Today’s article is a little different, as I bring you an interview with former Non-league striker Marvin Sordell. I was lucky enough to play with Marvin in the Watford youth team, and it comes as no surprise to me that he is doing as well as he is. Enjoy the read!
Rewind four years to a young, raw striker signed by a youth academy at just 16. Will they sink or swim surrounded by hundreds who all show ‘potential’ a term often lassoed around young footballers. The harsh reality soon dawns, with many players being let go before they sign a professional contract. However, forget potential, this one had real quality. Fast forward four years and Marvin Sordell has secured a multi million pound transfer to Bolton Wanderers, played in the Premier League and represented Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympics. Quite a transformation. And what is it all down to? Why, his time at Non-league Wealdstone of course.
When speaking to Marvin, his appreciation for everything football has given him is evident immediately. Far from the aloof and arrogant image that many professional footballers have, Marvin is relaxed, friendly, and more than happy to talk. Dressed casually in a shirt and jeans, he appears far more understated than his footballing talent would allow. When asked about his time at non-league side Wealdstone FC, he jokes and asks what it is exactly I want to know about? I am not quite sure if his laugh is a nervous one as he remembers those tough early days, or a happy one as he reminisces about the blossoming of his promising career. Regardless, the appreciation for what Wealdstone did for him is obvious: ‘”It was the best thing that ever happened to me if I’m honest. I was a young, inexperienced striker struggling to make an impact at Watford when the manager at the time (Brendan Rogers) told me I was being sent on loan. At first I wasn’t particularly excited by the prospect. I had only been playing academy level football at Watford and probably thought I was a bit too good for the Ryman League. I was in for a shock.” This shock Marvin talks about has little to do with the quality of football he was exposed to, but more to do with the pure physicality of the League. “I remember my first game vividly at home against Cray Wanderers. Their centre half was twice the size of me and didn’t stop kicking me the whole game. I hardly had a touch of the ball and was substituted after about 60 minutes. It was a massive reality check for me.” Marvin admits candidly.
The physicality of Non-league football is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact rather the opposite; it should be embraced. It is football at its purest, played with passion, commitment and an unadulterated love for the game. “After that first game I knew I had to improve,” Marvin recalls, “I had to toughen up and prove to myself and the club I could handle the physicality. By the time my loan spell came to an end I think I had proved a massive point to me personally and to Watford. I had grown up.” Two months, 10 games and seven goals later Marvin’s spell at Wealdstone had come to an end. His good form had convinced Watford that he was in fact tough enough for Men’s football, and he was rewarded with his first professional contract. It is fair to to say Marvin wouldn’t be where he is today without his time at Wealdstone, which undoubtedly played a massive role in his development.
A loan move to League One Tranmere Rovers followed the next season where Marvin again excelled. When I ask him which league was tougher, the Ryman Premier or League One he again laughs before going quiet in thought, highlighting just how competitive the Non-league game is. He finally, almost apologetically, admits that League One is tougher but only because ‘the expectation levels were higher.’ Even against the defenders which were ‘constantly trying to kick me,’ Marvin’s particular set of skills were beginning to shine through. His lightning pace, sharp eye for goal and exceptional agility were beginning to make the headlines and resulted in a sensational start to the 2010-2011 season back at Watford. Five goals in the first eight games of the season sent Marvin’s stock soaring and immediately put him on the English football radar. “It was an unbelievable start to the season and more than I possibly could have hoped for. Malky Mackay (The Watford manager) handed me a start in the first game of the season and luckily I was in the right place at the right time to grab a couple of goals.” Yet more modesty from the man who thought his football dream was over after being released by Fulham at 16. The reality was, Marvin was setting the Championship alight. When you look at Marvin’s build, it is easy to understand why he is one of the most feared strikers outside of the Premier League. Six foot tall and with a muscular physique far beyond his years, his explosive quadriceps’s are built like tree trunks. His excellent form continued for the next 12 months resulting in the dream move in January 2012. Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers had seen enough potential in the then 20 year old Marvin to splash out £3.5 million on him. At the mention of this move, his face immediately lights up. “It was a dream come true. To play in the Premier League is something you can only dream of as a kid and for it to happen so soon was crazy. Watford had been fantastic for me but I couldn’t turn down the chance to play in the biggest League in the world.”
So, from Watford via spells at Wealdstone and Tranmere, the boy had become a man and Marvin had arrived at the top of the game. Further recognition came his way when he was selected to represent team GB at the 2012 Olympics. Coincidently, the team GB football manager, Stuart Pearce, had also started his career at Wealdstone some 30 years previous. I asked Marvin whether Pearce had said anything to him about their bizarre connection. Marvin replied with a chuckle: “He told me that all the best characters come out of the Non-league game.” In Marvin, we may well have another one.