For ‘Dokes’, football is ‘just another game’ and just four years ago it became something that was so nearly just something he would watch from a distance, stepping away from playing for his local Sunday League side. However, a neighbour changed his mind and now he is ready to spread his wings at Forest green Rovers and make it a game that counts. Read about his path to FGR in the latest of our big interviews...
Many won’t know it but Forest Green Rovers fans owe Udoka Godwin-Malife’s neighbour Gary a great deal for being able to watch his career bloom at The New Lawn.
It was at the age of 14 that the talented defender decided that football wasn’t for him and he stepped away from the sport that so many of his peers were clambering to be part of, lured in by the distant goal of maybe making it to be a professional one day.
I quit football because I had had enough and I didn’t have the hunger for it any more. I didn’t see it as an aspiration for me.
Dokes, as he is affectionately known, just didn’t have that same passion for the beautiful game.
“I quit football because I had had enough and I didn’t have the hunger for it any more. I didn’t see it as an aspiration for me,” he explained, having just played as a hobby for his local side Littlemore.
“At that age, I used to hear people talking and saying that I wasn’t good enough.
“I never had the drive for it.
“I didn’t have a proper father figure to push me and take me to football, it was always my mum doing it and while she did a lot for me, and still does, I wasn’t the only child with two younger sisters and it was hard for her.
“I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. Especially when it got to the point that I had to start doing things for myself, taking myself to football, getting up early and I didn’t have the desire to do that.”
However, it was at that time that Gary stepped in, seeing the potential in the teenager and convincing him to get back into Sunday League football.
“I just thought at that time that I would try and see how far I could go with it,” he discussed.
“I knew I would enjoy it to a certain extent because my friends were doing it, so as much as I tried to take it seriously, I was having a lot of fun with it as well.
It’s important to have those people pushing you in the right direction, to have someone like that in your corner to keep you on track.
“I knew that I had a chance, even if it was just part-time money out of football, I had an opportunity and it was up to me and how serious I was going to be about the whole situation.”
At the age of 16 and with school coming to an end, Dokes made the decision to join Oxford City on a two-year scholarship and was keen to throw himself at it fully.
However, it didn’t go as smoothly as he would have liked in the first year, struggling off the pitch that nearly saw him leave the National League South side.
“I came close to being kicked off the course,” he admitted.
“It was off the pitch that was the most difficult part. I didn’t get on with the coach and, I admit, I was a bit naughty at times as well.
“The manager that signed me was coaching me as well and we didn’t really get on and, I admit, I was a bit naughty at the time as well.
“My manager started to see a bit of potential in me and I started playing with the reserves and take it more seriously and saw football as a feasible option.”
It was current Oxford City first-team manager Mark Jones who, like neighbour Gary before him, saw Dokes’ budding talent and provided that arm around the shoulder that the teenager needed at the time.
“It’s important to have those people pushing you in the right direction,” added Dokes.
“Some people would say that at such a young age, you shouldn’t be going so hard at football, it’s all about enjoying it.
“However, if you enjoy it too much, it then becomes a hobby. He said to me that I could make it a profession and he always said that he would be hard on me so that I would succeed and keep pushing on.
“It’s important to have someone like that in your corner to keep you on track.”
It was faith that wasn’t misplaced and towards the end of Dokes’ second year of his scholarship, he was getting involved with the reserves and then the first team and it wasn’t long before he was offered a contract for the next season.
“It was a good feeling,” he recalled.
“I was happy and I was shocked to be fair. Not many managers put their trust into young players.
“(Mark) just told me one morning when he came in to see the scholars that he was going to sign me for the next season, so it was a big shock.”
It wasn’t long before the 18-year-old was warranting attention from higher leagues, with performances against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup catching the eye.
However, Mark was conscious to make sure Dokes remained grounded and didn’t let any speculation or scouts de-rail a career that was really gaining steam.
“I think it was in November last year that I knew there was a bit of interest in me,” he said.
“People were only just finding out my actual age, I think they thought I was older than that. Nobody knew I was 18.
“My manager told me to ignore all that hype and just stay focussed and the right thing will happen.
“He didn’t want me to get side-tracked because he had seen a lot of young players getting ahead of themselves and it gets to them and affects their performance and he kind of just guided me.”
In January, with interest intensifying, Forest Green made their move and made something that seemed so far away just four years prior a reality – a first professional contract.
“That day, I was really lost for words. I was just humbled really,” he reminisced, with his mum still by his side as they headed to The New Lawn to sign the paperwork and do his media duties.
“I didn’t really think twice. Especially with the feedback I had at the time, it hasn’t proven to be wrong. All the info I got from the people around me about the club, it was true and I am just happy to be at Forest Green now and hopefully I have a bright future at this club.”
It wasn’t long before he was getting his first taste of League Two football, coming on as a late sub against Mansfield in February but, having impressed in the Development League games, he was handed his full debut for the trip to Morecambe, stepping in at right-back for the injured Liam Shephard. A moment he will never forget.
“I found out at training because the gaffer normally does shape and you know if you are not in the bibs that you are probably starting, or he is at least thinking of starting you,” he explained.
“He just said, ‘Dokes, play on the right for me’ and I was just really happy but I knew I had to keep calm because I had a big job to do at the weekend.
“I was kind of nervous but at the end of the day, there is a motto that I have, ‘it’s just another game’.
“I like to remain confident but not too confident and not do something that you wouldn’t normally do any other day of the week, just stick to what you do and don’t overdo it and you should get through the game.
“It was a very tough game and intense and it was the level I expected it to be at.”
At the age of 18, Dokes has his whole career ahead of him and will be able to be whatever he wants to achieve but knows he will need to work hard to achieve that.
He will also need more characters like Gary and Mark along the way who will help mould his route which everyone at FGR will be excited to follow.
“Now, it’s just about taking every bit of advice I can on board,” he said.
“It’s about learning from players who have got a lot of experience, way more experience than me and just trying to learn and improve every day, that’s all I care about.
“I just want to stay humble and not think that I’ve cracked it, that’s what keeps me going.
“I am just humbled by every minute that I play on the pitch.”