Photo: Hungerford Town

All restrictions and ridiculousness apart, this has been an enjoyable season thus far for Hungerford Town forward Craig Fasanmade, playing for a young manager who got a taste of the Wembley spotlight three years ago. Danny Robinson was Thatcham Town’s FA Vase-winning boss then, and he is managing this year at his highest level yet, with his Hungerford side currently perched in a play-off place in the National League South.

A summer signing, 20-year-old Fasanmade has been among the Crusaders’ most promising performers, with the one-time Reading youngster quite possibly someone we may see climbing the pyramid in the coming years. Wishing to ultimately earn a chance at higher levels may not be anything unique for a footballer, but the flying attacking prospect appears to already be a step ahead for overall nous. In this conversation with the ex-Oxford City man, we learn a lot more about someone who is brimming with promise on the pitch, while hungry for as much understanding as he can gain away from it…

 

Firstly, from what you have been able to enjoy of this season, how has it been for you overall so far?

Yeah, this season’s been very challenging, with the uncertainties going around, but all that aside, since I’ve been a kid I’ve wanted to play football, and this season’s been a throwback to that, if you like. I’ve really enjoyed my football so far this year, with what we’ve been able to play of it. I think part of that’s been being around the team environment; we’ve got a great group of players who it’s a pleasure to go and play with, even in the cold! That’s been really good for me, and I think the period last year where everything stopped and we weren’t really allowed to do much, the wait made me more keen to get playing and relish that. It’s just been a very enjoyable experience, even with all the uncertainties. I think once you step onto the football pitch, everything sort of disappears and you can enjoy yourself for 90 minutes, which I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do.

Working this season with Danny Robinson as your manager, had you known each other beforehand at all?

No, the first sort of personal relationship we’ve had has been from signing for Hungerford. I had a conversation with him in the lead-up to that and I felt that we aligned in our values and different things. Obviously it was good for me to see what he had managed to do with Thatcham, in winning the Vase; as a footballer, you want to work with ambitious coaches. The ambition he showed matched up with mine to go and do something for the club this season, because the club deserves it and the fans deserve it, this year more than ever, I think. So it was a first-time meeting, but a very, very good one.

What shines through most about Danny as a manager, as a person, in how he works, how he likes to be? From the outside, it’s always seemed that he tries to harness that togetherness, first and foremost.

I think you’ve hit it on the head there, his promotion of the team ethic and the cohesion has been massive for all the boys this season. They say that sort of togetherness can get you 15, 20 points even. It’s been a real driver behind the success that we’ve had, and that’s something that I felt I needed to have, coming into a dressing room this season. I’ve been in dressing rooms in the past where it’s been a little bit different, so Danny’s man-management and motivation is second to none really, and I think all the lads would say the same.

Throughout your football growing up, have you always mainly been a winger, a striker? I suppose the position’s kind of fused into one in modern football now.

Yeah, ever since a kid, I’ve always been blessed with a bit of pace about me, so when I was first kicking a ball around, I got stuck out on the wing and sort of took it from there. I’ve loved it ever since. Coming up through Reading’s academy when I was about 13/14, I was always playing striker or winger, and that’s where I’ve really enjoyed playing. I’ve been shifted around in the last few seasons, just testing things out, but one of the things I mentioned to Danny is that I wanted to come in and try and play in a strike partnership. That’s something that I’ve really enjoyed this season. I think it’s complimented my strengths well, as well as complimenting the team.

In that time with Reading as a youngster, were there any players there with you who are currently playing at a high level?

We had a very good crop coming up through Reading academy. One of the boys who was in my year, Tom Holmes, he’s now playing quite regularly for the first team, and I’m quite good friends with him. We had Danny Loader, who’s now playing in Portugal (for FC Porto), he was in my age group as well. We all went to school together from 14 to 16, we all had to move down to Reading. One other interesting thing is one of the boys who’s come on loan to Hungerford (from Wycombe Wanderers), Andre Burley, we were in Reading academy together, so I’ve been away from him for a few years, but it’s good to be back playing with him.

Leaving at 16, it’s hard to have great perspective as a teenager, on anything really, and for a lot of people in that situation it can feel like the end of the world to leave a professional club. How do you remember taking that at the time, and then refocusing for what came next?

It was tough. When you’re in an academy, you are in the mindset of football being the only thing that you ever want to do, and in a sense, that’s still the same. For boys who aren’t able to get contracts, scholarships, it is a tough experience. You spend so much of your life preparing for that, that’s the goal, and when you don’t hit it, footballers are all naturally very competitive, so it’s hard for anybody. I was lucky enough to have a really good family set-up around me, my mum and dad were very, very supportive and able to sort of guide me through that, and provide that little bit of perspective that you might not have as a 16-year-old boy. So I was quite lucky to be able to navigate that with the help of my parents and open up to other opportunities. I’m very glad that it’s actually turned out how it has. I think the road is not the same for everybody, and there are different paths that everyone takes, and people develop at different speeds. That’s very much my experience, and I wouldn’t change it. I’m sure if I went back and told my 16-year-old self that, he might have a thing or two to say!

In your time in football up to now, is there a specific spell when you’ve enjoyed it the most? Happiest on the pitch, most free, good dressing room, and so on.

I think this year is probably the year which has been that at the moment. I’ve had very good experiences in the past with Oxford City, being part of a competitive dressing room. We got to the first round proper of the FA Cup, had some television airtime there, which was good for me and good experience. I think this year’s been refreshing, and the performances I’ve managed to put in, scoring some goals, getting some assists, and to see the team doing so well, it just frees me up to go and be creative on the pitch, which is when I play my best football.

So for any commentators discovering you for the first time in the future, let’s put it out there – how do you pronounce your surname?

It’s Fas-an-mad-ay. I’ve heard every variation in the book!

And is it a Nigerian name?

It is indeed.

Is it correct you grew up in north Somerset and then moved to Oxfordshire? Whereabouts is ‘home’ for you?

Yeah, I was born in London and moved away when I was quite young to north Somerset. That was where I first joined a football team, Burnbridge Wanderers, and I’ve got very good memories of that place. I moved to Oxford at 10/11 and joined up with Chesterton; another good group of memories. That was where my football journey, if you like, began to kick off. In terms of where I feel most at home, I’d be hesitant to choose between the two. We spend a lot of time down in north Somerset still, so both Oxford and north Somerset are home to me.

In that ‘typical’ football dressing room, what kind of character are you? More quietly focused, or in there with the carnage?!

I like to get involved and have a bit of banter with the boys. For me personally, that’s the best way to enjoy it. Obviously you get all different types of people who do things differently, but I do enjoy getting involved. It helps me when I go out to play, because I know I’m around friends, which is a feeling that some people don’t often get in football dressing rooms, so I’m blessed to be able to have that. If you need to have a pop at someone or they need to have a pop at you, if you can both have a laugh together, you know that it’s nothing personal and you’re trying to drag each other up to the standards that you know you can reach.

Are there any standout characters at Hungerford?

Yeah, we’ve got a few of those! There’s the vice-captain, Callum Willmoth, he’s a very big character in the dressing room; if anyone’s talking, it’ll be Cal! Mike Jones is another one, he’s very experienced. He surprised me, I didn’t think he’d be one of the ones to be laughing and cracking jokes, but he’s always in the thick of it. There’s a few others I could name. Then we’ve got some balanced characters. James Rusby, the skipper, he’s a very balanced man, and Harrison Bayley’s the same sort of character. Everyone sort of chips in with the banter and it’s a good blend to have, I think.

What about team DJ, who claims that role?

This is a very debated topic! We have chopped and changed, and I don’t think we’ve come to a consensus yet. Obviously I would put myself forward, but I’m sure one or two of the boys would have something to say about that! James Harding will always throw a tune or two on. Cal Willmoth again will step up. We’ve had the gaffer put some tunes on; usually when we lose, that’s the punishment! I’ll put one or two on myself, so there’s a few candidates.

Have you had any initiation songs to do when you’ve joined a team?

I’ve done it for Oxford City and for Hungerford. I did ‘Juicy’ (The Notorious B.I.G.), that’s my go-to, because I can remember all the lyrics! I don’t know if my rendition was any good, but you’d have to ask the audience on that one. We had a few belters, to be fair, when we had the initiations on the bus, like Curtis Angell. There were some howlers as well but I won’t name names.

Outside football, what else are you involved with, are you studying? What else do you enjoy in general?

I’m doing a university course at the moment at Bath, which I’m very much enjoying. It gives me time away from football, and football gives me time away from university. Very much as well spending time with my family and friends.

What is the course you’re doing?

Politics with Economics, so quite interesting, especially with the times that we’re in at the moment.

Where does that interest come from, has it been part of your family at all, or something you’ve developed your own interest in?

It’s not really been a family sort of thing, I was just thinking about what I wanted to do at uni, and I felt that gave me a good sort of basis on which to have a look at society and the world, just to learn a bit more about the way in which things operate. I think it can be useful information to branch out into anything really. I’m not one who’ll be trying to enter the Houses of Parliament, I don’t think! That’s not up my street, but it’s just something that gives me a good set of information to put things in perspective.

Finally, as we look ahead – as much as we can do currently – what do you want from these next few years, and beyond that?

I think one of the things I’ve always had is a desire to play professional football, so over the next few years, I’m wanting to make steps towards playing in the League, that’s my overall goal. Obviously with Hungerford, short-term it will be to finish the season strongly, in the play-offs or as high as we can. Beyond that, it would be to place myself in a position to have a real good chance to get back up the ladder, if you like. That’s the main sort of overarching goal.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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