period when I was at Dagenham, and then I came off social media completely from maybe the age of 21 to 25/26. Now I have Instagram, so I’ve had that for about a year.

Did you just lose interest or was it a conscious decision to separate yourself from it and the distraction perhaps?

It was more of a conscious decision. I like to concentrate and not have to read about things. I wanted to keep off it and just keep my head clear, and not have to read about what people were saying, whether it was positive or negative really. I just wanted to get on with my job, so it was just something I wanted to do for myself.

Folkestone last time was an extremely positive and productive spell. In your football overall through the years, has there been a happiest, most complete time that stands out?

It definitely has to be Folkestone, because I was just allowed to go and express myself. I improved and I was able to go and show what I was capable of doing. I don’t necessarily think that what I did was seen by some of the levels that I believe I could play at, and I still believe I could play at, but everything happens for a reason. At the age that I’m at now, I’m just happy to be playing somewhere where I’m loved, I’m respected. As a footballer, you want to be seen as someone who brings something that not a lot of people can, and at Folkestone, I know that’s how they feel about me, so that’s why it made sense to come back.

Has there been a toughest spell, maybe where the enjoyment was lost a little bit?

Probably when I went back full-time. I didn’t always understand why I wasn’t playing. I always tried to work hard and stay professional, and wait for my opportunity, but I didn’t really feel like I was given a fair chance. I still believe that I could play at the National League level, or even in the League if I was given a fair opportunity, but sometimes that doesn’t happen in football, and I begrudge no one for that. People have their own interests and their own players who they want to play, but I know what I am, and that’s the main thing. I know what I am and what my strengths and capabilities are. When you look back on my career, when I’m playing 40/50 games, I score goals, and I’m not afraid to say that any more, because it’s there for everyone to see. When I play, I score, so I believe that I could do that at any level that I’m playing at.

In the time between leaving Stevenage and signing for Dagenham, were there trials at many pro clubs? I know Ipswich was one, but any others?

Yeah, it was Ipswich and that was it. I didn’t really have any other trials. I wasn’t a person who had someone like an agent or anything like that, the only time any interest came was when I was at Chatham, and obviously I was scoring goals all the time. I wanted to just get back into full-time football so I took the first opportunity, and I don’t regret doing that, going to Dagenham. Sometimes things just don’t work out. When I went there, I was happy, I was confident, but then you get injuries, you get a loss of form and other players play as well. Sometimes if I look back, maybe if I had someone who was representing me, fighting for me a little bit and in my corner, things could have been different, but right now, I’m probably the happiest I’ve been in my life. Things are going really well for me, on and off the pitch, I’ve got things going on in my life that I didn’t really think that I’d have, as I always pigeonholed myself as a footballer. Sometimes you’ve got to realise that you’re more than that. That’s what I’ve realised now, that I’m more than just a footballer, but I am a good footballer, who can do other things.

Tell me about the African heritage in your family and how big a part that has been in your life?

Yeah, my parents came over from Nigeria 30+ years ago now. It plays a massive part in how I am in my life. The discipline I have, how I see myself and the confidence I have in myself. I was always taught that I have to work extremely hard for anything that I have. Nothing’s ever given to a young man, especially as a young Black man as well, so you have to work extremely hard for everything you have. Sometimes the way that we say things and the way that we come across is not necessarily how people always want to be spoken to, but you have to take those things and grow from them. I’m better now, the way that I speak to people, the way I interact with people, as I’ve gotten older, because I work with children now (as a teacher). It’s always a learning curve as you grow up, especially as a young Black man in a country where you’re not the majority. So it plays a massive role, and I’m incredibly proud of where I come from and who I am, and what being where I’m from means. Obviously that’s played a part in my football as well. I was born in England, but whenever someone asks, I always say I’m Nigerian. It’s one of those things, you are who you are, your heritage and also your environment, and the man that I am today is from both.

Whereabouts is home, in terms of where you grew up?

I was born in Brockley in Lewisham. I live in Dartford now, I moved here as a teenager. Whenever I talk about football, I’d always say that being in Brockley was the main part, because there was obviously always cages, and that was where we used to play football, but I didn’t take it seriously until I moved to Dartford and other kids realised that I was quite talented, and I started playing for teams up here. I realised when I got to Dartford that I could do something and potentially be a player.

Are there any teammates who you’ve enjoyed an especially strong sense of understanding with on the pitch, and been able to thrive because of that?

There was Matt Solly – he’s Chris Solly’s brother, who played for Charlton – I played with him when I was at Chatham. One of the best footballers that I’ve played with. He just made my life easier, because I’d just run and he’d know how to find me. Sometimes it’s difficult because you have to run to make up the midfielder’s mind, but he made up my mind. He’d always put the ball where he thought I should run, it was almost telepathic. Then at Folkestone, I had Ian Draycott; he’s so intelligent and that adaptable that he could play with anyone. Then the other one would have to be Sam Hasler, who I also played at Folkestone with. He could just turn defence to attack in the blink of an eye with some of the passes that he used to hit.

Have any individual opponents stuck in your mind, for the one-on-one battle you had?

I had this question not too long ago, you know? I find this one hard. I only played against him once, he now plays for Newport, his name’s Priestley Farquharson. He played for Hayes & Yeading at the time and he matched my physicality. He didn’t really speak much but I thought ‘yeah, he’s a good player’. He’s the one I would say was probably my toughest opponent, although I did actually score in that game, so I ended up having the better of him, and we won as well. If there was one, though, I’d probably say him.

 

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A post shared by Ade Yusuff (@ade_yus9)

Have you ever had to sing when you joined a new team, and if so, which song(s)?

I’ve only sang twice; once at Dagenham and once at Dulwich. I sang Mario ‘Let Me Love You’ and I think I did a Chris Brown song.

What about team DJ, have you ever stepped into that role anywhere?

I try but my music’s not for everyone! It’s a bit of hip-hop and r&b but a lot of people in changing rooms love house.

In terms of standout characters you’ve been around in the game, who are some examples that come to mind?

(Folkestone Invicta’s) Callum Davies, he’s just a joker. He’s an unbelievable captain but he’s not serious at all. For a manager, someone who’s a really good example is Kevin Watson (at Cray Valley PM). We’ve got a really good relationship and he’s done a lot for me just in my life in general, not just football. If anyone wanted to have a character reference for him, the person they could talk to is me, because I think the world of him. Another player…oh, there’s so many. If I had to pick another one, because of how they conduct themselves, it would probably be Jodi Jones at Coventry. If not for the injuries, Jodi would be playing in the Premier League, in my opinion, 100 per cent. From 17 (at Dagenham & Redbridge), what he could do was frightening, and when it comes to what you would want to be as a young footballer, he came in and he was the fittest player, the quickest player and he just loved football. He was just an example for any young kid and I still speak to him now. His mentality, even though he’s done his ACL I think three times now, to still play and get back, he’s a class act. I’m sure when he does get back on the pitch, he will show how good he is again, because he’s strong enough to do so.

We mentioned teaching, so away from that and football, what else do you enjoy dedicating some time to?

I’m a dad, so that’s the most important thing. My son’s six now and he’s starting to enjoy football. I told him the other day that I’d give him a pound every time he scored a goal, and since then he’s scored five at one session and six at another! He’s following on a little bit in scoring goals. I realised what my real goal in life is, and I feel the best way to feel good about myself and my purpose is in service of other people, which is why I want to help young children, obviously working in the school. I want to be a good role model and example to people. It’s only just now that I’m realising that, and I’m fulfilling that role really. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, you can become something and someone in life. I also model for W Model Mgmt, so that, teaching and football – I’m a triple threat now!

Finally, what is the outlook now as you look ahead with your football? Is it to be happy and playing, rather than placing the focus on ‘I’ve got to play at this level, or that level’?

Yeah, obviously you want to test yourself, and I still believe that if the opportunity was right, I could go and test myself at a higher level, and I believe that I’d do well. I think the main thing, though, if I was to say it to anyone, is to be happy and be appreciated, because then you tend to play your best football. I’d say not to try too hard to prove yourself to people, because I’ve got caught up in doing that, rather than being happy and enjoying where I’m playing. Some people get caught up in the level that they’re playing at, and they’re not necessarily even playing, they’re just saying ‘yeah, I’m at this level’ so it’s easier to get an opportunity elsewhere. That’s not what it is; you should go somewhere that you’re happy. It’s actually easier then to get a club at a higher level, because you’re exceeding the level that you’re currently playing at. It’s the level of your performance that will ultimately land you where you deserve to be, if your aim is to keep pushing up the pyramid. To be happy is the main thing, that’s what all footballers should do, because you started playing because you enjoyed it. Don’t ever lose sight of that for anything else.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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