From Bolton Wanderers’ Academy To FA Cup Adventures With Marine AFC – The Footballing Journey Of Josh Hmami

Josh, as a youngster, you were at Bolton Wanderers and you also had a spell with Barnsley. We all like stability and security in life, what impact did change have on you, not only as a footballer, but also as a person, at such a young age?

I played for Bolton Wanderers for seven years from when I was seven until fourteen, and really enjoyed my time there, as it was a big part of my life.

I only did one season with Barnsley, when I was 16, and unfortunately didn’t get offered a scholarship. I made some very good friends in my time there, though, who I still speak to now.

It was a big commitment, finishing school, going home, getting my bag and jumping in the car to go training.

The commitment was not just big for me, but for my parents as well, who also had to work around taking me to football, which I will always be grateful for!

You then moved to Accrington Stanley. How did that happen?

My career at Accrington came about when I signed my scholarship there at sixteen. The person who got me to Bolton, when I was seven years old, ended up being the same one who gave me my scholarship at Accrington!

So, I was really lucky with how it came about and I enjoyed my time there.

You also signed for The New Saints and that was where our footballing paths crossed. What was the story behind your journey into Welsh football?

My agent knew Scott Ruscoe, which was how my move came about to TNS – after my time at Accrington came to an end – and after having a trial there I was offered a professional contract.

I can remember your full debut very well, as I’m sure you do. It was October 2018 against Prestatyn Town in the Welsh Cup. TNS won 5-0 and you scored two. What are your memories and thoughts looking back to that game?

My debut was great, and like you mentioned, scoring two goals it can’t really get much better!

I enjoyed that game a lot, and playing at a young age against men really helped develop me as a player, and I have fond memories looking back at that match.

Football is very transient, and of the other scorers that night, only Draper is still with the club. Kurtis Byrne and Joash Nembhard have since moved on. How do you as a person cope with the reality, that at any club, the game you’ve just played could well be your last?

Of course, you never know when it could be your last game for any club, that’s why it’s always important to give your all in training and in games.

As a footballer you know you can never be comfortable in a team, because as soon as you relax and take your foot off the gas, you can lose your place.

During your time with TNS you had a couple of loan spells (FC United of Manchester and Ramsbottom United). You’re at Marine AFC now. Every footballer wants to play, is it important to do so while ‘belonging’ to a club or is it just a case of being out there on the pitch and that’s all that matters?

As a young player, if you’re not playing with your parent club it is massive, in my opinion, to go out and get game time. Without playing you aren’t going to improve, and that’s the main thing you need, especially as a young player.

My loan at Ramsbottom United is what really kicked me on in my career, as I was playing consistently and experienced a lot in that season, but unfortunately it was cut short due to Covid-19.

How did the move to Marine AFC happen?

The move to Marine came from my time at Ramsbottom, as I played against them in the last game before the season was cancelled.

They knew about me and were tracking me before that, but after that game and when the season ended, I received a telephone call from the manager, Neil Young.

After speaking to him there was no doubt in my mind that this was the right decision for me!

Not only is Adam Hughes (currently on loan from The New Saints) there but also a number of others who have played in Wales. Do you ever talk about your times across the border, or was that then, and this is now?

I talk with Adam a lot at training and games and sometimes me, him and the other lads who used to play in the Welsh Premier League do have conversations about our times there.

Mainly though, when we are together, we are concentrating on Marine, and just enjoying who we play for now.

To put it mildly, things are going very well for both you and the club at the moment! How well are you enjoying your football compared to past sides you’ve played in?

I think this season is one of the best I’ve enjoyed in a while. Firstly, because of the FA Cup run we have gone on and the things we have done as a group, as we have made history.

I’m also enjoying it as I’m playing consistently and enjoying my football because of it. When you’re playing, it’s always more enjoyable as a footballer.

No one gave you a chance when you went to Colchester United. What was it like in Essex, when you secured the victory?

People didn’t think we had a chance against many teams we came up against in this cup run but they wrote us off massively against Colchester.

But I knew, with the quality we have in our squad, we were always going to be able to cause an upset. To get an assist in the game as well, for our goal, made it even more special!

That day was very special for me from an individual perspective too, as it was a massive achievement!

You drew Havant & Waterlooville in the next round. It was always going to be tough but at home did you genuinely fancy your chances?

When we were drawn against Havant & Waterlooville, everybody fancied our chances, even though they are two leagues higher than us.

The confidence we have in this squad, especially after beating Colchester, we believed we could’ve beaten anyone. With it being at home as well, we fancied ourselves even more.

You did win, what was it like watching the draw live, as I’m sure everyone at Marine was doing?

I was watching it with my family at home and when the name Tottenham came out I think everybody just jumped around and couldn’t believe it!

I was shocked but so happy. I couldn’t quite believe it!

Tottenham at home! That’s an exciting game to look forward to. We know that football is about confidence but you also have to be realistic as well. Do you think you can win that one?

Tottenham is always going to be a tough game! If they show up, they could easily put a few past us, but if you don’t believe in yourself, or believe there is a chance in winning, then there is no point in playing.

So, of course, I and all the lads believe we have a chance, especially because we’re at home.

No doubt Spurs will rest some players but nevertheless they won’t take too many chances. What’s it going to be like competing on the same pitch as the likes of Bale and Kane?

It’s what dreams are made of! To play against some of the best in the world is why you play football, so that you can test yourself. You can also learn a lot from playing against those kind of players.

Finally, Josh, I personally know both your mom and dad, and not only are they great people, but I know from your TNS days how dedicated they are to supporting your career. From your early years at Bolton Wanderers to the present, how important have they been to you on a personal level?

My mum and dad have been massive in my career, from taking me to training as a kid, to driving hours on the motorway, to watching me play even now.

I would definitely not be where I am today without them, or the rest of my family, so I hope I can progress in my career and hopefully pay them back in the future!

Josh, thanks for your time. I want to wish you and everyone at Marine all the very best indeed in your upcoming FA Cup round three game.

Thanks a lot, Rev!

Thanks to Richard Cross, the Marine AFC secretary, for granting permission to speak to Josh. Lead image, courtesy of Marine AFC.

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