For those supporters who may have missed it in the Oxford United programme, we today feature our interview with Toby Ajala.
Toby maintained his productive loan spell by playing a key role in Wimbledon’s 3-2 win at Torquay United on New Year’s Day and the Bristol City forward admits he would relish an opportunity to prolong his stay with the Dons.
Toby Ajala’s impressive form since joining Wimbledon on loan suggests he could have an exciting future ahead of him - and the flying winger certainly deserves his chance to prove himself as a professional footballer.
He may only be 21, but Toby Ajala (full name: Oluwatobi Ridwan Ajala), has bounced back after being released by Hull City and having unsuccessful trials at Brentford and Newcastle United. Such is his desire to make the grade that he even considered a potential move to Peru, which came about through his friendship with former Newcastle star Nolberto Solano, but that failed to materialise.
However, Toby toiled away in non league football – resisting options to pursue other jobs away from the game - and he was rewarded in the summer when Bristol City offered him an opportunity. After impressing City boss Derek McInnes, Toby was offered a contract until the end of the season with the Championship club, but he was subsequently loaned out to the Dons. Having therefore tried to make it at so many different places and left his family in Ireland to pursue his footballing dream, no one can question Toby’s determination.
“I was advised by my family to concentrate on football, but also to study as it would be something to fall back on,” Toby said. “I started an IT course at Waltham Forest College, but in my third year I dropped out because I had a trial with Hull City. I wasn’t really a fan of studying because I wanted to become a professional footballer.
“I went up to Hull in February, 2011, and signed every month until the end of the season after passing a trial. I thought that I was doing well at Hull, but it was a big club with Nigel Pearson as manager at the time and they kept on bringing players in from the Premier League. They never really gave me a proper chance so I ended up leaving. When I was at Hull I was playing as a defensive midfielder, which did not really suit me. But I feel I am better as an attacking player and that is how my abilities have caught people’s attention at Bristol City and Wimbledon.”
Toby’s footballing ability did impress some people at Hull City though, including Peruvian Solano, who was then in the veteran stages of a colourful career in the top flight, which had included two spells as a hero of the Toon Army. Toby’s friendship with Solano helped him gain a trial at Newcastle and almost led to a move to South America when the Peruvian was appointed as manager of Club Universitario de Deportes in his homeland during the summer.
“I first met Nolberto when I was at Hull City and we stayed in touch after I left because he said liked me as a player,” added Toby. “He helped me get a trial at Newcastle and I he put me up in one of his houses while I was there. I was there for about three weeks, but they would not give me a decision and Nobby advised me to go back to London and he would try and sort me out with another club. He also tried to get me in at Stockport when Didi Hamann was manager, but that did not work out. Nolbert was a great influence though as he was such a good professional in the way that he approached the game. He was managing back in Peru until recently and during the summer it was a possibility that I could go and play for him there, but I never heard from him after that.”
Toby, who was brought up in East London, moved to Ireland when he was five because his Nigerian mother started work as a nurse in Dublin. He played as a youngster for Home Farm, an Irish club well renowned for its youth policy. However, he took the brave decision to leave his family behind when he was 16 and move back to London after a family friend recommended him to Danny Bailey. Danny was manager of Middlesex League side Interwood and also a founder member, along with his brother Trevor, of the Bailey Elite Academy, which has offered a platform for plenty of young talents to make the grade as professionals. Toby’s move to Wimbledon has also reunited him with Ryan Hervel, who also played at Interwood.
While playing for the Bailey Academy, Toby was spotted by Bristol City during the summer and he regards Danny Bailey as a key influence on his career. Though he is also his biggest critic, Danny did contact Toby and offer congratulations after the FA Cup tie at Milton Keynes.
“When I first came over from Ireland to play for Danny at Interwood, it was meant to be just for two weeks, but I enjoyed it so much and I decided to stay,” Toby added. “We won everything and I also played for the Bailey Academy, which is how Bristol spotted me. Danny has been a big influence on my career and he still calls me up and tells me how I can improve my game. He watched the FA Cup game and phoned me up after that. At first he was telling me one or two things that I could have improved upon, but then he congratulated me for setting up the goal. That was a big moment for me with the match live on television and I had never played in front of over 16,000 spectators. It was a match I will never forget.”
Toby, who also played non league football for Ilford and Hayes and Yeading, has thrived since joining Wimbledon on loan. He has built up a rapport with the Dons faithful and has been awarded the man of the match against both Rotherham and Oxford United. Having made such a good impression and gained a taste of playing in the Football League, Toby says he is willing to stay on loan for as long as Wimbledon want him.
“I think that being here is bringing the best out of me,” he added. “When I signed at Bristol City I wanted to play first-team football, but I have been trying to prove myself in the Under-21s team. However, that is not senior level and I want to show what I am capable of, whether that is in the Championship, League 1 or League 2. It is important that I impress the Bristol City gaffer or show what I can do to maybe go elsewhere. I would be happy to stay here as I would rather be playing first-team football. There is more hunger and competitiveness on the pitch.
“Neal Ardley is not one of those managers who want his teams to just hoof the ball and his approach suits me. The supporters at Wimbledon are fantastic. After the FA Cup match against Milton Keynes, supporters sent me good messages on my Twitter account and I have enjoyed meeting them. They are down to earth off the pitch and support me a lot on the pitch.”
Everyone at Wimbledon will be hoping Toby continues to thrive here – it will mean that the Dons are doing well and that his career is finally beginning to blossom.