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Exclusive: Port Vale’s JJ Hooper talks goals, Non-League experiences and this season’s aspirations



There are various stories in the football world of diamonds in the rough. Sporting fairytales of forwards who have risen from the depths of the semi-professional divisions to excel in the Football League and beyond. These stories are synonymous with the likes of Charlie Austin and of course England international Jamie Vardy, now a Premier League champion.

But another who may yet follow suit is a player who has been there and done it in the non-leagues having come off the production line of a Premier League academy, and now plies his trade back in the Football League in a bid to push on and truly ignite his career: Port Vale’s former Newcastle United forward, JJ Hooper.

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The 22-year old was signed by the Valiants in August 2015, with the forward penning a two-year deal having been snatched away from Cheltenham Town at the eleventh hour, where he had been on trial and received the offer of a one-year contract before being informed of Vale’s interest.

Still, under the age of 24, the Greenwich-born striker was the subject of a Football Association compensation tribunal, which eventually ruled that the player’s last club, National League South outfit Havant & Waterlooville, were due £8400 in compensation from the Valiants.

It was this revelation which was responsible for keeping him out of then manager Rob Page’s side for the first few months of the season, but since breaking into the first team, he has made a real name for himself at Vale Park with five goals in League One, including a strike against local rivals Crewe Alexandra which helped condemn them to relegation. The issue of the tribunal may have been a frustrating start to the player’s career as a Valiant, but it certainly has helped make him more of a man in footballing terms. When asked about the saga, Hooper replied:

“I think obviously at the time it was quite frustrating. I felt like I was training well and I was impressing and I felt like I should have played a bit more, but obviously, from the outside looking in, it’s probably the best thing that could’ve been done to me. It benefited me a lot and made me who I am today”.

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Now, with a run of games under his belt, a solid pre-season under the regime of new manager Bruno Ribeiro, and the Number Ten shirt on his back going into the new season. Many at Vale Park are optimistic that the promising forward can have a big impact at the Vale in 2016/17 and become a future star for the Valiants. Discussing next season, he said the following:

“Hopefully this year I can push on, but I’ve still got a lot of hard work to do, with a lot of hours in the gym and on the training pitch, and hopefully under the new manager’s guidance I can push on and have a really good season”.

His Port Vale career is essentially the first time that JJ Hooper has been able to put together a run of games consistently in the Football League. Shortly before departing Newcastle United he had a loan spell at non-league Workington in 2012/13 where he struggled for minutes, before a permanent move to League Two side Northampton Town failed to bear fruit. It was a two-year learning curve for the player, before a loan move to Farnborough gave him his first break, where he netted six times in 11 outings:

It’s quite frustrating when you’re young and you feel like you should be playing, but obviously, you know there’s a lot of other stuff that’s involved and it’s obviously frustrating but it’s in the past now. I’ve learnt from it all and it’s made me a better player today, so I can only appreciate what’s happened to me.”

“When I went out on loan to Farnborough at the end of that season I scored a lot of goals and I feel like that gave me the confidence to trust my own ability and if I did drop out of the league, that I would be able to get myself back in”.

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Even after his exploits at Farnborough, Hooper found himself facing the Sixfields exit door. But his efforts had not gone unnoticed, and the following season, the 2014/15 campaign, Hooper would enjoy the most prolific season of his career with South Coast club Havant & Waterlooville in the National League South. He scored 13 goals in 37 league appearances for the Hawks as they made the playoffs, and it is that experience in the non-leagues which gives the forward confidence that he can make a similar contribution for Bruno Ribeiro’s Valiants:

“Obviously, it’s a different level, but I definitely think I could do the same here. There are a lot of players here who’ve been promoted during their careers and I think all of that will help”.

So often used a means of players in academies higher up the pyramid to gain experience, the semi-professional divisions can have just as much to offer for players who have found themselves slipping down the ladder, and can be an effective springboard for young professionals to make a name for themselves and attract Football League clubs. But so often looked at as the “Non-League abyss”, players such as Hooper are evidence that there is always a way back, and that with the right attitude it can be an opportunity to impress rather than a condemnation to mediocrity. Hooper said based on his experience:

It’s up to them (the player in question) really. You can drop out of Premier League clubs and then go to lower clubs in the league and play, and also you can drop out to Non-League clubs and then not play, so it’s up to them really. They (the player) have to trust their own ability, if it takes dropping out the leagues to get back in, then just trust your own ability and stay focused and keep that professionalism and do your best to try and get back”.

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With Non-League prospects like Jamie Vardy having made it from the bottom to the glories of the Premier League, more attention recently has been drawn to the semi-professional leagues. But the Vardys and Austins can often seem to be one in a million, but with Hooper the latest to begin to demonstrate his potential, it begs the question about whether the non-league divisions really are being watched, and as to whether promising young players plying their trade down there so to speak are being noticed and given opportunities. Hooper said of the situation:

“Yes and no. I think it is difficult because a lot of clubs take from higher clubs so it just depends, as long as you’re doing well and if you’re a striker, you’ve just got to keep scoring goals and try make sure your name is on the scoresheet every week”.

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Hooper certainly managed that during his time in those leagues, having followed in the footsteps of the mercurial goalscoring talents of the likes of Vardy to make his way back up the ladder. But now back in the Football League, Hooper is determined to grasp his opportunity with both hands in what is an exciting period at Vale Park. When quizzed on the impact of the loss of former manager Rob Page and the experienced players at League One level who have moved on, he seemed none too fazed over the idea of it having a negative impact at the club, and was quick to suggest that the same togetherness and spirit is in abundance within Bruno Ribeiro’s new “family” at the club:

“That togetherness and spirit is still there, definitely. We’ve lost a few key players, but that’s football and I think you’ve just got to deal with it and get on with it and I think the new players that the manager has brought in, they all have quality so I think we can definitely integrate and play well this season”.

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The prospect of working with international talent and with the quality players that Ribeiro has recruited from elsewhere in the Football League is also a prospect that Hooper is much looking forward to, and he remains firmly optimistic that the season may well be an exciting one for Port Vale and its supporters:

It’s exciting times at Vale Park, you know, he (Bruno Ribeiro) has brought in some big signings, like Jerome Thomas, who has got Premiership experience and some of the players he’s brought in from overseas have got a lot of quality, so it’s very exciting times”.

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What the striker will ultimately be judged on however is scoring goals. The Number Ten shirt comes with a huge responsibility at Port Vale, having been worn by prolific forwards at League One level such as Stephen McPhee and Leon Constantine, and most importantly those talents who have reached club legend status, the likes of Martin Foyle, Darren Beckford, Robbie Earle, Lee Mills and Tony Naylor.

If Hooper is able to get his head down and score goals for Port Vale this season and perhaps beyond, there is no reason why he cannot follow in the footsteps of those legends, and perhaps even in those of non-league gems who have made it all the way to the Premier League. Especially given that he has shown flashes of his potential over his first season with the Valiants.

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Like any player, he dreams of playing at the highest level. But for now he is determined to remain grounded, and it is down to him to show that he can truly flourish under his new boss, and getting on the scoresheet is the first thing on his mind:

“I want to get some goals this season, I want to get some goals…. Goals, goals, goals! But I just want to play as high as I can it would be lovely to play in the Premier League as a first team player but that’s all in the future.”

“I’ve got to keep focused on today and make sure I can do my best for Port Vale and be the best player I can be”.

Now the question remains as to whether Hooper can help Bruno Ribeiro’s Vale family achieve success in League One this year. Having seemingly made the transition between non-league and League One, he will be hoping that Vale’s trip to Bradford on the opening weekend of the 2016/17 campaign is the first step on the road to something very special:

“Nothing Is impossible, the pre-season spell is where we all gel and get used to each other and see how each other play and nothing is impossible, so if we start off well, starting at Bradford, we can definitely push for promotion”.

With the success of former non-league players to provide further inspiration, the former-Newcastle United man will hold firm to his belief that he can get amongst the goals for Port Vale this season, and he is most definitely one to watch in the Vale ranks over the upcoming season. For in his own words, nothing is impossible, and the quality he has shown thus far may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Marc Keinch.


Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

England National Team

Steph Houghton on leading, going unbeaten with Manchester City and FA developments

Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton has grown into her leadership role for both club and country. We caught up with the 29-year-old as she chases a fourth FA Women’s Super League career title…



Photo: Reuters

Captain of club and country. Not many players can claim to have achieved that feat during their careers.

For Manchester City Women’s Football Club defender Steph Houghton this was a dream realised at just 25 years of age, when then-head coach Mark Sampson handed her the England Women’s National Team armband on a full-time basis.

“I have had to work hard to become the leader that I am”, she told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview. “I was quite a young captain getting the armband for both City and England at the same time. In this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to be myself and really grow as a leader.

“There is more responsibility in terms of ensuring everyone is maintaining high standards and sometimes that can be challenging, but ultimately it’s the proudest honour you could have in the game to captain both Manchester City and England.”

Leadership may not have come naturally to the now-29-year-old but, with over 200 clubs appearances and 100 international caps to her name, it is a trait she has acquired through gaining experience and realising new levels of achievement outside of her comfort zone.

This success has seen Houghton discover unchartered territory with England and Manchester City, leading the Lionesses to a third-place finish in the 2014 World Cup finals and the Blues to the club’s first ever Women’s Super League (WSL) title in 2016/17.

The Lionesses, who have become the pride of the nation, came agonisingly close to the World Cup final in Canada, with only a devastating injury-time own goal preventing them from a shot at the most prestigious prize in the women’s game.

Aside from the exemplary team spirit that the squad possesses, Houghton believes that the improved level of England performances over the years comes down to a tactical awareness that has set them aside from their opponents.

“Over the last four years, we’ve been adaptable in the way we play. We are very competitive. We want to win and we’ve found ways to win.

“When I think back to the World Cup in 2015, we played so many different formations that teams didn’t know what we were doing. That is a credit to the coaching staff and all the players who adapted to those different scenarios to outwit an opponent and most importantly win.”

After reaching a landmark 100 appearances for the Lionesses, Houghton celebrated a City milestone earlier this season, marking her club century against former club Sunderland Ladies.

Her 100th game came with a 3-0 triumph against her hometown side, with whom she spent five years at the beginning of her career before enjoying spells with Leeds United and Arsenal Ladies.

Houghton led Arsenal to an FA Cup and Continental Cup double in 2013 and was twice a Women’s Super League winner with the Gunners prior to joining Manchester City in 2014.

“I loved my time at Arsenal, it was a fantastic club and still is, but on a personal level, I wasn’t flourishing as much as I wanted to,” she said.

“Then Manchester City came in, a brand new team that was giving me the chance to play full time, compete in a fantastic stadium and also be closer to home. It really wasn’t an opportunity I could turn down.

The first few months were difficult, but I think in your career you have to go through those moments to come out even better.

“I know I made the right decision and I’m as happy as I could ever be here at City.”

Since making the move from London to Manchester in 2014, the Lionesses’ skipper has earned a number of titles and accolades, not least of which being awarded an MBE in recognition for her personal achievements and contributions to the game.

The Blues skipper is a respected figure both on and off the pitch and has become a huge inspiration to sportswomen everywhere.

Undoubtedly, reaching 100 games with City was a hugely proud moment for the 29-year-old, who has experienced a number of incredible moments throughout her time with the Manchester outfit.

However, she says the club’s domestic success throughout the 2016/2017 campaign remains the personal highlight among all her achievements.

“It was a massive honour and I never thought when I joined the club that I’d be able to play 100 games, but I was fortunate enough to be able to do so.

“There have been some amazing memories, our first Continental Cup final win, we were the underdogs and the feeling that night was unbelievable.

“But, I think winning the double in 2016 and then the FA Cup in 2017, capturing all three domestic trophies, has to up there because of the way we played.

“We went unbeaten and we only conceded four goals and that was a credit to every player and all the staff.”

Already holders of the WSL title and Continental Tyres (League) Cup, after a season without losing during 2016/17, the Blues claimed the full set with an FA Cup final victory over Birmingham City Ladies in May 2017.

For Manchester City Women’s this marked quite an achievement, having turned fully professional only three years earlier – on the back of the creation of the WSL.

After going full-time, City set about the same dominance their men’s side had enjoyed in the transfer market and the league, the outcome of which saw Houghton appear on the club’s radar, with manager Nick Cushing keen to add strong leaders to his ranks.

Houghton credits Cushing, who was named the club’s full-time head coach just a month before she signed for the Etihad outfit, for the significant role he has played in her development, both as a player and a person.

“He is the best coach I’ve ever played under and for me, and for the rest of the players, he’s really developed us into a team that knows a lot more about the game and are much more tactically aware.

“On a personal level, he has helped my game so much over the last four years. We work every day on the finer details, it’s about being good with the ball and without it.

“I owe a lot to him over the last four years, not only on the coaching side but also managing me as a person, really allowing me to be myself and develop as a leader.”

Cushing’s City side remain in an excellent position to challenge for a second league championship this term, just one point behind current leaders Chelsea Ladies, last season’s runners-up, after 11 games. 

Success in the Women’s Super League would have been the main target for the Blues prior to the season, defending the title they worked tirelessly to claim last term. However, the quadruple remains a possibility, with the club still competing on all fronts.

“As a club, we are so far meeting all the objectives we set at the beginning of the season.”

“We’re still competing in the Champions League with the quarterfinals coming up in March. We’re still in the FA Cup and have the Continental Cup final to look forward to, and we’re also challenging for the Women’s Super League.

“Ultimately, we want to keep winning football games and competing in all competitions, so we’re really happy with how the season is going.”

The fabric of a title-winning team comes in its ability to become resolute when the going gets tough and that is exactly what Manchester City showed in their last WSL fixture, against the league leaders.

City’s league hopes looked to be in a perilous position at half-time of their pivotal top-of-the-table clash against the Blues, with the Manchester outfit trailing 2-0 at the break, courtesy of strikes from Millie Bright and Ji So-Yun.

Nonetheless, an excellent second half City performance ensured the points were shared at the Academy Stadium, with goals from Nikita Parris and Georgia Stanway pegging back Chelsea’s first-half advantage.

Defeat would have been a devastating three points lost in the race for the title and, therefore, the eventual draw will be considered a valuable point gained. This game-by-game approach is one that Houghton knows will serve the club well during the run-in.

“This season, we need to take each game as it comes, we know it’s possible and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved, but we’ve still got a long way to go so we’ve got to remain focused if we’re going to achieve success.”

On the continent, City remain unbeaten in the Champions League and will play Swedish champions Linkopings in the quarter-finals in March after reaching the semi-finals of the competition last season.

Houghton and co. were knocked out of Europe by Lyon in 2016/17, and could face the four-time Women’s Champions League winners in the last four if both sides progress from the current round.

“We’ve got to believe. I think we performed well in the Champions League in our debut season, to make it to the semi-finals was an achievement, but we want to build on that.”

Away from the pitch, Houghton acts as an Ambassador for UEFA – a women’s football development role – the purpose of which is to provide models to young females wishing to participate in the sport.

As a leading English female footballer, the City captain holds a strong commitment to accelerating the progress of the women’s game – an objective that has been catalysed by the establishment of the FA WSL in 2010.

Finally committed to developing women’s football, the FA believed creating a viable elite league, which would initially be semi-professional, was to prove vital for the sport’s credibility. This was a decision backed by Houghton.

“The best idea we had was to introduce the FA WSL and having it as a summer league at first allowed clubs to focus on making their teams full time, providing more coaching hours for their players and ultimately drawing in as many crowds as possible, as well as allowing for more tv coverage.”

Initially running over the summer, in July 2016 it was agreed that a calendar shift would take place. This moved the WSL to the winter months, to be played between September and May, in line with other divisions across Europe.

In September 2017 it was announced that the top tier of English women’s football will be only for full-time clubs from 2018-19 after proposed changes to Women’s Super League licences were approved by the FA.

This means that all clubs must re-apply for their places in the division, while new teams could earn licences to join the top tier that will have between eight and 14 teams. In addition, top-flight clubs will be required to run an academy under the new criteria.

This is a significant milestone in the progression of the women’s game and is likely to transform key elements, including the quality of resources and the level of performance on the pitch. Houghton explained the positive impact of such a decision.

“I think it’s the right step now, after making it a winter league, to continue this growth and increase our competitiveness on the international stage.

“There are a lot of big clubs pushing to make it more professional and from an international perspective, that is what you want, everyone training full-time and to be as fit as they possibly can be.

As a club, I think Manchester City have set the standards in terms of the professionalism and ensuring we have access to the same resources as the men’s team, both on and off the pitch.”

A leading figure in the English game, both on the pitch for Manchester City and the Three Lionesses, and as an ambassador for UEFA, Houghton recognises the progress of the women’s game. However, she says there still remains room for improvement. 

“I’m happy with how far the game has come.

“To be able to live my dream of being a professional football player and to be at a club like this is unbelievable and I think the games are now more competitive than they ever were, which makes it all that much better.

“The stadium we play in, the pitches we train on, the crowds that we draw in are incredible too, it’s really grown. It’s important that we keep pushing in all those areas.

“You’d like to see regular TV matches every week, which we’re starting to do. I’m optimistic about what the future holds.”

Decisions made regarding the development of the women’s game may largely sit outside of her influence, but on the pitch, Houghton will be hoping to galvanise City’s pursuit of Chelsea at the top of the WSL, while next year’s World Cup in France will be at the forefront of preparations with the Three Lionesses.

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Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah on discovering a scoring streak, promotion hopes and his journey to the top

With 13 Sky Bet Championship goals, Albert Adomah is proving to be the catalyst in Aston Villa’s search for promotion. We catch up with the 30-year-old to discuss the season to date..



Albert Adomah
Photo: Reuters

Few players have come further in football than Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah.

Whilst many of his Villa team-mates came through the ranks training at the world class facilities of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, his footballing career began at amateur side Old Meadonians.

Whilst studying to become a painter and decorator, his career took off as he moved to join seventh tier club Harrow Borough.

14 goals in 69 games for the London club caught the eye of a host of local non-league and lower league clubs.

Barnet was his eventual destination in January 2008.

Ten years later, and after spells at Bristol City and Middlesbrough, Adomah is taking the Sky Bet Championship by storm.

Discussing his journey to the top with The Boot Room, he revealed that he’s achieved more than he could ever have hoped for as an 18-year-old student playing amateur football at the weekend.

“When I first joined Harrow Borough I had a feeling I would progress to the next level with a hope to one day play at the highest – which is the Premier League and international football and I’ve managed to achieve both of those.

“I wanted to work my way up and I’ve managed to achieve that.”

After play-off heartbreak with Middlesbrough in 2015, Adomah was key to earning his side promotion to the top flight, missing only ten league games across three seasons at the Riverside club.

The winger made his Premier League debut in a draw against Stoke on the opening day of the 2016/17 season under Aitor Karanka, but little did he know that his substitute appearance the following week would be his last for the club.

Summer reinforcements to strengthen the squad to first division quality, after Adomah had helped to get the club left there, and a reported fall out with boss Karanka, left him surplus to requirements.

The now 30-year-old says that he was left with no choice but to leave Tyneside.

“It was time to move on and Aston Villa is a big club with great fans and a lot of history, it felt like a huge opportunity for me.”

By moving to Villa Park, he ensured that he was moving to one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest, in the English Football League.

Boasting some of the highest attendances in the country, even despite relegation in 2016, there is no denying that the sway of the club has an impact on its players.

“It’s a massive club so when you go out onto the pitch you want to perform well and do well for the club and the main objective of the day is to get the points.”

After years of underperformance, the 2017/18 season finally looks to be putting Aston Villa back on the map with a mid-season revival seeing Steve Bruce’s side climb the table and enter contention for promotion.

For Adomah too, it has been a remarkable season.

“So far on a personal level I think I’ve been doing really well, scoring goals and as a team we have been doing great.

“The result at the weekend didn’t go our way but all we can do is learn from it, work harder and aim to put that right.” 

By averaging almost a goal every other game, with 14 from 29 in all competitions, to date, he has already far surpassed his personal best of 12 goals in 42 games with Middlesbrough in 2013/14.

Cutting in from out wide, his positioning, pace, power and smart finishing has been crucial to his team’s success, leading the club’s goalscoring charts, ahead of the likes of multi-million pound centre forwards Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia.

His goals and assists have contributed a huge 18 points to Villa’s fight to return to the top flight, and he is not ready to take the foot off the gas just yet.

Despite now being deployed out wide, Adomah feels that his past experience through the middle has been pivotal to his success.

“I used to be a striker so when I’m in that position I always have a good feeling I’ll get a chance to score – it’s all about hitting the target.

“Lately whenever I shoot it seems to go in.”

Boss Steve Bruce has even called upon the number 37 to beat the Championship record of goals from a player who isn’t a striker, a record currently set at 20 by then-Cardiff ace Peter Whittingham.

With the business end of the season still to come, that certainly looks achievable, but Adomah is taking his campaign one step at a time.

“Every season my target is 10 goals and 10 assists and so far I have exceeded one of my targets, my next aim would be 15 goals and if I can do that I’ll aim for 20 goals but I try not to put pressure on myself.”

It has been some turnaround for Adomah too, considering that he started only one of Villa’s first six games in 2017/18.

The signing of Bruce favourite Ahmed Elmohamady and loan deals for West Ham flop Robert Snodgrass and Tottenham starlet Josh Onomah upped the pressure on an already crowded area of the squad, with the likes of Andre Green and Jack Grealish getting better and better.

Having celebrated his 30th birthday this season, it would be logical that Adomah would be the player to make way. Instead, he has taken a step up.

Age is just a number to one of Villa’s more experienced professionals, who insists that it is hard work on the training ground that is seeing him improve as he matures into the twilight years of his career.

“I work hard at the training ground to improve myself and on the pitch you try to avoid making mistakes but if they do happen you look to the next game to put it right and learn from it.”

Bruce has, understandably, spoken of the importance of keeping players like Adomah, who he has described as “a catalyst”, at the club if they are to be taken seriously in their quest to return to their rightful place in the Premier League.

Promotion put an end to Adomah’s time at Middlesbrough, but he insists that he is happy at Villa and wants to commit his long term future to the club.

“If a 10 year contract was put on the table I would sign that today.

“I’m loving my time at Villa, it’s going really well and things are going well for the team.

“My family love living in the Midlands so if I was offered a contract I would sign it.”

Having only played for four clubs since going professional, having played over 100 games for all four, he is a loyal man, and he is ready to reap the rewards of that loyalty in Birmingham.

“Yes staying at one club definitely helps, I think it helps in the long run and it’s good for your family life.

“For me as an individual, I have a family so it’s good to have them settled in one place.”

His goal in the derby in February, a moment he says he will tell his grandchildren about, endeared him even more to the fans at Villa Park.

The club’s rise up the table is not yet complete, though, and Adomah is insistent that his side must have their sights set high for the remaining three months of the season.

The team are leading the chasing pack behind Wolves and their nearest competitors, Cardiff, but Adomah believes that he and his team-mates must be ready to pounce if either side slips up.

“We just need to keep on doing well and chase Wolves as they are doing great.

“If we chase Wolves we will have a great chance of automatic promotion and if Wolves slip up perhaps we could win the league… But everything is down to our performances.”

With that success, Adomah could return to one of his greatest achievements: playing Premier League football.

Capped 15 times by Ghana, scoring two goals, he also fulfilled the other dream by appearing for his nation, Ghana.

Making his debut in 2011 under Goran Stevanovic, he became a regular under Kwesi Appiah, featuring in all but one game as the Black Eagles finished fourth in the African Cup of Nations in 2013.

Adomah even fulfilled a dream that seemed so impossible on the parks of south London only six years previously by taking to the pitch in the 2014 World Cup as a substitute as Ghana were beaten by the USA.

The versatile wideman has only made one appearance since, scoring in a friendly under Avram Grant in 2015, but with Appiah now back at the helm and Adomah in the form of his life, it would be premature to rule out a return to the international scene.

“It was a great achievement to go away with my national team and play on the biggest stage in the world. I managed to play 15 minutes against America but unfortunately we lost that game but it’s wonderful to say I was part of the World Cup.

“Hopefully if they call me again I can do a duty for them, I will continue to play well for my club and hope that I get a call.”

Adomah’s story is one of football’s most inspiring, and earning promotion to the Premier League with one of England’s biggest clubs as the leading man would be a fitting chapter to add to an already incredible tale.

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Greg Docherty – Realising a childhood dream with Rangers FC

After completing his dream move to Rangers, midfielder Greg Docherty sat down with The Boot Room to look back at his career to date and the excitement of his time ahead at Ibrox.



Photo: Rangers Football Club

Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.

But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.

Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.

His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.

For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.

“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.

“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”

The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.

“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”

Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.

A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.

“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.

“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”

But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.

The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.

After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.

He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.

“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.

It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”

There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.

It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.

“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.

“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”

It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.

Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.

It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.

“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.

“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”

For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.

Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.

And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.

At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.

“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.

“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.

“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”

After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.

It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.

Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:

“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.

“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”

And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.

It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.

If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.

But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.

“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.

“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.

“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”

It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.

With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.

The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.

As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.

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