Recently The Elastico had the chance to catch up with another footballer who has enjoyed many different experiences in his short time as a professional. Donovan Simmonds, 23, now of Dover Athletic, has played Scottish Premier League football with Kilmarnock, Maltese football with Floriana and more recently for several clubs in the football league. Here, Donovan talks to The Elastico about some of his experiences.
Nicky Forster has taken over as manager of Dover recently, how is the season going under the new management? How have things changed?
When he first came, everybody had a point to prove. I did too, because of the quality of strikers we have in the team. It was good to have a fresh start when he came and we started off very well and went unbeaten for about seven games. But, after the FA Cup defeat to Bath City, it has kind of gone downhill and we have lost our last three games. We can’t win every game, but now it’s how we pick ourselves up that’s important. Since he has come though, it has been good and there is a lot of competition.
Dover are still in the top half of the table, what are the ambitions for the season?
Our ambition, like every team is to win the league. But, obviously now we are just inside the top-half and we are looking to fight for the play-offs. I think we are good enough to win the league, but we have lost some silly games. As a team, our main ambition is to get in the play-offs.
You started your career at Charlton and moved to Coventry before making your professional debut. Why do you think things didn’t work out for you at Coventry?
I was at Charlton from nine years old until the age of 18 and I left school early when I was 16 to be a first-team player at Charlton. From the age of 16, I was playing a lot of reserve team football and with changes of managers they just said to me, “You need to be playing regular football and we are not going to give you a professional contract.” When I left, my previous Manager Iain Dowie was at Coventry and he said, “I think your a good player, I want you to come down and if you like it, I want to sign you.” I kept that in mind, but also I went for exit trials and had 23 teams after me, including three Premier League teams, with the rest from the Championship and a couple from abroad. But, because I had a good relationship with Iain Dowie, I decided to go to Coventry. I went to Coventry and played in the reserve-team, finishing as top-scorer in the first-season and in the last three months, I went on loan to Gillingham. In my second season, Iain Dowie got sacked and Chris Coleman came in. Pre-season we went to Austria and Switzerland, before another camp in Scotland and while there, I got asked to play for Kilmarnock against QPR. I played forty-five minutes, did well and signed a loan deal for six months. After my six months, I had done well so they asked me to stay for the whole season, but I was playing on a double hernia.
After your spell at Kilmarnock in the SPL, you ended up at Greenock Morton. Did you enjoy your two spells in Scotland?
I didn’t want to leave Kilmarnock and they offered me a contract, but I turned it down due to wrong advice from someone who was representing me at the time. You trust these people, but as a young boy I didn’t understand the ins-and-outs of football. I went to Malta to get fit and when I was there, I really wanted to return to Scotland. I tried to go back to Kilmarnock, but didn’t hear anything back, so I went to Greenock Morton in the league below. It was ok. I was just trying to find my feet again, because I didn’t play much football out in Malta. I was just trying to enjoy playing football again! But, I wasn’t there long, only two or three months. The manager got sacked and they released a number of players. I then came back to England and I thought to myself, I need to stay in England and concentrate on getting myself back to the top again.
Does the rise of the likes of Steve Morison at Norwich and DJ Campbell inspire you, in the way they have come from non-league football so quickly to the top of the game?
Yeah, definitely. It just shows that anything is possible. I know a few boys who have come from non-league football, back into league football and some into the Premiership and Championship. It is possible, but it is all about having the right attitude.
You have just turned twenty-three, what are your personal ambitions for the future?
When I had contracts on the table at Coventry, Charlton and Kilmarnock, I thought I would always have a team. I never thought I would be in this position. I know the mistakes I have made in the past and that I didn’t really take it seriously. I didn’t appreciate the good things I had back then. But now, dropping down a few leagues, you realise where you want to be. I am concentrating on this league now, because I am here for a reason, I don’t dwell on the past and where I have been. Now, my targets are to do well at Dover and win the league. By doing that, I can get a move to another team. I am not looking to go anywhere, but I would like to go back to full-time football. I would like to be playing back in the Championship or Premiership. I am twenty-three and a lot of things have happened, but I am glad I have realised now, rather than when I am twenty-eight and it is too late. I made a lot of mistakes in the past and now I am just working hard to get back to where I feel I belong. To do that you have to concentrate on where you are and put in the hard work.
If an offer were to come in for a move back to Scotland or wherever, would you consider it? Would you consider a move abroad once more?
If it was necessary, yes. I have a family and it is about supporting them. I play football because I love playing the game and for the last two years, I have shown myself how much I really do enjoy playing. If the right move is there, it would be nice to go back into full-time football. But, in the meantime, I am concentrating right here at Dover. So, whatever happens off the pitch with agents, scouts etc., I let them deal with it and I just do the best I can for the club I am at right now. So, I try not to think about if I can go here and there, because I am where I am and I have a job to do.
You have been at Dover for a year now, yet before that you moved around a few clubs in a twelve to eighteen month period, what was going on during that time?
I was trying to find someone who wouldn’t see me as the old Donovan and would see me as the new Donovan. In the past, I let myself down and I wasn’t being the professional or role-model that I should have been. I was just waiting for someone to give me the opportunity on the pitch to show them that I am a changed man off the pitch also. I went to Rushden & Diamonds on a three month deal and it was good to be back in full-time football, but there were too many strikers. As you see now, there is no more Rushden & Diamonds. After a month, the Manager said, “There are too many strikers, I would like you to leave. You are not a bad player, but everybody is fit now.” It was disappointing, but I knew I could prove a point to people and prove people wrong. I then went to Nuneaton, scored twelve goals and got four man-of-the-match awards in two months. But, then I found out I was having a baby and felt I needed to be closer to home, so I moved back down to London and the then Dover Athletic manager Martin Hayes called me to ask me to come here.
Dover have several decent striking options. Was it a challenge to get into the side on arrival?
It is always good to have competition, it keeps you on your toes. When I first arrived as a fresh player, I brought something new to the team. Maybe, something they were missing, or maybe just a boost to morale. There is always competition in football, you always have to fight to get in front of someone else. You just have to concentrate on your own goals and ambitions, making sure your work-rate is high. Obviously, you want to do well every game and score every game. But, you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. Every game, you just need to try to play well, you can’t score every game.
James Walker and Nathan Ashton are both now at Dover, having played at higher levels and come through with you at Charlton. Is it nice to play with them again?
Me and James came through together at Charlton and played together for years. We both went our own way and it is good to re-unite again. We both worked together before and we can both work-off each others movement during a game. It’s a good thing that he has come to Dover. Nathan has a good attitude. He isn’t playing regularly at the moment, but he is doing extra work off the pitch so when he gets the opportunity, I am sure he will take it. A lot of players in our team have played higher leagues and everybody wants to get back to where they feel they belong. The only way to do that is by working hard. It is great to play with Nathan again, because I remember when I was young at Charlton, I used to watch him play and now, we are playing together.
If you could plan out a dream future, what would happen?
I would love to see Dover get promotion to the Conference Premiership as this is a club that is going places and they deserve it. One day, hopefully, I will get to play for the one club I truly support and that is Arsenal. I believe that you can never say never and if you put the work in you can achieve anything you want. I will be playing with Arsenal one day, it will happen!