Sirdic Grant has been here before. Top of the league, historic cup success and facing the boot in a few months. It’s as emphatic and simple as that.
He did it all with Hereford FC in a 2015-16 season that included a championship triumph and a Wembley appearance in front of 46,000. Now he is on a similar journey with Westfields, a club submerged even deeper in the backwaters of English football and, intriguingly, just down the road.
So what is a boy from Accra, Ghana, doing on this unusual odyssey and why the certainty of having to say another sad goodbye in May if he becomes a title winner for the second year running?
The answers are wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape. This unfailingly polite 20-year-old is a sports business management degree student at Hartpury College, 30 miles away in Gloucester, and, under the terms of his work permit, barred from playing higher than the fifth tier of the country’s non-league pyramid. That’s eight levels below the Premier League.
Hereford won the Midland Premier League in 2016 and Grant, whose late-season goals included one as they thrashed Coventry Sphinx 4-0 to become champions, was reluctantly cast aside after appearing in the FA Vase final defeat against Morpeth – a sort of amateur clubs’ FA Cup which commands a Wembley final.
It’s barely 300 yards through the trees from Hereford’s Edgar Street home to Westfields’ allpay.park Stadium – a much humbler base overlooked behind one goal by the giant vats of a cider factory. So, amid interest from similar-sized clubs, it was predictable that the tricky winger, who doesn’t sample the local ‘nectar’ or any other tipple for that matter, moved in with the neighbors last July.
The winning feeling remained. His new club started with 17 successive victories and have strong title aspirations if they can cope with the fixture backlog caused by reaching round one of the FA Cup for the first time. And that could be the cue for him to decamp again.
“It is an unusual situation,” he smiles, recognizing the irony of, in effect, being too successful. “I will have to find a club who won’t get promoted! It’s frustrating but that’s how it is.”
“I just love playing and to enjoy those great times with Hereford and now be part of Westfields’ tremendous season has been so exciting. I have had an unbelievable first year at this level.”
Typically for someone more used to the heat and dusty pitches of Ghana’s capital city, Sirdic (pronounced Se-deek) has struggled with the cold and rain.
‘Shy’ is one word that comes to mind from initial phone contact. He is quietly spoken and acknowledges that his accent is difficult to pick up for the folk 15 miles or so from the Welsh border, where the immigrant population is by no means sizeable.
But his girlfriend Livi, a Hereford-supporting childcare worker, who has now also bought a season ticket at Westfields, heads the support network. She and his Hartpury and Westfields colleague Anderson Ongono provide the ‘wheels’ as Grant doesn’t drive and reveal how he is sometimes late emerging from the dressing room after games because he treats team-mates to some dance moves and singing.
“No singing today,” Grant smiles as we meet for the first time. We are pitch-side, 10 minutes after the final whistle at the 1-1 home Cup draw with Curzon Ashton that is off the scale as the biggest match in Westfields’ 50-year history. The BBC cameras are in attendance, partly to present from the ground the flagship Football Focus program.
No longer does the connection between this lovely cathedral city and the FA Cup finish with Hereford’s Ronnie Radford, a wonder goal against Newcastle United on a mudbath pitch and a sharp rise in commentator John Motson’s voice. But, today, Bonfire Night afternoon, the player is adamant: “I only sing when we have won.”
‘Sid’ is a product of the Ghana-born Right to Dream (RTD) Academy, which now has countless dots on the world map. He was very close to Abdul Majeed Waris, a forward the country took to the 2014 World Cup and is with Lorient in France. Another RTD and Hartpury graduate, David Accam, also a full international, plays for Chicago Fire.
The academy, which has reached out to talented youngsters elsewhere in West Africa, has a tie-up with Manchester City and Grant was thrilled to be whisked there in 2011 and introduced to one of Accra’s finest exports, Michael Essien. The midfielder is one reason he supports Chelsea – he has even played there in a charity game.
Sirdic found things tougher back home but not as tough as they might have been. He has one brother and one sister, his retired father having worked as a personal assistant in the Ghana Supply Company.
“We always had a meal on the table but you had to find a way of affording boots,” he says. “England has a better standard of living and football, with more privileges. I would probably have been at university and playing in the second or third division of the national league if I’d stayed in Ghana. There isn’t enough spent on football for youngsters there.”
Westfields, for whom Grant scored an early-season hat-trick against Highgate, were averaging crowds of 155 before 1,178 flocked to the Cup game. Hereford routinely pull in two to three times that latter number.
Sirdic will complete his second year of his degree course before considering a break in order to follow the path of his former Hereford team-mate, Mustapha Bundu from Sierra Leone, who is now playing in Denmark.
“I want to play as high as I can,” he adds. “The aim would be the Premier League but getting a team in Europe, maybe Scandinavia, would be a step. The work permit situation might be easier then.”
Westfields’ replay at Curzon was their eighth FA Cup game of the season. Manchester United played seven in winning the 2015-16 competition.
Westfields lost the replay 3-1 on November 14. An injury meant Grant didn’t even make the bench. That’s how cruel the FA Cup can be.