FROM NON LEAGUE TO EUROPA LEAGUE – Hakeem Araba

A number of stars have gone from playing Non League football to scoring in the Premier League in recent years.

I speak to Falkenbergs’ Hakeem Araba about his journey from Boston United to Europa League football against BSC Young Boys.

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Hakeem Araba

Hakeem Araba is an English/Nigerian footballer who has made the journey from Non-League to one of Europe’s big leagues.

The striker currently plays for Falkenbergs FF in Sweden’s top division.  Things haven’t always been the glitz and glamour of European football for Araba.

The talented powerhouse started his career at Peterborough United where he was sent on loan to Boston United.

Following his spell with The Pilgrims, Araba joined Dagenham and Redbridge in 2008. During his time with the Daggers, the forward was loaned out to Thurrock FC and Redbridge.

After a number of spells with Non-League sides including Bromley and Whitehawk, Araba made a decision which would change his career. The forward moved away from England in 2013 and hasn’t looked back since.

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Hakeem Araba

The powerful striker has a commanding presence on the pitch with great aerial ability in both boxes. He has made himself the focal point for attacks in the teams that he has played for. Alongside Araba’s power and pace comes the mobility needed in an all-round modern day number nine striker. – hakeemaraba.com

The former Peterborough youth graduate has played for AEK Kouklia, Ermis Aradippou FC and Panthrakikos FC as well as his current side Falkenbergs FF.

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You started your career with Peterborough United where you were loaned to Boston United. How did you find your time with the Pilgrims?

I enjoyed my time with the Pilgrims, it was a learning experience playing with and against men. I managed to score on my debut in a friendly and made my debut in the league away at Workington. I was gutted because the loan deal was cut short when I injured my knee in a friendly. Darren Ferguson and Tommy Taylor, who was manager of the Pilgrims, were contacting each other about my development because I was close to earning a professional contract at Peterborough United.

As a young forward you were shipped out on loan twice –  to Thurrock and Redbridge. How have loan deals helped you develop as a player?

The loan deals during that season helped me develop a lot. When I first went to Thurrock it was a shock because players were fighting for their lives and three points were on the line. When you play youth team football it’s more about development than the points and yeah I did get a lot of smacks and elbows as an introduction to men’s football.

I remember when it first got put out that I was going from the Daggers on loan to Thurrock. I played against Eastleigh in my first game and the defender Ashley Vickers gave me the hardest elbow I’ve ever felt and he kept headbutting me all game, but after this I didn’t play so much and I was in and out of the team. Then I went on loan to Redbridge and absolutely loved it, that’s where I got the hunger for scoring and the feel of men’s football.

In 2010 you joined Bishop’s Stortford. Did you feel this was the best move for your career?

I signed for Bishop Stortford after I was out for 14 months injured with my knee, but I was severely lacking match fitness and needed time to go somewhere and play a season to get my rhythm going again.

You made over 40 appearances for Bromley. What can you remember from your time with The Ravens?

The first thing that comes to mind was when we played in the FA Cup First Round against Dartford, it was our local derby. It was good for me as I scored 17 goals that season and really enjoyed it with the fans.

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Hakeem Araba vs Crystal Palace

After a brief spell with East Thurrock United you joined Whitehawk in 2012. What do you remember from Non League?

My time at East Thurrock was lovely, and my time at Whitehawk was okay but being from East London it was long travelling distances for me to get there three times a week but I went there to win trophies and achieve something but that didn’t work out. 

In 2013 you signed for AEK Kouklia in Cyprus. How did this deal come around?

The deal came about when I went on a holiday to see my best friend and his uncle was the manager of a team. He wanted to see me play and I told him I wasn’t interested but I ended up just training for a week. It turned out he wanted to sign me, so that’s how it happened. He saw potential in me that many people couldn’t see and I’m grateful to him and my best friend for that.

During your time with Emris Aradippou you featured in a UEFA Europa League qualifier against BSC Young Boys. How proud were you to play in one of Europe’s biggest competitions?

Playing in the Europa League is the proudest moment in my football career. When they called me to come on and even when I was waiting I had goose bumps. I was day dreaming, I had to slap myself when I was on the pitch to remind myself that I need to play and not be too absorbed in the moment, but that was a crazy experience.

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Hakeem Araba, a model number nine (left)

How different was the Europa League atmosphere compared to league football in Cyprus?

You can’t compare that, we played at Young Boys’ stadium in Switzerland and it was an electric atmosphere, there was so much hype before the game and the players they had on display were good as well.

In 2014 you joined Panthrakikos. What made you make the switch to the Greek Superleague?

I couldn’t say no to that opportunity when I first heard the interest. A chance to play in a better league and with better players is all I wanted.

 How different are all of the leagues you have played in?

 They all have their own differences. Playing in Cyprus was slower but very technical, Greece was a bit faster than Cyprus but again more technical. England is of fast tempo and more aggressive, which is similar to Sweden.

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Hakeem Araba’s famous celebration.

Which club showed the highest quality of football?

I think in Greece the players I played and trained with were amazing, they were players with international experience and played for big clubs around Europe.

You are currently playing for Falkenberg in the Swedish Allsvenskan. How are you finding your time with FFF?

My time at Falkenbergs FF is really good, I like the staff, fans and the town. It’s a pleasure playing for the club. Helping achieve a high status in the Allsvenskan last year was amazing and I hope we all push on and better the result we achieved last season.

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Hakeem Araba

 Who is the best player you have played against in your career?

I think Ibrahim Afellay was amazing. I swapped shirts with him after a match I played against him. Dickson Etuhu is one of the strongest players I’ve played against.

You are only 25 years old. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

I’m 25, I hope with the help of God to be able to carry on playing football because I am living my dream job as a kid.

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Hakeem Araba has worked his way up from Non-League football.

 

Proof read by: Alan Johnson, Adam Keal and Alex Crowther.

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