As Wealdstone sit four points clear at the National League South summit with November nearing its conclusion, striker Ross Lafayette is in amongst the division’s leading scorers, with eight so far. There will be no getting carried away just yet for Dean Brennan’s side, and least of all from their experienced frontman who had a taste of the Football League with Luton Town.
A famous old club, the Stones were perched at the very top of non-league football once; league champions and FA Trophy winners (in the same season) in the mid-80s heyday of Mark Graves and company. For their modern-day marksman, this season has been a throwback of sorts to the standout stop on his own on-field odyssey, during which Welling United returned to the highest level of non-league. That’s the aim for his current club this time around, and rather than getting lost in thoughts of how long there may be to run on his own playing days, he is intent on savouring more of what has so far been a very happy union down at Grosvenor Vale…
Tell me about what you’ve got in the squad at Wealdstone in terms of personality, specific qualities. What kind of place is it to be around?
I think it’s one of the most enjoyable places I’ve played at. I think that’s down to what the manager’s implemented and the personalities that we retained, so the likes of Greeny (Daniel Green), Northy (Jonathan North), those boys, Skip (Jerome Okimo) of course. We’ve got a really cool, laid-back culture, but at the same time there’s that determination to win. He’s brought in the likes of Billy Clifford, Connor Smith, and those guys that have been around the block, they know what they need to do, and kind of wanna get back to higher levels. Thankfully we’ve got that blend of youth; unfortunately I’m the oldest now! But it compliments us quite well, and so far, it’s been a decent start.
How are you feeling on a personal level?
Personally it’s the most enjoyable time I’ve had for a long, long time. I think I mentioned to one of the other chaps recently that it kind of feels like being back at Welling, that same sort of enjoyment. Physically I feel really good; just came off a small injury, but I think I’ve played 15/16 games consistently before that, and I felt good and I felt strong throughout. I feel like I’m in a good place at the moment.
As soon as a player turns from 29 to 30 it seems most people start getting the obituary ready on their career! For you now (Ross turns 34 tomorrow), are you fancying a few more seasons yet?
I’ll have another look at it in the summer, make sure the body’s right. Mentally I’m right. It’s really local for me as well, it’s 15 minutes from my house. If we can do all we need to do – we set out to win the league, that’s the gameplan – and if I feel like I can compete in the Conference or whatever. I feel like I can do. Like I say, everything needs to be right, and we’ll see from there.
You were with Wealdstone back in 2009, does it feel like much of a different place now?
Yeah, it’s a lot. Gordon (Bartlett) was the manager and there was a long-standing relationship there. It was good, but for me, I’d just come back from a big injury, so I needed to physically play games. It was probably the wrong time for me to join, probably a slight step up at the time. Since I’ve come back it’s changed, but still has a great community feel to it. The fans are just as passionate, and it’s good when they’re on your side, because some of the shouts they chuck at you in games – outrageous! But they’re on my team so it’s good. It’s definitely moving in the right direction. Gordon laid some great foundations, and Dean and the current chairman (Rory Fitzgerald) are really looking to push that on.
You’ve worked with him before, but what’s Dean (Brennan) been like to play for? How is his approach, compared perhaps to previous managers you’ve had?
He’s good, he makes sure that we’re the ones who kind of lead the dressing room as senior players. He wants us to express ourselves and you can see that in the way we play; the defence get it off the keeper and we try and play through the lines. That’s why it’s so fun to play in; we’re really playing to our strengths and we don’t really let anything slide if people don’t adhere to that. He made that environment. It’s been different to ones I’ve played in, in the past, because some have been a bit more regimented, some have had different styles and been quite monotonous. His has been fun to play in. Each game, we know that there’s a few different gameplans that we can implement, but it’s been nice that you’re allowed to do that on the pitch and kind of get on with it really.
I want to ask about international football, and any additional eligibility you’ve had in that regard, with a surname like Lafayette! Have you been eligible to play for anyone besides England, or been approached ever?
Yeah so my family’s Jamaican, so I could have obviously played for the Jamaican team, but I don’t think I’m at the level of one of the bigger Caribbean islands. Wishful thinking, but it obviously didn’t pan out. Maybe if it had gone a bit better at Luton it may be different, but you look at some of the strikers Jamaica had at the time and it would have always been a tough one.
Where’s been the happiest spell for you so far in football?
I think Welling, definitely. It was the time when I stepped up into the Conference South, got promoted into the Conference when we won the league the first season. With Jamie Day, the Bangladesh manager now, it was similar to what we have now at Wealdstone. If we can mirror that, that was such a great two years I had there, and obviously that got me my League move. It was a fantastic time, and those two years brought great friends I’ve kept and still talk regularly to, so that’d definitely be the highlight.
And what about a most challenging/toughest time?
I think looking at it now, and you always look and criticise and stuff, but when I was at Luton was a tough time, because I finally made it and then I didn’t really utilise or take advantage of that opportunity given to me. Football’s a tough game, with mental things, and I felt like ‘why wasn’t I given a chance?’ maybe; you feel like you’re owed it. Now with retrospect, I did work hard, but could I have worked harder? I’ve learned from it and put it into practice at Wealdstone, so it’s all good.
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) June 11, 2014
What kind of approach do you think has tended to get the best from you over the years, and which manager has understood that the most?
Again, probably Jamie Day. At the time, coming from Southern Prem, scored a few goals, he really sorted me out in terms of my movements, finishing etc. I think I scored 36 goals over those two years and he really kind of moulded the team around me and utilised things for me. Equally, he developed me into actually being able to pin players better and those little nuances which really seemed to help.
You’ve been involved in some interesting work away from playing, tell me about some of that and how it’s fit in alongside your football over the years.
Predominantly worked in media, most of my career, so advertising, sales, that sort of stuff. I worked for the Evening Standard, Independent, Channel 5, and now I work for an ad tech company full-time. Obviously playing football part-time, so that’s kind of the balance I have. I also launched a coaching business earlier on when I was playing, because I’ve got my UEFA B, and I’m always interested in trying to give stuff back. It was just at the time that it didn’t quite pan out. So, mainly now working in media, in ad sales, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.
When I say funniest teammate/coach/manager you’ve been around, who are the ones who spring to mind?
I think Luke Guttridge from when I was at Luton, Gutts was hilarious, what a guy. Benno (Paul Benson) as well, and Joe Healy at Welling; those two are like Ant & Dec together. We’ve got a good group at Wealdstone actually; Greeny’s (Daniel Green) pretty funny and a few others like that. At Welling, Lee Clarke, our captain at the time, he was a pretty good laugh.
Is there an example you could give of a player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level (but for whatever reason it didn’t quite happen)?
There’s been a few. Kiernan Hughes-Mason at Welling, young midfielder who’d come from Millwall and stuff. He’s harnessed some of that, been out in New Zealand, but I always thought technically he had all the attributes to play higher in England. Trying to think who else…there’s probably a few. Ricky Miller actually. He was ripping the Conference to pieces but just unfortunately didn’t really pan out every time he’s gone into the League. From a talent perspective, though, the boy can finish.
Your sister Abbie’s been playing for Ipswich Town Women, what sort of player is she, and are there any other siblings who play?
She’s a centre-midfielder, left-footed, and plays like defensive-mid at Ipswich at the moment. She’s 17 and she’s playing in the first team there. I think potential-wise, she’ll hopefully put the Lafayette name at a higher level than I did! She’s a great little player, she’s really got the attributes to focus on what she really needs to do. Hopefully the women’s game starts to reach the audiences it deserves and she’s at the start of when it’s hopefully going to boom. If she does her thing then hopefully she’ll be a part of that, which would be cool.
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Assuming that you don’t run it already…
It’d be Roy Davis Jr. ‘Gabriel’; classic garage track. At the moment, Sheps (Jake Sheppard) has been our guy at Wealdstone, but he’s just gone on loan, so it’s back to Greeny and a few of the boys. If Dennon (Lewis) gets on it, it’s crap! Make sure you put that…
Have there been any initiations you’ve had to do when joining a new club, and if so, which song(s) have you gone with?
Every time. I tried to mix it up, but I think now I go with Montell Jordan ‘This is How We Do It’; get the people going.
Lastly, away from football, work, family, are there any other interests that fill your time, relax you, inspire you?
Currently I’m just trying to learn languages. Trying to learn Spanish at the moment, so that’s probably my main focus away from all the other bits and bobs that are going on.
Interview by @chris_brookes