WHEN it comes to his particular footballing journey, Moses Odubajo has definitely achieved things the hard way.
Rejection as a youngster by a professional club, the death of his mother when he was just 13 and having to broaden his education in the obscurity of non-league football, the Hull City star has already had to cope with plenty – and he is still only 22.
It is to the Londoner’s immense credit that he has built a successful career which has the potential to be enriched by Premier League football in future years – hopefully as soon as next season.
Odubajo – whose career break came at Leyton Orient after Millwall passed up the chance of signing him – has achieved what he has through a combination of graft, sweat and perhaps even a few tears along the way in a good old-fashioned rise towards the top.
If the Tigers do make it back to the big time in May, then there will be few more deserving footballers than him.
One thing is for sure, if that feat is secured, the grounded full-back is unlikely to forget those character-defining days which moulded him in the non-league at Bishop Stortford and Sutton United, whom he played for on loan while coming through the ranks at Orient.
On his unconventional footballing route, Greenwich-born Odubajo, speaking ahead of today’s home game with struggling Charlton Athletic, his local team when he was growing up, said: “Playing in non-league taught me a lot and made me grow up a bit quicker than obviously some of the young kids who were in the (Orient) youth set-up at the time.
“The statistics of young professionals nowadays doing that is very, very low. I think a couple through the batch will make it that way. It is what young players need, a little flash of realisation that it is not as pretty as it looks on Sky Sports.
“It gives kids a more physical mind, if that makes sense. When I played with kids my age, I knew I was stronger than them and always knew I could use my strength to get past them. When you are playing against a man, you are going to think: ‘I am going to need to use something else; my brain, to get past him’.”
An innate sense of inner strength was forced upon Odubajo after losing a parent at 13 – a considerable trauma at such a young age.
After initially turning his back on football, he rediscovered his appetite for the game and found opportunity after joining Orient as a trainee – even if another stroke of misfortune threatened his fledging career when he was spoken to by British Transport Police for using his friend’s Oyster card as he did not have the money to pay daily fares to training.
Odubajo said: “The story is actually true. It was a long journey from south-east London to east London daily.
“Obviously, I wasn’t getting paid at the time, so it was a tough period. My mate was there to help and, unfortunately, I got caught using his card. Luckily, everything worked out and I am here today.”
On those difficult days in his formative years before being handed a chance at Orient, he added: “My mum passed away when I was 13. I was on trial to Millwall at 12 and stayed there for about four weeks, but I thought that while everything was going on, it wasn’t for me.
“I took a step back for a bit and because I quite literally lived around the corner from the training ground, I bumped into the coach several months later and explained to him what happened. He took me back in for a trial.
“At that age, you think everyone is against you, as kids are (like). I was at Millwall for six weeks on trial. Everyone would say that after six weeks and they don’t tell you anything, it was a ‘no’. If they wanted to sign me, they would have told me there and then, so I just said to them I wasn’t coming back. I then joined Leyton Orient as a YTS on a scholarship and did two years there.”
After making a name for himself at Orient, Odubajo was one of the star turns in Brentford’s run to the play-offs last term.
Hull called in a £3.5m summer move and with his career on an upward trajectory, he is hoping that all routes now lead to the top-flight next season.
Odubajo and his team-mates helped the Tigers return to second place for the first time since the end of November in Wednesday’s routine 2-0 home win over Cardiff City – and with Charlton arriving today on the back of an embarrassing 5-0 humbling at Huddersfield Town – few are backing against the hosts claiming another three points.
Charlton, the closest club to where Odubajo grew up, arrive in a bit of a mess on and off the pitch.
On it, the Addicks, who reappointed former coach Jose Riga this week, are without a win in 10 games, while off it, angry fans have staged a number of recent protests aimed at club owner Roland Duchatelet and chief executive Katrien Meire.
Despite their predicament, Odubajo – who attended games at The Valley as a youngster – believes that Hull cannot afford the visitors too much sympathy.
He added: “They have always had a good fan-base and the players will be hurting and trying to put things right.
“In this league, anything can happen. It’s the nature of the Championship and we can’t give them any remorse or sympathy. We have just got to win the game.
“They know they have beaten us once before and it will put that in their minds as well. Now everyone here knows what page we are at and wants promotion. To do that, we are going to have to beat these teams, home and away. We have got to be relentless.”