Yesterday saw Dartford host Taunton Town in what was the rearranged fixture at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park. Academy Graduate, Sam Odaudu, featured in our matchday programme that day. For those who missed that feature, here is the full article:

One of the great things about this season has been Alan Dowson bringing through Academy players to the First Team. And, one such player is young versatile defender/midfielder Sam Odaudu.

Since the introduction of the 20-year-old, he’s proved extremely reliable at left-back (or wherever he’s needed on the pitch). And, having made 21 appearances so far this season, nineteen of them in the starting eleven, he’s proved to have become a valuable member of the squad.

In fact, only injury has kept the youngster out of the team, an unfortunate turn of events which sees him out of action during our discussion. Despite the setback, though, Sam’s in good spirits as we chat during the Christmas period, saying that he’s been very chilled out during his free time. He also enjoys spending time, “…with friends so, when their free, I’ll normally be with them. If not, then I enjoy watching movies and series, but I’m currently looking for a good series to get into.”

With Sam being a part of the Dartford Academy and First Team, obviously a majority of his time is spent at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park either, “…with the academy or playing.” However, he also enjoys watching his friends play football and tries to get to their games whenever he’s away from his commitments at Dartford. Meanwhile, outside of the sport, Sam has really taken to another form of “football”…the NFL… “I got into it around two years ago, picked a team (Buffalo Bills), and have been following them ever since!”

You might also be surprised to learn that Sam doesn’t just play for the Darts, he works here too… “I was lucky enough to get a coaching role in the academy after my last year playing with them. So, I’m often training during the week with them and coaching them on game days. Whatever way I can help to make it easier, then I’ll try to be of help to the other coaches and players.”

It appears that this grounded young player/coach has a great future ahead within the sport. But, where did it all begin for Sam? “I wasn’t too interested in football to be honest, until I saw my brother was quite into it. He then put me in goal in the garden for his sake to take shots at me! I played primary school football here and there… (Sam also played the clarinet in school) “…and then joined my first team at U10 level when a leaflet came through the door stating that a new local team was starting up and was holding trials.”

As he started playing when he was around the age of 8-9 by joining in during school breaks, Sam soon found himself playing regularly for his local Welling United U10s side. When the side folded, he moved to Junior Reds before changing over to Erith & Belvedere. His journey then took him to the Crayford Arrows and then Phoenix, before he joined Dartford midway through the U15s season, “…a friend from school played in the pre-academy, so I joined and have gone through the Dartford Academy since then.” And now, of course, this season saw him graduate to the First Team where his performances have begun to repay the faith shown in him by Alan Dowson.

His elevation into life in Non-League football has made Sam realise that a career on the pitch is possible, “I’d say that I realised a career was possible during my first year going into the academy and my first pre-season with the First Team. It was a totally new experience and something I wasn’t expecting. But, it was from there and conversations with the First Team and managers that I saw that, if I do well and keep on doing well, then a career is possible.”

And, Sam remembers fondly that moment when he initially sat down with Alan Dowson, “I spoke to the manager after the academy cup final about the possibility of re-signing with the club, as he liked the look of me when he watched the final. He said that there’s still more that he can get out of me and was willing to give me an opportunity. I saw that he was genuine and honest when he said this, so I signed up for the season.”

As has already been mentioned, Sam has grown in leaps and bounds and has begun to establish himself into the Dartford side, taking his place alongside the Captain Tom Bonner in defence. And, like his teammates, he’s set the bar high… “The aim is promotion first of all. As a team, we go into every game trying to win, and we have the quality to do so. Personally, my aim is to keep my consistency in performances up, play and learn as much as I can game by game.”

That hard work ethic is so vital to the current incarnation of the Dartford squad, and is something that Sam gives his family full credit for. “My family are my inspiration, especially my Mum. They’ve instilled hard work in me and constantly are an example to me. They all show and teach me values of good people, so it’s the minimum that I do the same and carry myself that way, both on and off the field.”

Another attribute that Sam brings to the table is his faith in God, which is very important to him… “I’m a Christian, so I pray before a game just before kick-off and then again when we’re coming out after half-time.”

That level upbringing, faith, and attitude has resulted in a very wise and humble head upon young shoulders, of which Sam and his family should be proud. And it doesn’t stop there either, “The plan is to go out and win games to hopefully finish top of the league. If I can do anything to help achieve that, I’ll do it. I also want to play as many games as possible. However, the dream is to stay healthy and play for as long as possible. I hope to reach the highest playing level possible and have a long, successful career.”

I pray that his dreams do indeed come true. And as our conversation comes to an end, I’ll leave the final words for Sam… “I really appreciate the way you (the fans) have supported me and the team throughout the season. We hope to repay you with good performances and results. Up The Darts!”

By Chris Palmer