Dunfermline Athletic

Jonathan’s Journey

Wednesday, 11th Mar 2020

DAFC Match Day Programme contributor Jordan Burt chatted with Jonathan Afolabi, the on loan Celtic forward to find out more about his journey to East End Park.

Jonathan Afolabi began playing football with Marks Celtic, a local team in Ireland where his older brother played. The 20 year old who is on loan until the end of the season explained:-

“I was playing n the same age group as my brother, that was 4 or 5 years above where I should have been. I was actually a centre-half during my time with the club and didn`t transition into a forward for a couple of years, after I had joined Shamrock Rovers.

“I didn`t want to start somewhere where I felt uncomfortable, so, beginning with my brother was ideal for my progression. In a way, playing in defence has given me a little bit of an early insight into what both positions are like.

“To be honest, by playing in that position at levels above where I was meant to be, when I did begin playing with my own age group then I was basically a step ahead of everyone else at that point.

“When I made the move to St Joseph`s Boys, that is where I started getting my name out there a bit. I was putting in good performances and went on a couple of trials at teams such as Nottingham Forest. Southampton had been scouting me as well and I ended up signing for them when I was 16 or 17.”

Moving away from home was a sacrifice Jonathan had always been prepared for and was ready to take on the challenges which awaited for him in England.

“It was always in the back of my mind that I had to do whatever it took to pursue the career I wanted and make sure I could get as far as I can in the game.

“I was ready to make that next step when I did, to move away from my family at such a young age. It was something I had been working extremely hard for – it wasn`t a shock in my eyes. I just saw the opportunity of joining Southampton the next stage in improving my career.

“In the previous years, they`d had players develop in their academy and go on to big things...the most obvious one being Gareth Bale, as well as Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. There is a pedigree of players being given a chance in their first team at young ages, so it was a very appealing move for myself.

“I knew that they could improve my game and I was confident they`d be able to bring on my game. I felt that if I couldn`t break through there, I would be able to go somewhere else a better player so it was a win-win scenario.”

Afolabi has played at international level for the Republic of Ireland. He has been capped at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level.

“Before I moved to Southampton, I was involved with the youth squads, but I wouldn`t say consistently. The move to England definitely helped me in this regard as I gained confidence by knowing that I would be recognised more when scoring goals at this level.

“When you are playing academy football, you are playing in front of minimal crowds. When you play for your country, parents and locals from the area would come to watch the match, so it was certainly a different experience. It was a good test of character for myself, to see if I could handle playing in front of bigger crowds and again, this has really benefited me in my journey to where I am today.

“Last summer, was a big time in my career. I was about to leave Southampton and I was about to represent my country at the European Championships at Under-19 level. I was going in to the tournament with just a couple of weeks left on my contract so I knew I had to impress and I put in some of the biggest performances of my career.

“We got to the semi-finals, which was a huge achievement for the Republic of Ireland. I didn`t see it as pressure, I just saw it as another hurdle to get to where I want to be in the future and I had no doubts that I`d be able to play football in the future at a level I wanted to be at. That big challenge helped me grasp the opportunity with both hands and I relished that.”

Jonathan signed for Celtic in the summer of 2019.

“When I originally signed for Southampton, it was at Under-23`s level so I would be playing against guys much older than me. I scored my first goal on my debut as a seventeen year old and just felt as I progressed, things weren`t happening for me. I felt the time was right to move on and prove my talents somewhere else.

“I had a lot of teams after me, I had a lot of great options, however, I decided that Celtic would be the best place for me to develop again and the move has gone well so far.

“It is going great that I`ve now made the next step by coming out on-loan to a club such as Dunfermline. It was what I needed to go and prove I am capable of playing for Celtic.

“Both clubs face similar challenges, in terms of going in to every game needing to win as that is what is expected at a club of this size and hopefully if I continue to play, if I can score some goals and show I am doing well at this level, I can go back to Celtic in the summer and kick on next pre-season.”

Afolabi made his senior debut for the Pars against Queen of the South just days after joining up with Stevie Crawford`s side.

“It was a great feeling to know that the manager knew what qualities I was showing in training and put me in to a big match, knowing I could do the job asked of me.

“It was a match which was the other side of the game...winning your battles, running and running and running until you can`t run any more. I gave everything I could for the team that day and I was delighted to head home having secured three points!

“I wouldn`t say it was an easy transition for me. The style of football was different and it was a case of understanding what kind of game I was in and adapting – it wasn`t the time for fancy football and I took the challenge of a battle into my stride.

“There has been talk that if we go on a good run in the upcoming games then we can put ourselves in a great position towards the end of the season, in terms of reaching the promotion play-offs. However, we ain`t getting ahead of ourselves. We will keep our heads down, work hard and do everything we can to finish in a positive position in the table.”

`Firsts` Q&A:

First Club?
Marks Celtic Under-12`s – I would have been 7 or 8-years-old.

First Senior Goal?
I have scored 6 goals at international level for the youth sides of the Republic of Ireland. (Jonathan opened his senior account with Dunfermline’s second goal against Dundee United on 29th February).

First Club Supported?

First Red Card?
Only ever had one...it was while I was with St Joseph`s Boys and it was North vs South – Republic versus Northern Ireland – and a wee scuffle broke out and I was dismissed!

First Broken Bone or Injury?
Never broken a bone (touch wood hopefully I never do!) - I had growing pains in my knees and that was really painful!

First Foreign Country Visited?
I went to Nigeria on a family holiday.

First Cooking Experience?
I`m in between right now...I can cook the basics – pasta, rice...

First Car?
I still have my first car as I only got it a year or two ago, it is an Audi A3.

First Pet?
Never had one, but, I`ve always wanted one!

First Video Game?
On the GameCube a few years ago: Donkey Kong!

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