A glorious title win last April put Weymouth back in the National League South after nine years away, but the Dorset club are currently carrying every hope of springing straight into the fifth tier. Approaching three years in the Terras hotseat is ex-Bournemouth midfielder Mark Molesley, a young manager who has brought dynamism and detail, while one of the chief providers in this promotion push is another one-time Football League player, Abdulai Baggie.
The division’s Player of the Month for January, if the 11-goal winger can keep the assists flowing, while showcasing his own Abdulai Bagsman credentials, the champagne might be popping down at the Bob Lucas once again before the summer arrives. The Sierra Leone international spoke here ahead of a 5-1 thrashing of Maidstone United that lifts them into the top three.
Five seasons after he last played in the League, the flying attacking talent could well be on an express train to a second shot at the professional game. Should he get his wish, the 27-year-old, now a father and a young coach, will return with a refined outlook and some invaluable lessons in his possession.
You’re in a strong position in the leading places, how do you assess the season so far?
It’s good. Obviously there’s still ten games to go and all to play for really; we’re still not guaranteed play-offs and anyone can still get in there. Also the title as well, I believe there’s still a chance there potentially, but we’ve just got to worry about our matches and what we do, and everything will take care of itself.
You’ve been in fine form yourself, how have you been feeling over the season in terms of enjoyment, freshness etc.?
Yeah, I’ve been feeling good. It’s the best I’ve felt in a while in terms of more emphasis on being a bit more self-minded; I take initiative. I also think it’s more driven as a team, being close last year at Weymouth. I also personally want to play in the National League, with a lot of big teams in there now. Playing at that level, we had a taste of it against Barnet in the FA Trophy, and Dover in the FA Cup, and we were more than a match for them. As a team, and also for me personally, I think we are good enough for that level, and hopefully we’ll get there.
How local is the club to you, are we talking right on your doorstep, or a bit further afield?
We train at Blandford, which is about 35/40 minutes away, but there’s four of us in a car school, so that doesn’t make the drive too bad. We take that on to Weymouth when we’ve got a home game, which is an hour or so. We have Andy Robinson, who signed from Havant. We’ve got Josh McQuoid, who everyone should know, who was at Bournemouth and Burnley. We’ve got Cameron Murray, who’s just had an operation on his shins. There’s one of the young lads, (Jack) Hoey. It’s good sharing that and having a bond as well.
The manager’s obviously been a key part of the progress, how does he like to work?
I would say he’s a very motivated manager, and very particular, in terms of how he wants things, and how he wants things to be done. He’s very precise in how he wants to play and team shape as well. It’s got to be the right fit in terms of players coming into the club; we play a different style compared to most non-league clubs and how it’s run is also different to most. It’s a very professional environment off the field as well, and the reason we are where we are is because of how we play. We stick to what we believe in and how the manager wants to play.
What kind of instructions will Mark give to you personally, in terms of freedom, responsibilities and so on?
Just to go and enjoy it, but also the defensive side is a massive thing. As a winger, you have got responsibility in terms of tracking full-backs, which is hard work of course, and also getting up the field to try and score. It is hard work, but it’s the rewards at the end of the season that’s the ultimate, which I’m working towards. So just trying to get on that pitch and score and create, I have that as my aim.
— Weymouth FC (@theterras) April 27, 2019
I always associate you first and foremost with Tranmere, but whether it’s from your time there, or anywhere else you’ve been, who would be some of the characters you’ve worked with that instantly spring to mind?
I would say Max Power is up there; funny lad, who’s obviously captain of Sunderland at the moment. He was literally a neighbour to us, and a good lad as well. Also, at the moment, Ben Thomson, centre-forward, he’s a massive character. He does hammer everyone in the changing room, but a funny lad as well! Brandon Goodship as well, who’s at Southend now and was with us last season. I would say those three come to mind immediately.
For an overall picture of life on the pitch, the environment around you, what has been the happiest time you’ve had in football up to now?
I would say my first season at Tranmere. I went on trial initially and it was a gamble really, and luckily enough, it paid off. I got a year contract and we did well that season and were sat top of the league (League One) after 15 games. Then we got beat by Bournemouth; I always remember that game. We were 1-0 up at half-time and then we lost 3-1; it was when Eddie Howe had his return (as Bournemouth manager). We played Villa at Villa Park as well in the FA Cup. I’d say that was probably my best time, and currently as well (at Weymouth), just purely because of learning the game a bit more. I’ve been there three years now, and now for me it’s just adding those goals to my game, which I lacked, I would say, over the last couple of years, but it comes from playing, and knowing where to be, right place at the right time, making the runs. Goals win you games and I’ve always wanted to add that to my game, which I’ve done this season and created more goals as well. I think all my football career’s been good, I don’t have any faults with it really, it’s just learning from it and taking the positives and moving forward.
What would you say is the approach that works best with you from a manager? Is it reassurance, a tougher approach from time to time, or more just to leave you to it?
I think left to it; a little bit here and there for instructions. I think the more relaxed I am, the more free I am and the better I play. I try not to think about things too much once I set foot on the field. It’s just expressing myself really and being positive, because I am a positive person. I’ve had a lot of downs the last couple of years but I’m back up again and ready to go; that positivity to keep going and keep learning. I think it’s a massive thing as well in terms of the environment you’re in, and the style of football. The way I like to play is football, on the floor, getting in pockets, runs in behind and trying to play the right way. Being at Weymouth the last three seasons now I’ve massively enjoyed it, the way we like to play football. The club is moving forward and I feel like I am personally as well, in terms of having goals that I could have had to work on in the past. Now I’m learning and I’m adding what I needed to do and just trying to move forward.
For those good times you’ve enjoyed so far in the game, is there a coach trip back, a night out together etc. that sticks in the mind for that celebratory atmosphere and everyone being in high spirits?
Yes, I would say the last home game of the season, winning the title in the Southern Prem last year. I always remember this, it was 0-0 at half-time, and Taunton were winning 1-0 at home; all we needed was a win, basically. We had a little chat and then the first goal was more a relief. Then the second went in, and the third, and it was party time really. We had 2,500-3,000 there, and that evening was the best feeling ever, having family there as well. Just the whole feel of it really, the pressure, but that’s what we play for in football. I would say that day and that night was an unbelievable moment.
On the other side of it, has there been a hardest/most frustrating time, where the enjoyment’s been lost perhaps and you’ve had to come through it?
I would say, in honesty, my last few months at Tranmere. The new manager came in, which was Micky Adams, and I just obviously didn’t suit his style of play, and it’s one of those things, you get it in football. I learned from it, in terms of ‘how can I be a better person?’ You treat people the way you want to be treated, and I didn’t feel I got treated the way I should have been, in terms of just being honest really, and off-field, which I won’t go into, that I didn’t agree on. I fell out of love with the game for a year really, hated football, and I wanted to move back down here. I’ve learned from it, it made me a bigger person and I’m on the up again. I’m in a better place now and I feel good. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, personally, but you try to take the positives out of it and try not to let it happen again.
With the national team (Sierra Leone), what is the current situation? Are you likely to play for them again in the future?
I really hope so. It’s a difficult one really, because a lot of them play in the MLS, but I’d like to go back there again. I feel like I’ve got unfinished business there, and for any team, being called up to the national team is a massive honour, so that’s still an aim for me. It’s a great feeling to play for your country, in front of 50,000, in your hometown, where you were born, and being back home, seeing the family. There’s no better feeling than that.
Back to club football, have you ever had the chance to play abroad? Has that situation ever presented itself in the past?
I thought about it, a couple of years ago, but it’s difficult for me now because I’ve got a little one. You never know in football, it changes in a split-second. I wouldn’t rule it out but it’s also planning for after football as well, in terms of my coaching badges and things like that. You can always take that with you wherever you go.
— Abdulai Baggie (@Baggie1992) February 12, 2020
Have we got a team DJ in the dressing room at Weymouth?
It’s sometimes Jake McCarthy, and then Ben Thomson, or Brett Williams sometimes. I wouldn’t let Brett back in there again, though! He’s got terrible music.
So if you could put one artist or song of your own on there, what would you drop in?
I would drop in there a bit of Drake. I’m more an r&b/hip-hop person, so something just to get me going, rather than slow songs.
Have you ever had to sing for initiation when you’ve joined a new team, and if so, what did you sing/how did it go?!
When I was at Tranmere I did, and that was probably one of the scariest things I’ll ever do. You’ve got the whole staff and players and you’ve literally got to produce a performance. You’ve just got to give it your all rather than going half-hearted, whether it’s funny, or you think you can sing. I remember travelling with Reading, it was Torquay away in the FA Cup, and I sang Chris Brown ‘With You,’ and it was one of the scariest moments of my life! I didn’t enjoy my dinner at all, and after, I was just glad it was done. I got a nice cheer at the end.
We mentioned coaching, and also family, but what else apart from playing do you enjoy having in your life?
I’m currently coaching at Yeovil, with the Under-15s. I enjoy that, and I like a bit of badminton; I haven’t played for a while but I used to a lot when I was younger and I always like watching it as well. Coming home, once you’ve played football, the nice thing is I can switch off now, having my little one. Before, you come home and it’s so intense, you’re analysing how you’ve played, ‘have I done enough? Have I played well/have I not played well?’ You question yourself and looking back now, I just wanted to do well, but coming home and switching off I think has done me the world of good. You care about what people think, but you’re not gonna please everyone, so I would say to everyone it’s about switching off, maybe having a hobby on the side, something to focus your mind in a different way.
Finally, as we reflect at this point, what do you think you’ve learned most from football so far? Have you changed much since the start of your career?
I would say massively changed. Having a little one does mature you a lot more, with the responsibility and an outlook on life outside of football. Football does give you the best chance in having a good life, but you’ve also got to plan for after it, because it’s not always going to be around. It’s also on the field, having different managers and stuff, the whole complexity of the game on the field and how you can do better. How you can look after yourself better off the field, being more hydrated, doing more stretching; you’ve got to look at the whole picture. It’s demanding, and it’s so tough part-time, because you’re working and then having to train in the evening, having to motivate yourself again and find that energy. Saturdays as well. ‘Can I get back in full-time again?’ – all things like that come into your mind. If you’re content in life it’s difficult really, regardless of how much you have, but you’ve got to want more. If you’re motivated and you want more for yourself, then it can happen, definitely.
Interview by @chris_brookes