Kicking goals with professional footballer Lloyd Owusu…
How old were you when you first picked up a ball?
When I was about 10 years old, I went to my new school St Anthony’s and all the boys there used to play football but I used to do athletics. I was quick at running.
One day one of the boys Gary invited me to a football training session with his team called Britwell Devils. After my first training session I just loved it and never looked back.
I ended up signing for one of the teams after that session but I remember asking Gary where our wages were. He laughed and said ‘we pay the club to play’.
Was there someone you aspired to?
When I was watching football I followed Liverpool. I used to see the players like John Barnes, Ian Wright, Andy Cole – all similar background that I had when I was growing up.
Seeing those guys and then meeting them later in my career was a dream come true.
How did you first get signed with a professional team?
I was playing non-league for a team called Slough Town – I was 18 years old at the time. I made my debut for them in my senior team; I scored four goals and we won 6-1 against Telford.
After that game, the papers suddenly started talking about me. Then from that, professional clubs came to watch me play. Eventually I signed with Brentford at the age of 21 years old.
How did you stay focussed?
Because of my parents and having a Ghana heritage, I was always reminded to stay respectful. Luckily for me I was surrounded by that despite being a professional football player and my life changing. I also learnt to kept focus on my love for the game.
Tell me about your first professional game
The day before the game we had been training. Apart from the senior players, there was myself and two other guys who came across from non-league to Brentford; a professional team.
We were sitting underneath a tree and the manager at the time was calling the team. I still hadn’t heard my name being called and I guess I wasn’t expecting to play anyway. Then he called number 11 – I started shaking. One of the senior players who was about 30 years old was shaking his head and couldn’t believe the manager had put non-league players in the first game of a professional game.
We were hungry for the game and I guess the coach could see that.
There were about 5,000 people at my first professional game – that’s when I knew my dream had come true. I was Striker and even though I didn’t score, we won our first game.
Where did the hunger for the game come from?
Every kid wanted to be a professional player.
But I remember being in my geography lesson and there was this Irish teacher who went around the class room asking what we wanted to be when we were older. I was 15years old at the time.
When she came to me I said ‘I will be a professional player’. And all she did was laugh. From her doing that, it stayed in my head and I had the belief from then that I was determined to be a professional player and prove that dreams could come true.
When did you kick your first professional goal?
We were playing against West Bromwich – they were two divisions above us.
I came off the bench and scored my first goal which was also the first goal for the team. I couldn’t believe I had done it and that was when it all felt real – I knew I had made the professionals.
In my first year I had scored 25 goals out of 56 games for Brentford.
Who would you say was a professional mentor for you?
A guy called Danny Bailey when I was at Slough Town in non-league. I remember we were in the showers and he came up to me and said ‘you know what mate, you are going to make it’. Ever since then, we have been so tight.
I also had my manager Brian McDermott who I’ve known since I was 10 years old and who had given me my first opportunity to play for Slough Town.
What would you say are some of the lessons you have learnt on your journey?
Respect. I would say respect for the fans; they are the ones who come watch you and support you.
Friendships over the years. No matter what level of football you play, the friendships you build in football are unbelievable. The guys you play with, the guys you play against; the people who don’t even play the game but support you from afar; those friendships have all been priceless.
What kind of rush do you get when you play?
It’s a massive buzz and a rush when you see thousands of people there to watch you play and especially when you score the main goal; a massive buzz.
Tell me about your proudest achievement.
One of my proudest memories is winning the championship against Cambridge on their turf in my first year. I scored the goal that got us into the championship; we then went on to win the championship. I was also Golden Boot in my first year.
If you never made it into professional football what would you have done?
I would have kept focussing on being an athlete doing 100metre / 200metre runs.
What was the best play you accomplished?
It sounds strange but I would say playing for semi-professionals for a small team here in Sydney called Hakoah FC last year. What we achieved last year for these boys who are now in the second tier in Sydney. We won the league and we won the club championship and again, I won Golden Boot and player of the league.
What was the most challenging game you played?
The play off final I played back in 2002 – Brentford vs Stoke. We got to the final, we were hot favourites and although we had previously beaten Stoke, we lost against them in the championship. It was the last game for most of us as our contracts were finished so it was a very tough game. We had all been together for about four years and it was sad that we finished our last game together with a loss – we just didn’t perform.
Was there ever a time you struggled to stay focused during a game?
I would say when I was in Cheltenham; I wasn’t scoring well – I wasn’t scoring at all. I was having issues off the pitch with an ex-girlfriend at the time.
There was about 15-16 games that I didn’t score – it was a big gap for a Striker.
Luckily for myself, I got talking to a psychologist who sat with me a few times and gave me some rehearsals in my head. After that, things started to turn around me for again.
What are the misconceptions people have about football?
People think the players have all this money, the cars, the girls and see the glamorous side of football. But they don’t know that some of these players are dealing with real life issues and even depression; some even suicide and anxiety.
Some guys can handle the high life of football and there are some who can’t handle it at all and find it tough to deal with.
Do you have a set goal of how long you want to play for?
I always said I want to play until I was 40years old or until my body tells me no more. I’m 38 years old now so that’s still achievable.
Did you have any pre-superstitions before a game?
Firstly with my meals. If I had a 3pm kick off on a Saturday afternoon I would start eating at 9.30; scrambled eggs and toast. Then at 11.30 I would have another meal; yoghurt, porridge and fruit salad with a lot of pineapple chunks.
Secondly, when we were all standing in the tunnel waiting to walk out onto the field, I wouldn’t talk to anyone; not even my friends that I was close mates with. Everyone would shake hands but I wouldn’t budge. They used to try wind me up but I would just stand there. I would also stand with my back to everyone and kick the wall muttering to myself ‘pace, power, strength’. This helped me prep and stay focused for the game.
Nowadays I just puke up before a game. It started in 2002 when I went from Brentford to Sheffield playing in front of 30,000 people. It was nerves back then, but ever since that day it is a ritual. I feel so much better after I’ve done it.
What would you say is frustrating about the game?
Injuries – and missing out.
What was your worst injury?
I was playing for Ghana in a warm up game in Germany in 2006 before the World Cup when I ruptured my groin – I was completely gutted because I was probably on the verge of possibly playing for Ghana in their first world cup.
It was a weird day, because firstly it was raining but the pitch was hard. And for some reason I wore metal stud boots. On top of that, it was my ego and my eagerness to keep the ball in my play to impress the coach of the Ghana team that worked against me.
When I went to get the ball, I skidded off the turf and then the next thing was I heard a rip in my groin and just completely buckled; I was in so much pain.
I went back to the UK and rested it for three months before having an operation. It was a long recovery process and I struggled mentally especially because I couldn’t play for about 11 months. Fortunately I had my parents to help me get through this period in my life.
Again in 2010 I had an operation called microfracture surgery on my knee and that was another 11/12months I couldn’t play.
How did you get to play for Ghana?
I was playing at Reading F.C at the time. Someone at the club called me and said that Ghana had gotten in contact with them and they wanted me to play for them in France in 2005.
I ended up playing a friendly game for them in France – it was a dream come true.
The following year in 2006 I had another chance to play with them before the World Cup. It was at a time that I was playing so well, I was at the height of my career and ready for the World Cup.
What’s next for you after football?
Coaching. I always said when I stop playing I want to coach and give back to the kids what I’ve learnt in my career.
Now I’m coaching kids under 14years old which can be tough but the boys are pretty switched on.
What makes a great football player?
For me it’s someone who respects his teammates – because without your team mates you are nothing. Someone who can be humble about how good they are, someone who can bring people into play, who can score or create goals for someone else to score. But again, above all else, respect for the team.
What advice do you have for young players who want to play professional football?
I would be honest and say that not all players become professional. But what you can guarantee is work ethic and self-belief. If you respect the elders and if you listen you will learn and have a chance.
What advice do you give to the kids you coach?
If you listen, you will learn.
To respect one another, enjoy playing football and give 110% to the game.