Last weekend saw Dartford host Hemel Hempstead at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park. Experienced defender Connor Essam featured in our matchday programme that day. For those who missed that feature, here is the full article:

Central Defender, Connor Essam, is a vital member of the Dartford defensive unit. Since his arrival in August 2020, only injury or suspension has kept the thirty-year-old out of the side… an impressive statement in itself.

Now in his third full season of which is actually his third spell at the club (Connor joined on successive loan spells in 2012 and 2013), he has established an excellent partnership with Skipper Tom Bonner. And, having started all 28 appearances (at the time of writing) this season, Connor has proved how vital he is to Alan Dowson’s squad.

However, the big defender isn’t only known for his fantastic awareness and crunching tackles. He’s also got a good eye for play at the other end of the pitch, proving a nuisance for opposition defenders in the box during set-pieces. In fact, he’s chipped in with two good goals so far this season, proving that the Darts are more than capable of scoring goals from all positions within the squad.

Our discussion found Connor in high spirits, despite him going through a rather busy period of his life… “I’m good thanks… My girlfriend and I have recently bought a house together, so we’re doing a big refurbishment which is keeping me busy. But, I’m learning a lot of new skills, which I’m really enjoying.”

Not only is Connor busy with his new home, but his working life keeps him on his toes as well… “I’m a Financial Adviser. I work long hours, usually leaving home around 7am and not returning until 7pm. Of course, if I have training, I won’t get back home until much later than that!”

You see, not only is Connor a good football player, he also had the wisdom to understand and appreciate that his playing career won’t last forever, “…I’ve been a Financial Adviser for five years now. I was very conscious of retiring from the game without a backup plan, so have been building my career off the pitch whilst still playing part-time.”

Outside of work, Connor loves his sport. Especially football (obviously), cricket, and golf, “…I’m keen to improve my golf when I stop playing football…”, and his evenings are usually spent either watching football or getting in a few hours of house refurbishments at the moment. Meanwhile, his weekends outside of the club are spent with his girlfriend, as they eat out and socialise with their friends and family.

Connor also has a good eye for things in the kitchen as well, particularly food… “Aside from sport, I love cooking!” So, who knows, we might see him on Hell’s Kitchen one day…!

For everyone here at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park, however, he’s Dartford’s exclusive number five. But, where did it all begin for Connor?

Well, it all began at home… “I have a brother who is two years older than me. It all started by me watching him and joining in with his team before I was old enough to start properly.”

Once his journey began, a young Connor signed with local EFL side Gillingham. He remained with the Gills between the ages of 10-20, before moving on to Leyton Orient and Crawley Town. His journey then took him to the world of Non-League football, where he made many appearances for the likes of Dover Athletic, Eastleigh, Woking, and Hemel Hempstead, before his current tenure with the Darts began.

Returning to his period with Gillingham, a young Connor initially began his footballing life on the left wing before the Gills signed him as a striker! His development saw him trade those positions for right-back, before he settled into a more central position in the defensive backline. However, he soon found himself being sent out on loan to Dartford for a while. He has fond memories of that moment in time, as he believes that was when he realised that a career within the beautiful game was possible, “I was 18 and I was told that I wasn’t wanted by Gillingham. So, I went out to Dartford on loan in order to play some games to gain experience. I had a really good time alongside Tom Bonner, and they (Gillingham) ended up calling me back. I then ended up playing the remaining twenty games in League Two!”

He continues, “Meanwhile, Dartford ended up getting promoted to the National League through the play-offs that season, which was great to have played a small part of at such a young age.”

It’s fair to say that that was the moment when Connor fell in love with the Darts, making re-signing for this term an easy decision, “…I’ve always been very fond of Dartford ever since that first loan spell. It’s a really well-run club and I’ve enjoyed playing here for the last three seasons… To re-sign again was an easy decision to make.”

By speaking with Connor and reading his answers for this article, it’s fair to say that he’s an extremely intelligent and grounded man. He has come from a steady family background and praises his parents for inspiring and supporting him, “…Mum and Dad have both supported me from when I was a very young age. They’ve driven me all over the country and still come to see as many games as they possibly can. Dad lives just five minutes away from Princes Park, so he was especially pleased when I joined Dartford!”

That upbringing has taught the defender to find things that work for him, both on and off the pitch, and stick with them… “I wouldn’t say I’m a superstitious person, but I do stick to a routine, to times to eat, match preparation, etc…”

Whilst juggling a career in the Financial Services sector, refurbishing a new home with his girlfriend, learning new skills, cooking, and playing football for the Darts, life is certainly busy, but good for Connor. He aims to stay as fit as possible and play as many games as he possibly can… “I want to continue playing for as long as possible and I’d love to help get Dartford promoted.”

And, with that being said, I’ll let Connor have the final few words… “Thank you all for your ongoing support. We really appreciate the efforts you make to support us, both home and away!”

By Chris Palmer