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'Exposure to first-team football enabled me to make step up to professional football' - Odoh

30 November 2023


'Exposure to first-team football enabled me to make step up to professional football' - Odoh

30 November 2023

At the age of 17, many would have believed their opportunity to play football professionally had passed. However, for Abraham Odoh, belief and a move to Tooting & Mitchm United in 2018 was the secret to achieving this dream.

Speaking on his time with the semi-professional club, Odoh believes this move was arguably the most important decision of his career so far.  

“I started in non-league football because there wasn’t really any other option open to me. I wasn’t in an academy and hadn’t been picked up but I just wanted to play football.  

“It’s tough when you haven’t been seen or picked up by a club. I was disappointed but I believed in my own ability and worked hard to get to where I wanted to be. 

“I took part in an open trial with Tooting & Mitcham, ended up playing for the U23s for a few weeks and then made the step up to be with the first-team.  

“Playing first-team, you quickly get into the habit of playing to win. I don’t think that is something which U19s or U23 football could offer. I was around some experienced players as well and being in a dressing room like that helped me to understand how to act. 

“The coaches there were brilliant, they created a professional environment and were strict to make sure that it stuck. That helped us to improve but it also gave me the experience of what to expect when I signed the contract with Charlton. 

“It probably had a knock on impact on my game as a whole. I was training harder and making sure I went into every session as if it was a match so it definitely benefitted me.” 

As scouts in the local area continued to scour the non-league set up, Odoh praised the influence of his coaches to ensure he remained at the top of his game.  

“There was always scouts who were watching our games and the coaches always gave us the same message. They encouraged us to put it to the back of our mind, if we thought too much into it then our performances would be impacted.  

“They wanted us to play freely and see what came from that. I took that advice and the possibility of making that step up wasn’t really on my mind until Charlton came in. 

“That was my first experience with a professional academy so I was a little bit nervous but I knew that was where I wanted to be. After getting the first couple of sessions under my belt, those nerves disappeared and I started to show what I could do. 

“That mindset definitely came from the coaches at Tooting & Mitcham, they encouraged us to take our opportunity when it came. They gave us the confidence that we belonged there and thankfully it helped me.” 

With the lure of full-time football staring the then 19-year-old in the face, Town’s number 9 revealed he was desperate to make his mum proud. 

“I was 19 when I went to Charlton and I was playing alongside lads who had been with the academy for a number of years. You could see a difference in skillset but I was able to bring what I learned at Tooting & Mitcham to Charlton. 

“The chance at full-time football was definitely on my mind, I knew I could potentially change my life, change my families’ life for the better.  

“I ended up going on loan because I was under contract with Tooting & Mitcham and after a couple of weeks with Charlton I found out that they were going to sign me permanently. 

“I got called in for a meeting and I can remember how nervous I felt before it. I knew I had been playing well, I felt like I stood out because I was unique to the other players. 

“I remember going home and telling my mum and she was overwhelmed with emotions. She showed a lot of faith in me when I was younger, she took me to sessions every week and always put me first even if it meant cancelling plans she had.  

“I wanted to make her proud, that has been my aim so far in my career and it’s always something which I want to keep doing.” 

However, the hard work was only just getting started for the 23-year-old who revealed the effort he made to start strongly that first full season in professional football.  

“I signed for Charlton permanently in the summer, coming back for that pre-season I knew that I had to be fitter and stronger than ever to make that step up.  

“I took part in a lot of sessions, I was working with coaches at Tooting & Mitcham on one-to-one sessions and staying sharp. 

“I spent that first summer with the first-team, I played a bit in pre-season and the manager spoke to me about working hard and showing what I can do.” 

“I was making sure I did everything I could to avoid being complacent. I knew every day walking in that this was my chance and every day I was giving it everything I had.  

“I was staying behind and doing extra every day. As a semi-professional, I was training on Tuesdays and Thursdays but now I was training and playing most days.” 

However, in playing first-team football every week, Odoh admits the step to U23 level was one which took some time to adapt to.  

“That first season for me was all about adapting, I was watching the players around me and seeing what they were doing to prepare. I tried to take things from them and implement them into my routine.  

“Physically, it took a couple of months to get used to the demands on the body. Everyday, I was getting up to go again and my legs were hurting but I got used to it after a couple of weeks. 

“It was a completely different experience for me, at Tooting & Mitcham you were playing for the three points and that was all that mattered. With Charlton, the U23s were playing to improve and results were nowhere near as important.” 

In entering his second season with the club, Odoh admits he started to see the fruits of his labour which the previous season had allowed him to set in place.  

“At the start of that second season, I felt like a different player to be honest. I felt stronger and better which transferred itself into my football. I felt more mature and ready to push for an opportunity with the first team. 

“I got a start in the FA Cup and played a full ninety minutes, that was a good experience playing in front of a big crowd. I was able to see my family in the crowd and that was a really proud moment for me.  

“I was a bit nervous the day before, I remember coming in to the ground and slowly relaxing into it. As soon as the match got started, it felt like just another game and against West Brom I had the chance to test myself against a good team.” 

However, despite the success of that second season, Odoh would leave The Valley upon the expiry of his contract and looking back Town’s number 9 had feared his chance had gone.  

“I had a one-year option at the end of my contract there, I had thought that the club would exercise that and send me out on loan but it just wasn’t to be.  

“I left Charlton when I was 21 and I thought that I would have to start again. After working so hard, I thought I would need to go back to non-league football and build again.  

“I was a little bit older this time, I knew that if I was on trial anywhere then it would be competing to get into the first-team. My agent and the people around me were great at that time.  

“They assured me that everything would work itself out, the fact that I hadn’t been in the academy for long definitely helped me. I didn’t have that attachment to the club so I could move on quickly and work on my next move. 

“Rochdale spoke to my agent in that summer, they were keen to sign me and offering first-team football. He told me about the offer and what they saw for me and I was really encouraged.  

“I was moving away from home but I would say that around that time I realised that was a sacrifice I would need to make. At first it was a little bit sad, especially for my mum because I had been living there for so long but I do think I am used to it now.  

“I had to prove myself with them, it took me a couple of months to do that which was challenging but the manager was always speaking with me. He kept encouraging me to work hard, he told me my chance would come and thankfully it did.” 

Having earned his opportunity, Odoh returned for the following pre season with the bit between his teeth to prove his worth.  

“That next season, I came in and knew I would be challenging for first-team football. I was trying to train harder than the lads around me and make sure I got a good pre-season under my belt.  

“I was living up here by myself, that was one of the best things about living away from home because there was no distractions and I could focus on my football. 

“The manager was speaking to me during that pre-season, he reassured me that I was doing the right things and that my chance would come. That helped me to keep driving forward and working hard, from that he gave me the nod I would be starting almost straight away. 

“Of course, it’s difficult when you’re battling in a side that is battling down there but I used the experience I had at Tooting & Mitcham to prepare for it and leave everything out on the pitch.  

“However, that is all part and parcel of football, I want to be in football and play regularly so sometimes you’re going to go through experiences like that.” 

Despite a desire to drive Rochdale back into the football league, the winger would once again be on the move as Town sought to secure his services.  

“I knew that there was interest in me but I put it to the back of my mind. I was preparing to go back to Rochdale and to find my feet at National League level. 

“My agent told me of the interest from the club here and as soon as I heard about it I thought it was the best place for me to express myself. From there, everything moved quickly, the gaffer believed in me and made it clear I would have the freedom to do what I do best.  

“I wanted to get away on the pre-season trip to Scotland, I thought it would give me the chance to settle and I could get to know the lads quicker.” 

The winger quickly endeared himself to the Town faithful by scoring the winning goal in our 3-2 victory over Salford earlier this season. Speaking on the occasion, Odoh hopes this is a sign of things to come.  

“That goal against Salford felt like it was a long time coming. For me, it was important to get that feeling back and to do so in front of the fans was great. That gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to make a difference for this team. 

“I am always talking to the manager and Thirs to find out what they want from me to improve. They want me in and around the box to see what happens. When that happens they back me to have that composure to make a difference and I want to repay that faith.” 

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