Aged 16, Udoka Godwin-Malife took his first step towards achieving his dream of becoming a professional footballer – not that he knew it at the time.
Born and raised in Oxford, the centre half had no career plans when finishing his GCSE exams and was content on living a regular lifestyle a stone’s throw away from his local football club Oxford City FC.
But in the summer of 2016, Udoka made a decision that would change his life forever and ultimately shape his future career.
That decision was to enrol into Oxford City FC’s education programme – now known as Velocity Football. It provided the defender with the training, guidance, support, and development he needed to flourish.
After developing technically and physically throughout the two-year education programme, Udoka graduated into the Oxford City first team while he was studying. His performances attracted attention and he secured his break into professional football in January 2019 when Forest Green Rovers signed him on a two-and-a-half-year contract for an undisclosed fee.
Udoka’s journey in professional football may only just be starting. But it is an inspiring story of how important a supportive pathway is to become a professional. We caught up with our former student to talk about his experiences of Oxford City’s football education programme, how it helped him develop and what advice he would pass on to current students.
Udoka’s journey into football started at Littlemore FC and the local Sunday League setup.
His link with Oxford City first developed when he represented the club on Saturdays in the Junior Premier League. Despite this, a career in football during his early years was never on his mind.
“I never took football seriously in my younger years,” said Udoka. “Football for me was all about having fun, I never viewed it as something I could make a career out of when I was older.
“Even when I left secondary school, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. What I did know was that I loved football, and that’s where I put two and two together and enrolled into Oxford City’s education programme through my previous link with the club.”
Enrolling with Oxford City
Upon leaving school aged 16, Udoka joined Oxford City’s full-time football education programme.
At Velocity Football our two-year BTEC programme, Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) extensions provide young people with an opportunity to develop their football skills while working towards qualifications that can set them up for a career in sport. The courses, provided by education partners Virtual Learning UK, are open to male and female students aged 16 to 23 and are Government funded.
“The programme ticked a lot of boxes for me,” said Udoka. “Like a lot of my classmates, I was open to anything at the start of the course. Sport was my passion and I wanted to explore the different employment opportunities available – Oxford City’s education programme allowed me to do that.
“But as time progressed my coaches and tutors made it clear that I had a great opportunity to make it as a professional. I couldn’t quite grasp it at the time, even when I was playing for Oxford City’s first team in my second year on the programme.”
Based at Oxford City Football Club in Marston, Velocity Football provides its students with outstanding facilities including two 3G training pitches, a mini gym, classrooms, changing rooms, on-site tailored catering and social areas.
An expert team of UEFA A and B licence coaches help each student to reach their full potential on and off the pitch too. For Udoka, it was the facilities provided by Oxford City FC that helped him develop his game.
He added: “The facilities provided are excellent, they made football really enjoyable for me. Not a day would pass where we missed training because the playing surface is appropriate for all weathers.
“I’m a centre-half, but I like to pop the ball around and I feel the 3G surface allowed me to showcase my talents.
“I’m still in touch with people from the club and know they have improved the programme even more since I graduated. Current students should feel very lucky to be learning in such a great environment.”
Expert coaches and guidance
During his education at Oxford City, Udoka worked closely with former Hoops and Oxford United player Scott Davies.
Providing students with a first-team player to learn from is a valuable part of the Velocity programme with Josh Ashby teaching our current students as part of their daily training sessions.
“Scott (Davies) was like a mentor to me,” said Udoka. “He was playing in the first-team but coached me and my classmates every single day.
“Working with Scott made it click in my head that I had a real opportunity to reach my full potential. Mark Jones, former City manager, was a big part of that process too and he handed me opportunities in the first-team that was facilitated through the programme.”
Advice to current students
So, what would Udoka’s message be to current Velocity Football students that are perhaps aspiring towards a career in sport?
“Velocity Football is a fantastic programme, you meet new people and develop friends for life while training and establishing a solid education,” he said. “Not everyone on the programme wants to be a professional footballer, but if you do have that dream and you’re on the course then you’re in a good place.
“The setup mirrors a professional environment with outstanding facilities and a great team of coaching staff. I would say for a young person that isn’t part of an academy and wants to be a footballer when they are older, Velocity Football is one of the best places in the UK to be.”
Becoming a professional footballer
Four years on from his first day as a student within the Oxford City education programme, Udoka is a key player in Mark Cooper’s Forest Green Rovers squad that is aiming for promotion into League One.
The 20-year-old plays as a right-side centre back alongside Baily Cargill and Chris Stokes and has made 27 appearances for the club so far this season.
He said: “I learnt so much at Oxford City through my experiences with the first-team and the valuable education programme, which has helped me get to grips with becoming a professional footballer.
“For me that was so important. I achieved my dream, but I didn’t have time to reflect on the past – I had to adapt quickly and put the work in. I’m in my third season at Forest Green now and I am delighted with my decision to join.
“I still follow Oxford City, though. I’m checking results all the time and wishing them well – it’s where it all started for me.”
Velocity Football director Justin Merritt said: “We follow Udoka’s progress and are so pleased he has established himself as a first team regular for Forest Green Rovers. He is a great example of what is achievable and how strong our development pathway is. I hope his journey inspires our current students to aim as high as they can and we look forward to watching Udoka continue to flourish.
“Velocity Football is a great platform for young people aspiring to become a professional footballer. But we also teach all students other aspects of the employment sectors within sport, such as performance analysis, sports psychology, coaching and the importance of nutrition.”
If reading Udoka’s story has inspired you to enrol with Velocity Football, why not consider applying for one of our programmes starting September 2021?
We are currently recruiting students for our two-year Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport and one-year Level 2 BTEC First Extended Certificate in Sport programmes.
The programmes are open to anyone with four GCSEs or more and provide students with real-life experiences across various sectors in sport through our strong community partnerships.
To learn more, you can sign up for Velocity Football’s latest virtual open event on Wednesday January 20th at 7pm, via: www.velocityfootball.co.uk.