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The Long Read | Andy Yiadom on Non-League to Championship journey

Defender details roundabout route to Football League in extended interview

30 October 2018

How a night out started a climb to the Championship…

Andy Yiadom has been a pillar of consistency for the Royals since becoming the club’s first summer signing in the close season, showing his undoubted quality at this level and being a league ever-present so far for his new club.

The full-back’s route to this level was not a traditional one, though. After being released by Watford as a teenager, Yiadom’s footballing career started in earnest in the lower echelons of the game – in Non-League with Hayes & Yeading through a trial, which he heard about while on a night out!

Since then, the Londoner’s career has only taken an upward trajectory through the league system, slugging it out in the National League with Braintree Town before taking in League Two football with Barnet, eventually joining Barnsley in the Championship – subsequently becoming a Royal several months ago and earning his first international caps for Ghana along the way.

In an exclusive in-depth chat with The Royal, the 26-year-old delves into a route to RG2 that included playing for a full-time wage of £50 per week, years of hard graft and almost giving the game up altogether…

With Academy football starting from the age of eight, Yiadom’s route into the youth ranks at a professional club came later than most – as he was spotted playing in a community initiative run by his local side, Arsenal.

“I started a little bit late with playing football, in terms of taking it seriously,” he explained. “My parents were busy working when I was six or seven, so it was always hard for me to go to football training. I was playing for my school team and then I played for a team called Times Football Club because my best friend’s dad owned the club.

“One thing led to another and I went to Arsenal Advanced, which was an Arsenal in the Community thing – because I grew up in Highbury. I was going there for a year or so and then after that, one of the guys said there was the opportunity of having trials at Watford, Charlton and Arsenal.

“For some reason, as much as I’d have loved to play for Arsenal as my local team, something just drew me to Watford. I went there on trial and I think Doddsy [David Dodds, Reading U18 Manager/U23 Coach] was Academy manager at the time. I went there at about 10 years old and did really well training, and it eventually got to the time to be a scholar.

“I didn’t get a scholarship straight away, but I came in twice a week to train – that’s what was offered originally.

“Then there was a bit of change in management and then I was offered a scholarship – which I was obviously over the moon about. I enjoyed my time at Watford looking back at it, but then it was crunch time again as I wondered if I was going to get a pro contract or not. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one.

“That was a really tough time, I didn’t really know what I was going to do or what I wanted to do – I didn’t have a clue. I was taking it day by day, which is hard when all your friends are getting pro contracts and stuff like that.”

Without a professional deal, the defender admits the struggle he had with finding a club and was contemplating stepping back from the game altogether while still a teenager. It’s often said in life that when one door closes, another one opens. This was the case for Yiadom, but probably not in the way he was anticipating!

“Funnily enough, I was on a night out and I heard a guy who I knew was going on an open trial at Hayes & Yeading,” he elaborated.

“So, I went along to the trial, and obviously it was very gruelling. You’ve come from Watford with a nice training ground and, no disrespect to Hayes & Yeading, but going to the training ground which had a cabin for a changing room and loads of people there, you’re wondering what’s going on.”

Yiadom clearly showed his potential in front of his prospective employers in England’s fifth tier, though, as the potential trialists gradually got whittled down and the full-back was left with a crossroads in his life with a key decision to be made – whether to follow his sporting ambitions or step away.

“I was there and going every day, getting through after it was getting cut down after every week or so, and I was still there. The manager, Garry Haylock called me into his room and said he wanted to offer me a deal. I wasn’t over the moon, but I knew it was a start.

“It was full-time because they were in the Conference Premier at that point, but they basically offered me travel expenses – which was around £50 per week.

“I was wondering if I should get a job, then I was talking to my mates who got a pro deal saying how excited they were, then there I was on £50 per week. So, I was about 17, and there was genuinely no other option. I had to either go and find a job or stick it out with football, it was full-time, and I considered giving up football plenty of times. I wasn’t even going to go this trial because I felt like I couldn’t be bothered!” He admitted.

“There was something in the back of my mind that was thinking ‘Do you know what, just give it a crack,’ so I signed a contract and was there for the year. I didn’t want to ask my parents for money - it was a tough year, but it was massive for my character building.

“I had to ration what I was spending my money on at the time and there were loads of things I couldn’t do as a result.

“Ultimately, that money was just to get to training. I lived in Highbury and I had to get to Hayes every day, which was a bit of a trek doing it by myself!

“Don’t get me wrong, in terms of my football and mental development, it was massive, and it played a big part in my career. Playing against older people, training with older people, it was huge. I came on quite a few times, started a few times playing against adults, which made me learn a lot.

"When that season finished, the manager left to go to Farnborough and he wanted me to go with him, I wasn’t going to re-sign with Hayes & Yeading but then Braintree came along with Alan Devonshire as manager – then I thought I would give them a go.

“I played a trial game against Gillingham for Braintree and then he took me. I was there for six months, which was really good, and I did well in that six months. Alan Devonshire helped me a lot in that time, then Barnet came along. I was on a non-contract so with that, you can just go if someone else comes in for you. 

“I went to Barnet, then I was there for a good slog of about four-and-a-half years. There were good times, but at the start I found it very difficult settling in. 

“I felt in my head like it was a massive jump. It was League Two, there were a few good players there and I was wondering if I was good enough – it was tough. In the first year I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, but I just slogged it out.”

Barnet had several managerial changes during Yiadom’s time at the club, but none raised more eyebrows than the appointment of former Netherlands international, Edgar Davids as their player/coach in League Two.

The former Champions League winner arrived at Underhill and showed as an indicator of the progress Yiadom had made from his beginnings in Non-League, after learning from and playing alongside one of the greats of the game – something which left an impression on the Royals defender, despite Davids being a hard task-master at Barnet.

“I give the guy so much respect. His career was amazing, he achieved so much and when he came, I was thinking how massive it was. I learned a lot of stuff, but he was brutal as well, so in terms of character building I learned a lot, but he could make you feel very small, I’ll tell you that for free!

“I think that’s just the way he is as a person, he demands a lot. He’s had the career that he had so you could see where he was coming from, that’s what I acknowledged straight away.

“When he was in one of those moods, I took it all in the right way and that really helped me. I enjoyed it, I played a lot and I learned a lot.”

One of the negative aspects of Academy football is that not every young player makes it as a professional footballer. Some do as Yiadom did, dropping into the lower leagues to earn a living and start their career – while others leave the game and take another path in life.

Despite Andy starting off in a lower division than he had wanted, his rise through the divisions is testament to the work he has put in to improve himself and push on – a valuable lesson for any player who may be tempted to walk away from the game after a setback.

As someone who has earned a place in Championship football by a combination of natural ability and a positive working mentality, Yiadom offered his advice for young players in a similar situation.

“You just shouldn’t give up. Just keep grinding at it, I reckon people wonder what people mean when they say, ‘you never know what could happen,’ but you genuinely can’t! 

“While I was at Barnet, I was there for a long time and I was wondering what was next, I wondered if I should sign another contract, but I just stuck to my guns and I didn’t sign another one, so I just grafted and put my head down.

“Funnily enough my move to Barnsley came when I was playing for England C [England representative side for Non-League players], we were playing in Halifax against Estonia and Patrick Cryne, God rest his soul, he was the chairman at Barnsley at the time and he spotted me. At the end of that year, I ended up signing for them.”

Yiadom’s move to Oakwell signalled another jump in the quality of football he would be playing, coupled with another shift in mentality to prove himself in the second tier of English football – moving up three divisions in the process.

It can be a difficult move to envision for a player in the lower leagues to be able to prove themselves at a higher level, despite the assertion of others around Yiadom that he had the talent to make the step up.

The defender admits that he struggled to imagine himself taking on the rigours of Championship in his career while he was a Barnet player, but each step that he had taken in his career encouraged him to do the same and make the move to Yorkshire with the Tykes.

“At Hayes & Yeading, people were telling me I had ability and they were telling me to keep going, you keep going anyway but – this is only from me – I couldn’t see myself playing in the Championship. I really couldn’t. I would have loved to play in the Championship, but I really couldn’t see it happening.

“I was taking one step and thinking I’d made a little jump, then you would keep cracking on and then you would do it again, then I made myself keep going and having started so low, you want to just keep on climbing because it’s happened already – what’s the point in stopping?

“I was with Hayes & Yeading, I went to Braintree then Barnet, so I was wondering, why would I want to stop? You want to keep on grafting and you never know what could happen. I personally couldn’t see myself where I am now to start with.”

After impressing at a high level for Barnsley, it wasn’t long before the international scene came calling for the defender – making his debut for the Black Stars on a big stage, against Mohamed Salah and Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations!

With his long journey in football starting in earnest in a cabin in Hayes, to be in a starting line-up alongside the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu shows just how far Yiadom’s career has progressed in recent years.

“My parents are Ghanaian and when the call-up came, they were really proud,” he smiled.

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Always an honour 🇬🇭 #Blackstars

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“That was a really big moment for me, I was doing well for Barnsley so then I got the call-up, which was massive. It was a massive shock, but it was a proud moment as well.”

He has also been away with Ghana this season, adding to his cap tally during the international breaks this time around.

But life isn’t solely about football. Having slotted in seamlessly to life in Berkshire, Yiadom revealed how he spends his down-time away from training – finishing by offering a couple of book recommendations!

“From time to time, I like doing a jigsaw – it takes your mind off everything and I read occasionally as well, I like reading books about the mind.

Thinking Fast and Slow is a good book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad; Alchemist, a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I enjoy it.

“I like boxing, I’ve got a good mate who’s a boxer, so I enjoy watching the boxing, I dabble in anything really. I’m one of those people who will always try something, even if I’m terrible at it!

“I like company, so even if I’m sitting in front of the TV, if I’ve got company then that’s fine. I’ve got a really close-knit group of boys, so enjoying people’s company is what I really like.”

The Long Read is a series of exclusive extended interviews, found first in The Royal, the official Reading FC matchday programme!

To read these interviews and plenty more exclusive pre-match content, pick up your copy before any home game for just £3 from one of our sellers all around Madejski Stadium.

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