Throughout the season, we'll be catching up with our young Gunners to find out more about their route to our academy. This week, Romari Forde gives us the lowdown on his footballing family, how he arrived at his boyhood club and how he's enjoying building relationships with some of our first-team stars.
I’ve been in the world of football since birth. My dad, Fabian Forde, was a professional footballer for Watford and my brother, Shaqai, plays for Watford now. I’ve loved the game ever since I was able to get my feet on a ball. I started playing in my garden and then one of my father’s friends had a club that I would go to when I was around three or four. Football is my happy place.
I grew up in Watford and I am a huge Arsenal fan. When I was younger, I loved watching Thierry Henry clips. He made football look so enjoyable, the way he’d take defenders on, finish, and celebrate, he was too cool with it.
I loved Santi Cazorla too. He was so technically gifted on the ball and he was great with both feet – a magician. But right now I’d say my favourite player is Kylian Mbappe. He’s a generational talent and the things he has been able to accomplish at such a young age are mind-blowing. He’s definitely one of the best players in the world.
The first team I ever played for was Watford Town FC and I was there for just two years from under-6s to under-8s. After that, I moved on to Croxley Guild FC, and at the time you were allowed to play for an academy and a Sunday League team so I was playing some matches for Watford and some for Croxley Guild.
It was only when I got to under-9s that I signed up for Watford’s academy officially. When I joined Watford I was happy, but at the time I didn’t think about it too deeply as I was still at the age where you’re just playing to enjoy your football. Even though my father had played in the past, I never felt the pressure to follow in his footsteps – it was simply to just play with a smile on my face. But then, as you grow up and are around it more, you begin to understand how serious it is and the demands that it takes to play at the academy level.
I haven’t always been just a forward player, I’ve actually been a player who can play multiple positions such as midfield and defence. It was only when I got to under-12s that I established myself as a forward but if the team needed someone to do a job in a different position I was more than capable. There was even a time I played in goal for Watford and funnily enough, it was against Arsenal. We lost the game, unfortunately, but I tried my best!
"As soon as I heard Arsenal were calling it was an easy decision, given that I supported them"
Arsenal had been interested in me for some time as I had played well against them in the past. At the end of the under-15s season, I was thinking of leaving Watford as I was eager for a new challenge. There were a couple of other teams interested but as soon as I heard Arsenal were calling it was an easy decision, given that I supported them, it’s close to home, and the history of the club.
When I arrived at Hale End I was a little nervous because I don’t think anyone was expecting me, but on the day everyone was welcoming. It was made easier given that I already knew Seb Ferdinand, Omari Benjamin and Alexei Rojas from either playing against them or playing with them for the county team. A standout moment from the Hale End days was playing against Tottenham in the north London derby and we won 1-0. It’s always great to win such a huge game.
When I got my scholarship I was very, very grateful because I had a lot of injuries during my time at Hale End, but I thank the club and the coaching staff for continuing to believe in me. Getting my scholarship and then moving to London Colney is a huge step because it’s the facility where the first-team train and you see them on a day-to-day basis. The intensity is a lot higher and the tempo is crazy! Furthermore, it’s a step closer to the first-team so more is naturally demanded from you.
At Colney everyone is so welcoming and it’s a special family feel - everyone just wants each other to succeed. The men’s first-team players have also been really encouraging to all of us when we’re there by saying hello and creating conversation with us. Given that I’m an attacker, I’ve mainly built solid relationships with Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Gabi Martinelli and Gabby Jesus.
To train with professionals like these you learn a lot about your game and it’s just the little things that help me to improve. It’s a real privilege to share the pitch with these guys when we get to train with the men.
"My targets for the rest of the season are just to get back on the pitch and improve myself in all areas of my game"
Given that I’ve missed a lot of time with injuries it has been frustrating a lot of the time, but when I speak to Jack Wilshere who also had injury frustration at points in his career, he has helped me a lot. He encourages me to remain patient and that gives me hope when I am fit and firing that I can play a good amount of games. It’s hard when you can’t train with your friends or when you’re alone in the gym but it’s only going to build me into a stronger man.
My targets for the rest of the season are just to get back on the pitch and improve myself in all areas of my game because I know I can become a great player if I put my all into it. My long-term goal is to try to stay injury-free too. I’ve missed a lot of football and time on the pitch due to it and I pray that I am able to play as many games as possible.
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