He’s recently been in CONCACAF Nations League action with Grenada, with the Spice Boys ultimately chasing 2021 Gold Cup qualification. After trying to shake off the jet lag, Ricky Modeste has switched his focus back to brushing by opponents at club level.
He has been in fine form in front of goal for Dover Athletic, bagging four goals in eight games so far this season. The team sit outside the Vanarama National League play-offs only on goal difference, and though few divisions are trickier to win promotion from, success in 2019/20 and a crack at the EFL is far from impossible for the 31-year-old.
In this Q&A, the Dagenham-born, one-time Billericay Town man looks back over some of the characters (or ‘cannons’…) from his time in football so far, as well as sharing insight into life at the National League’s most south-easterly club, and plenty more besides…
Favourite team and player growing up
It’s weird because when I was growing up I never used to watch English football, so I used to watch the Italian football on a Saturday morning (Gazzetta Football Italia). I used to like AC Milan and George Weah.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in and why?
One of them would be my debut for Grenada against Trinidad. I scored as well so that would be the one, and then secondly, probably when I was at Dover and we played Sutton in the (National League South play-off) semi-final second leg. We went down to ten men after two minutes and we ended up winning 3-0 and I scored a brace.
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
To be fair, you pick up stuff from all your managers or whoever’s coaching you, but I think someone who played a big part was Glenn Pennyfather when I was at Chelmsford. He’s the one that let me break through and he used to give me advice on a regular basis. He just made me understand the game from a different perspective.
Since you came back to Dover, what’s Andy Hessenthaler been like to work with? Will he tend to be more fiery, or a bit more mellow?
He mixes it up. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of time for Hess. One minute he can be angry as anything, and then the next minute he’s happy as anything. He’s a good manager and he knows how to manage his players.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your time as a player (or give more than one example)
There’s so many, but someone I spent a lot of time with is Anthony Cook. He’s just a cannon! It can be 9 o’clock in the morning and the guy’s just got so much energy; you just wanna chill and he’s there jumping around, doing whatever he’s doing. He’s up there for one of the maddest players.
Who are the big personalities at Dover? Who keeps spirits high?
There’s a lot. We’ve got Jack Munns; he’s a lot more undercover, but he comes out with stuff where you’re just like ‘you know what? You’re a funny little guy.’ Then you’ve got someone like Inih (Effiong) who’s got so much energy, and as soon as he starts speaking you just laugh. Scott Doe as well, but he’s more of a secret one, he does it on the sly. He’ll say something and wait for someone to bite on it, but if you listen to him you know what he’s doing. He just leaves it out there waiting for someone to grab it.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
Even in school, there were so many boys who had so much ability, and I was thinking ‘you’ll make it.’ Then years later they just go to the pub every weekend and I’m like ‘are you not playing any more?’ and they’re like ‘nah, I sacked it in.’ That’s the thing with football, you can have all the ability but if your mindset isn’t right it’ll fall to nothing. There was one guy, Nicky Driver, he was unreal when we were growing up and then he just kind of fell off it. In school he was meant to go for trials and that, and he just never went. I was like ‘mate, if you go they’ll more than likely sign you.’ He used to play on the wing or attacking midfield, and his dribbling technique was just a joke.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
I think it was probably when we got promoted at Dover from the Conference South. We were kind of written off, to not even make play-offs, and we crept in last game of the season. We won the play-offs and we got off to quite a good start in the Conference Prem as well. The kind of football we played, it weren’t the prettiest, but teams just didn’t know how to deal with it. The second season, we managed to make the play-offs. I think those few years were quite good.
Any initiations you’ve had to do (and if so, which track(s) have you performed?)
Yeah, we always have to do that. I normally do Mario ‘Let Me Love You’. It’s so safe, and it’s one of those ones where everyone knows it, so when it gets to the chorus you know everyone’s joining in.
You’ve just been on international duty with Grenada, but how did playing for them originally come about? Do you get a phone call/email from their FA?
I got a DM on Twitter! That’s how mad it was. They called me up years ago, and as far as I knew, my mum’s side of the family are from Saint Vincent and my dad’s side are from Saint Lucia, so when they called me up I kind of thought ‘well it ain’t me,’ so I just kind of ignored it. Then they called me up again and I rang my mum up and said ‘they keep trying to get me to play for Grenada, but we’re not even from there.’ She was like ‘oh, your granddad is.’ I was like ‘oh, sweet,’ and I messaged them back like ‘yeah, I’m coming’!
When you go to meet up with the national team, what are you going into, in terms of atmosphere around the island (if it’s at home), in the dressing room etc.?
It’s just crazy, because they haven’t had the same football upbringing that we’ve had. They’re always just playing music, like 24-7, it just never stops. We all go to training – we train in the evenings because it’s so hot – then we all get back to the hotel, have dinner, and 10 o’clock they’re still banging out music in the middle of the hotel. I was thinking ‘is no one complaining about this noise?’ You can just hear it constantly, and then when you’re on the coach going to the game, they don’t even use the speakers on the coach, everyone’s always got a portable speaker. Sometimes you’ve got like two DJs at the same time and the whole coach is just going mad, but then even when you get to the stadium, they’ve got speakers around the running track. You’re going out to warm up and the pitch is vibrating!
With (Grenada head coach) Andrew Munro, in terms of his messages to you as a group, does he speak in big terms – ‘let’s make history – the goal is to qualify for the World Cup’ – or is it much more gradual goals?
It’s more gradual. We know the main thing is to try at some point to qualify for the World Cup. We’ve got people coming from overseas but it’s getting us to gel, so it’s hard. They want us to travel out there so early on so we can train together and get some unity, but obviously we’ve all got commitments in England with our clubs, so it’s not always the easiest to get out there for the period they want us for. We need to win this group, then we go into League A, and that’s when you have teams like USA, Mexico, Honduras. That is the goal to start off with, to win this group and then automatically qualify for the Gold Cup. They haven’t made the Gold Cup for a good few years so just that in itself will be an achievement. Once we’ve made the Gold Cup, that’s our benchmark to be qualifying for all the Gold Cups. Then when the World Cup qualifiers come around we will address that when it comes to it, but we have to just take it one tournament at a time.
Back in England, what is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
Monday, especially if we’ve had a game Saturday, will just be like a cool-down session. Tuesday will be a little bit more intense, but we’ve got table tennis at the training ground, so usually everyone has a bit of breakfast and then plays table tennis for a bit before going out to train. Wednesday we have off, and then Thursday is when we start trying to tune into the game we’ve got on Saturday. We’ll do a little bit of shape and pattern of play. Fridays normally start off as a bit of a fun day, so we’ll do like transfer game (the player who scores changes over to the other team), rondos, stuff like that. Then young v old as well, which gets quite competitive! We’ve got a little league table that we do for that; oldies are winning at the moment, so hopefully we can carry that on! Then it’ll just be shape and set-pieces, stuff like that, video analysis, getting ready for Saturday so everyone knows what to expect.
In terms of other interests, what takes up your time away from football?
To be fair, as soon as we get back from training, everyone just jumps on Fortnite! We’ll jump on that for a good few hours. Other than that, because it’s quite intense, I generally just relax and chill out. Obviously try and spend a bit of time with my family when I can.
Is there any change you think could be made to the game at this level? Anything the players talk about and think could be tweaked to improve things?
One of the hardest things with the National League is the first month of the season you’ve got like nine games; Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday. Then you’ve got a Bank Holiday thrown in as well, so it’s Saturday-Monday. It’s a lot of games in the space of a month, and so between the boys, that’s probably what we’ve spoke about the most. It’s hard because National League, you can be travelling all over the place; we’re right down south and we’re going all the way up to Hartlepool on a Saturday, then travelling to Wrexham on a Tuesday. To be fair, with our chairman, we get a train to away games. If it’s really far he charters a plane for us, so he does his best to try and minimise the travelling, because you could be on a six-hour coach journey, and that’s the last thing you need. Then having to come back and knowing you’ve got a game on the Tuesday, it can get quite grueling. Other than that, it is what it is, you just get on with it.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true?
There was a stage where I used to get booked and sent off quite a lot, and they kind of had me down as a hothead! I don’t think I am, it’s just when the whistle goes you become a different person. Off the pitch, I’m calm as you like, but when the game starts I do tend to turn into an angry person. There was a stage as well where everyone used to keep saying I was diving. What they don’t understand is when you’re really quick, the slightest contact and it’s impossible to stay up. What do you want me to do? I couldn’t stay up. You might even take a couple of steps after you’ve been touched, and then you just can’t get your momentum going, so you just go over. Especially when I was going to teams up north, they used to hate me! I used to get so much abuse; early doors as well. It’s like ‘mate, give me a break!’ That kind of stuff I buzz off, though. It doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes if you’ve got someone trying to hurt you, you’re not gonna stand there and take the challenge; if you break your leg you can get a career-ending injury. You try and ride the challenge, and if you’re in the air, you’re off balance as it is, so contact is gonna make you go over. It was just one of those things, people used to try and banter me for it.
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Or do you run it already?
Yeah I run the team playlist. It’s the same playlist that I play in the car, so it’s my choice. If someone has a request and I like it, I’ll put it on. We’ve had some boys from up north, so they don’t understand our music; they’re like ‘I don’t even know what he’s saying,’ but they can nod their head to the beat at least. There’s quite a lot of Migos, D-Block Europe, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch is on there quite a lot. A couple of the boys didn’t expect to like Burna Boy as well, but they’re like ‘yeah, can you put him on?’ Worst-case scenario, I’ll go to house music, because that’s kind of universal; even though it all sounds the same, people can kind of vibe to it and get themselves ready for the game.
Have you brought any of the Grenada tracks back to throw on there?!
No, you know what? I thought about it, but it’s too much! It’s a completely different level; I don’t know if I can ease that one in just yet.
At this point, are you set on just enjoying football, or is there a big ambition to play in the League?
It’s a bit of both, because you’ve got to look at my age as well; I’m 31. I’m in a decent run of form at the moment, I’ve scored three in three, and four for the season, and I’ve played eight games, but the likeliness of me nicking a move into the League is quite slim. With the ambition that we’ve got at the club, though, it’s why I came back to Dover. I know with them going full-time and stuff like that, the ambition is to get into the Football League, so I thought ‘I enjoyed my time at Dover, and they have ambitions to get into the League, so why not do it somewhere where you enjoyed it?’
What have you enjoyed most about the club during your time overall at Dover, and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
The chairman spent a lot of money doing up the ground and that. The facilities they have, even the changing rooms and stuff like that, they had the pitch re-laid in the off-season, and it’s just the vibe. The boys are good, the fans are good, the chairman’s good to us, and they’ve got a good management staff as well. It’s just a good place to come down to; I know it’s far. I remember when I first signed for Dover, my pals were like ‘how the hell are you getting down there?’ We’ve got a car school so you only ever drive once a week really anyway. It’s just the atmosphere at the ground, we’ve got a good squad as well, so it’s a good place. I’ve had a couple of my pals come down and they’re like ‘it’s decent down there,’ so it’s just one of those grounds people should try and visit.
Finally, what has this time in football, experiences we’ve touched on, and others like Billericay, taught you the most? Has it changed you at all?
It doesn’t change you, it just gives you another experience. Where I grew up, there was stuff going on all the time, and even if it was something that had nothing to do with you, you just learn that you have to adapt to your surroundings. Billericay, I had a great 18 months there; we did the treble. Some of the boys that I met, and even singing the song (‘The World’s Greatest’) and stuff like that, you’d never do that usually. My boys used to try and banter me and be like ‘mate, how are you singing that song?!’ I was like ‘if that’s what they do, that’s what they do, you just get involved!’
When you’re at football, if you’ve got problems and stuff like that, football’s kind of your escape. Then when you finish football you just kind of go back to the real world, because when you’re at football you’re in a bubble. So it’s just dealing with situations you’re in. I’ve gone to games and been racially abused and people are like ‘does that change you?’ It doesn’t change me, if that’s what they’re gonna do, that’s what they’re gonna do. At the end of the day, I’ve got a job to do and I want to go there and do that, no matter what anyone says or tries to do to put you off your game. So probably mentally, it just teaches you to stay focused on the job in hand.
Interview by @chris_brookes