By Chris Slavin
Kwesi Appiah has experienced many ups and downs in his career and accepting a job outside the game six years ago provided a reality check.
For those supporters who may have missed it, Saturday’s match day programme featured an in-depth interview with Kwesi and this is reproduced below.
Of course, Kwesi went onto strike his first goal of the season against Doncaster – and hopefully there’s many more to come!
Kwesi Appiah experienced what he calls a reality check when he accepted a job outside the game – in a Transport for London call centre – but he refused to give up on his football dream. Fast-forward six years, and it seems to him that his football life is at a crossroads once again. This time it’s for a completely different reason, a lack of first-team action at previous club Crystal Palace, but he believes he can reignite his career with AFC Wimbledon.
He’s certainly come a long way since he was released by Peterborough United, and two years of non-league football with several clubs, before a prolific spell with Margate Town alerted Crystal Palace to his striking talents.
“It was a great experience for me to go from the pro game to semi-professional, and I worked in a call centre for eight months, just because I needed the money,” Kwesi recalled when we spoke to him this week. “I didn’t have a pro club at the time, and I combined work with playing for Margate. It was a reality check, something I needed at that point in my life. I needed to get back that hunger for playing football and my confidence. I always knew that I was destined to play in the Football League, and hopefully one day I’ll play in the Premier League.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be playing at that level for very long, but it was a good life experience. I’d never been carried away by the whole football lifestyle, and I got my head down and realised what it was like outside the game. It gave me a good grounding – I certainly wasn’t spoon-fed a career in the game. I scored a lot of goals in the four months I was at Margate, and then Crystal Palace came in for me.”
Though his game time was limited when he was with Palace, Kwesi had successful loan stints, including one with the Dons in at the end of the 2013/14 season, and it was because of his desire to return to AFC Wimbledon that he rejected overtures from a Championship club to sign here permanently. At the age of 27, having played for 15 other clubs, Kwesi would love to get back to playing regular football at one club – and the prospect of running out for the Dons at Plough Lane in a couple of years’ time is an added attraction.
“I had a great time at Palace, as I had some good coaches there. I have some great memories, including being part of the unit that got promoted to the Premier League. I played about 10 or 15 games for Palace, including in the Championship and cup matches. I went on loan quite a few times, and that put me in good stead. I’m ready now for the next chapter in my career.
“It wasn’t a sour ending at Palace. They said that they appreciated my determination to make progress in my career and they wished me luck. I’d always kept in touch with Bass since I was here last time, and when this opportunity came up I just wanted to sign. I had a good chat with the management in the summer about coming here. I also had options to play at a higher level than this, but I thought about my game time and where I was going to feel more appreciated. I’m now at a stage of my career when I just want to play football, and to come to a place where I will be appreciated was important.
“Quite a few things have changed since I was last here. Obviously, the club has been promoted to League One, and that has meant that the quality and standard of the players have improved. The facilities and equipment at the training ground have changed. The coaching staff clearly want to move this club forward. And it’s obviously a great attraction for players to come here with a nice new stadium on the way. With the stadium coming along, you can see the club pushing on.”
So far it’s not been the start to the season that Kwesi or anyone else at AFC Wimbledon would have wanted, but he feels that things will come together in time. “We’ve not started the season well, but we have got great characters around the club, and they will help us turn it around. We will do well in this league, I believe. It’s been a shaky start, but we have nothing to worry about. It’s still early days, and we have enough about us to turn it around. My ambition is to get back to the international stage and push on with my career. I want to score as many goals as possible and help AFC Wimbledon to progress. I think we’ve got great talent in the squad. The young players have a lot of potential, and we’ve got good pace, power and talent in the squad overall. We just need to get it right on the pitch.”
The highlight of Kwesi’s career so far was his appearance for Ghana in an Africa Cup of Nations final against the Ivory Coast – he qualifies through to his Ghanaian father, Jim – and in similar fashion to the rest of his career, it was all about grasping his big opportunity.
“It was a great experience to play in the Africa Cup of Nations, in fact it was the highlight of my career. Ghana got a new manager (Avram Grant) before the finals, and he put his own spin on things. He was scouting players from all the divisions – he wasn’t bothered about the level they were playing at. He watched me, and then I got a call-up to the provisional squad. I managed to make the cut for the final 23, and it certainly helped when I scored in a pre-tournament friendly against a Portuguese team. When the tournament started I wasn’t in the team, but I came on for my debut in the third group game against South Africa, the host country – and the rest is history.”
His father was a big influence in his career: he managed the junior Sunday league team that Kwesi played in as a young boy. Until his teenage years he played for a team called London Boys, based in Blackheath. He went into the Ebbsfleet United youth system so that he could combine playing with an educational course. A move to Peterborough United as a youngster didn’t work out, leaving Kwesi to try to reignite his career in non-league.
His most recent loan spell took him to Norway in March to play for top-flight club Viking FK, and because the loan lasted to the end of June, he started training again with the Dons later than the rest of the squad. Now fully fit and raring to go, Kwesi believes he’s ready to start hitting the goal trail once again.
“I feel like I’m fit and strong. I just needed to appreciate my body and what I could do. With the season in Norway finishing late, I needed to have a break before coming back. I had a few groin problems when I first returned, but I think I’m coming into my own now.”