By Mark Lessdad
I’d reached the point where I was beginning to question why I was putting myself through this. I was out running and feeling a few aches and pains and thinking “Why am I doing this? Is it really worth it?”
So said much-travelled striker Patrick Agyemang – whose many clubs included a stay at Bristol City – when we got talking about his career and that moment in time many footballers reach just before deciding it’s time for a life outside of football.
On the books at Wimbledon in the days of the ‘Crazy Gang,’ Agyemang clocked up 138 appearances (plus 13 games on loan at Brentford) and an international appearance for Ghana. But his world was brought crashing down when the club all but disintegrated and reinvented itself as MK Dons. “I’d been with them from the age of 15, but then they went through all those problems, financial, the switch to MK Dons and so on,” he told me.
“Gillingham put a bid in for me (£150,000) but I didn’t really want to go. The club needed the money – there had been times when we’d go three or four months without being paid. When you’re 21 and you’ve got bills to pay – mortgage, car and the like – that’s no good.”
And so, with heavy heart, Agyemang departed for Gillingham, spending the best part of a year there, with 38 appearances and eight goals. But he wasn’t happy – “It wasn’t an ideal move for me,” he conceded – and when Preston came in with a bid of £350,000, he jumped at the chance to leave.
“It was time to move on. I needed a change, a new challenge. Twice Preston got to the play-offs during my time there, only to miss out.
“There were some good players there – David Nugent, Richard Cresswell – and I learnt a lot from the manager, Billy Davies,” explained Agyemang, who gained his second international cap while at Deepdale.
But there was a down side. “It was hard for me, because I was literally spending four-and-a-half hours going backwards and forwards between London and Preston.” After more than three years and 135 games for the Lancashire-based club (not to mention a great many motorway miles) Agyemang jumped at the chance of a return to the capital, signing for Queens Park Rangers. “I had a choice between QPR and Charlton and although Charlton were offering more money, I had some friends at Rangers and was hooked on their plans and ambitions. I wanted to be part of that,” he said.
Agyemang made his QPR debut in a narrow 1-0 FA Cup defeat at Chelsea and scored his first goal for the club (one of 15 he’d bag for them) in only his second appearance. But it was not a settled club and barely two years after signing on the dotted line, he found himself playing for his ninth, yes, ninth manager, give-or-take a caretaker boss, too.
MOVE TO BRISTOL CITY
In January 2010, Agyemang made the move to Bristol, signing for City. “There had been a lot of management changes at QPR and I needed a fresh start,” pointed out Agyemang. “Gary Johnson asked me to go down on loan and I was up for it and really looking forward to making my debut for them.”
The deal was signed and sealed on January 25, 2010, with Agyemang on the team sheet for the following day’s Severnside derby. Sadly, it wasn’t the sort of start that he’d been looking for.
“We were at home to Cardiff and I was up front with Nicky Maynard,” he recalled. “We started well enough and I was quite excited. Then it all went wrong. Cardiff thumped us 6-0. The fans were up in arms and the manager was very angry. I remember thinking during the game ‘Oh my God, I came here to get my confidence back, but the team’s confidence is lower than mine.’
“It certainly wasn’t the start I was hoping for. I remember thinking ‘get me out of here.’”
At least City picked up a couple of points from their next two games, but it wasn’t until late April that Agyemang could experience the joy of being in a winning side.
“I simply wasn’t able to make the impact that I hoped I would,” he admitted. “Sometimes things just click into place and sometimes they don’t, that’s just the way things happen. Going to Bristol City just wasn’t right for me.”
After returning to Loftus Road, Agyemang went out on loan to Millwall. “I only played a couple of games there. It was a similar situation to Bristol and I didn’t enjoy it.” But his next move would prove to be much more satisfying. “I went to Stevenage. It started slowly, but then it got better and we did really well, making the play-offs. Yes, after Bristol and Millwall, a very good experience.”
Agyemang spent a year with Stevenage, before taking up another new challenge at Portsmouth. “One of my better times in football,” he revealed. “When I arrived, they hadn’t won in 24 games and their confidence was zero. I could see a similar pattern emerging, plus there was the pressure of thinking that I’d been brought in to turn their fortunes around. But I hit a good patch of form, playing up front with David Connelly; results improved and the fans took to me. It was good.”
But off the field, things weren’t so good at Pompey. “Around 60 players came in or went out during my time there. The club had hit a major financial crisis,” he told me.
Agyemang eventually followed in the footsteps of many other good players that the club had to be released in order to ease their unmanageable wage bill.
“I moved on to Dagenham and Redbridge on loan and yet again found myself at a club very low of confidence, expecting me to be the answer. It was hard.” He made just a handful of appearances for the struggling Daggers, the last on Boxing Day 2014, ironically against former club Stevenage.
He returned to Portsmouth and, with the club still in financial meltdown, agreed to leave by mutual consent the following March.
TIME TO QUIT FOOTBALL
“Mentally, after that, I was done with football,” he said. “I thought I’ve had enough. Once I made that decision to quit, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
“Now I can really enjoy spending quality time with my family,” added Agyemang, who celebrated his 37th birthday last Friday.
These days Agyemang, who had played well over 500 senior games, works as a personal trainer and is also nutrition coach for Herbalife. Home is in Chigwell, where he lives with partner Danielle and 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. “At the moment I am happy doing that and living without football,” he said. “A footballer has a limited shelf life and, although there were many times when I enjoyed playing, you just know when it’s time to stop and take time to relax instead of tearing up and down the country.
“My son wants to be a footballer and, with my experiences, I can help him. But I can only help him so much and, at some stage, he will have to make that journey on his own.”