By Kevin Affleck
Adekite Fatuga-Dada dreams big. And why wouldn't you when you are a 22-year-old footballer and go past the famous arch at Wembley Stadium four times a day.
The hugely-likeable and grounded Watford FC Ladies forward makes ends meet by working at Converse at the Wembley Outlet, but when she's not getting this in a size four or that in a size five, she's looking longingly out at the famous stadium just across the way. She gets to see the stadium twice before she's even sold a pair and then a further two times on the way home during the short commute on the Metropolitan Line from Harrow on the Hill to Wembley Stadium.
“I just walk by and think, 'Some of my friends have played there' and that it could be me one day,” said Fatuga-Dada, who is eligible to play for England and Nigeria. “If we do well enough this season, I could be playing at Wembley. Why not? I go past on the train and see it and then again when I walk past, but to be on the pitch seeing the arch would be amazing.”
Reaching the FA Cup final with a team in the third tier of the Ladies football pyramid represents a long shot, but why not reach for the stars ahead of the National League South opener on Sunday against Portsmouth? Stranger things have happened. It would, if it happened, also shine a further light on Fatuga-Dada's story which is one full of triumphing against adversity and a real success story for the club's Community Trust work and programme.
Fatuga-Dada went to Albury Primary School in Harrow and there wasn't much to do after the bell rang and when term time finished. There was also danger on the streets.
“There were a lot of stabbings going on,” she said. “I never saw any of it and obviously was never involved in it, but you can see how you can get dragged into it. That's when the Trust's Safe & Enable programme came about. They came into schools, gave flyers out and the kids then had something to do rather than hanging on the streets. We'd go to Harrow High School and kickabout for an hour or two. It meant you didn't have anything else to think about. If the Safe & Enables programme wasn't there, things might have been different.”
The Trust gave Fatuga-Dada hope, gave her purpose and kicked off an affiliation with the Hornets. The forward joined the former Centre of Excellence at the age of around 10 and barring a brief spell at Arsenal, who she scored for on her debut in pre-season, has been with the club ever since. She's now part of the furniture.
“Ade adds huge value to our squad, on and off the pitch," said General Manager Grace Williams. "Her ability on the pitch and understanding of the game means she is a key member of the team. Off the pitch she is great role model to the girls, even at such a young age.”
She's a shining example of why any young girl should never give up, even when it must sometimes be tempting to turn your back on the game.
“I went for a trial at Harrow St Mary's and I was the only girl,” she said. “They all thought, 'She's a girl, she won't get in so we'll let her trial.' I ended up smashing the trial; I was better than the boys so they had to pick me. I went on holiday in the summer and when I came back they were like, 'No, we are not letting you in. We've picked some other people now.'
“It was a horrible experience and I had to go home. 100 per it was an excuse. 100 per cent it was because I was a girl. My uncle tried to shield it from me but I was quite self aware and I knew what was going on. I knew I was the only girl and they didn't want that burden of having a girl around boys.”
It's a story remarkably similar to that of Kelly Smith, the greatest female player to ever lace up her boots in this country.
“She is my biggest idol,” said Fatuga-Dada, her smile widening at the mere mention of Smith's name. “When at Arsenal I met her and I was so nervous. She came over to answer any questions we had. Everyone knew she was my idol. She asked if anyone had any questions and everyone looked at me. I just couldn't say a word. She was the first girl I knew playing football. She was amazing, even up until she retired. If she still played now she'd still be amazing. She's the best player we've ever had by far.”
Like Smith, Fatuga-Dada was your archetypal tomboy. “My uncle taught me how to play football,” she said. “There is a story my mum tells about how he wanted a boy and when he came to the hospital to see my mum and I was a girl, he stormed off. He eventually came back and has since taken me everywhere. He was the one who got me into football, which my mum hated at the time. She wanted me to be a girly-girl and didn't envisage me playing football, so she was like, 'She's your child." I'm definitely a tomboy. Everything I do is football or fitness. I'm not a girly-girl. I don't like pink, I'm just very tomboy. It's who I am and who I have always been.”
With her rich experience and personable nature, it's no wonder the Ladies' General Manager has Fatuga-Dada on speed dial when it comes to Trust and Community events.
“I used to be the girl wishing the players would share their stories and now I can do that,” she said. “It's crazy that it's come full circle. I'm now the person the kids are looking forward to meeting. I love it and enjoy it. I go to schools, I come to the stadium for NCS (National Citizen Service) programmes and I help the kids with their interviewing skills. The Watford programmes are amazing and it's great to be a part of. I tell them, 'I was you once.' They look up to me, I think, but I'm just Ade, I'm just me.”
Ladies' coach Armand Kavaja won't go too far wrong this season with someone as rounded as Fatuga-Dada in his ranks.