Back in the game: Putting the "journey" into "journeyman"

Last year, self-confessed journeyman player-turned-coach Iffy Onuora started a FourFourTwo blog about life at Lincoln City... and was promptly sacked. After an aponising spell out of the game, he's back...  

Well well well, just when you thought it was safe, guess who’s turned up to disturb your online fun? Yep, a full 14 months after the Night of the Long Knives at Lincoln, and much in between, it’s now from Africa I bring you the latest dispatch from the frontline, as the Onuora journey takes an unlikely turn... towards Africa.

Iffy's Inside Write, Fri 4 Sep 2009: What it feels like to be sacked

For those of you steadfastly unmoved, now may be a good time to check out the latest offerings from YouTube or to further jeopardise your employment prospects by sharing inane titbits on Twitter and Facebook, but for those whose attention I’ve managed to snare, much thanks and read on, it's been quite a year in Onuora-land...

So my friend(s?), last time we spoke, I was on an enforced navel-gaze with hard labour, contemplating a football-free landscape with grim trepidation. I’d like to say that this lasted only briefly before I was back in work, my wide range of skills being instantly recognised by a grateful employer, humbled by his good fortune at my sudden availability. However, that would be a lie.

The next six months saw me saw me apply for, and get rejected by, a wide range of sympathetic but ultimately coldhearted bast... ahem, potential recruiters. (How about me as a milkman for Dairy Crest in Bath? Not think so? No, they didn’t seem to think so either, as I’m still waiting for my reply.)

Iffy didn't get a round, but he did get around...

This sorry state of affairs continued into this year, and as anyone in a similar position can testify, it was a disheartening time. I grew frustrated and developed an almost irrational anger towards such diverse targets as Jeremy Kyle, the 60-Minute Makeover team (all of them!), the no-win no-fee adverts and Louis “They already look like a pop star” Walsh. Thankfully this was partially offset by my new friends: Judge Judy, the Coach Trip gang and Phil and Kirsty...

I definitely needed to get out more, and was sustained only by a long-promised distance-learning law degree (still going strong-ish) and – in parliamentary parlance – the opportunity to spend more time with my family.

The first visible shaft of light occurred around mid-March. With an irony that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated 10 years ago as I was being sent off for Gillingham at Burnley for hurling a ball at an unfortunate linesman with a terrible sense of positioning, I became a referee’s assessor for the Premier League. I mean, I was no Joey Barton back in the day, but even I relished the delicious scope for schadenfreude as I sat there after games in the sanctuary of the referee’s room, judging them like Simon Cowell.

Disappointingly, I must confess that the experience made me far more respectful of officials and the difficult job they do. Contrary to recent comments made, there IS a league table based on performance – and let me tell you, like any player, fan or coach, they all want to be at the top rather than at the bottom. Even worse than that, I might even consider one or two as friends, though obviously I’ll keep that between just us for now.

At around the same time as my dip into the dark side of the referee’s friend, I obtained my first non-football job in 25 years, since I had spent my teenage years combining studying with working in a student bar in the evening AND lugging around pieces of turf at Bradford's Odsal Stadium, helping to accommodate the twin demands of football and speedway – sorry, petrolheads, but possibly the dullest sport I’ve ever had the misery to watch!

Ods & sods: Iffy's old turf in Bradford

The work was as an advisor for a charity in Bristol, telling people how to get back into employment – I know, the irony just keeps on coming. Combining Match Delegate duties at the weekend with paid employment and studying made it look like things had come full circle, and it was 1989 again!

Then out of seemingly nowhere, came the call from Planet Leftfield. An old agent friend of mine with contacts in African football asked me if I would be interested in working in Ethiopia. I could be, I suggested; I'd settled into my new life, but I was unable to fully close my ears to the call of the ball.

So, heeding my heart more than my head, I threw my first-ever sickie. (Sorry if you’re reading this, you lovely people at Tomorrow’s People in Bristol; REALLY REALLY sorry if it goes belly-up and I need my old job back!) Off I went to meet my agent friend, and a distinguished-looking gentleman of African appearance, who all but offered me the job of Ethiopia manager on the spot, and whom I now call “Boss” or “Mr President”.

This was in mid-June, at the start of the World Cup, and the next two weeks were something of a whirlwind as I went over to Ehtiopian capital Addis Ababa to meet a distinctly hostile press – English hacks, I now salute you. I mused innocently on whatever next could happen... and like a scene from a children’s TV programme, something else happened, almost immediately.

What happened was the thing I had waited 12 months for: an interview, for a manager’s job, in England, in the Football League. And this after verbally agreeing the post of Ethiopian national team coach. Thankfully (in a way), I managed to avoid the dilemma, as the club in question gave the job elsewhere.

So I was left to say my goodbyes to family and friends, and swap the English sunshine for the Ethiopian... rain. You may think of it as being bathed in blindingly bright sub-Saharan sunshine, but Ethiopia experiences tropical monsoon conditions.

If I thought that the inclement weather was a shock, I was in for several more. Having spent time in Nigeria with extended family and Ghana scouting the African Cup of Nations, I wasn’t unfamiliar with how things worked in Africa, but to experience it first-hand and full-time was another matter. Even in the short time I’ve been here, there are stories that could fill a book. For now, I hope to provide a weekly briefing of life in Addis, for my faithful reader(s?).

See you soon!


Ed's note: Welcome back, Iffy. Readers, you won't have to wait a week: tune in tomorrow lunchtime for a slice of life in Ethiopia – oxen and all...