Alfie May interview: '˜I'm living the dream at Doncaster Rovers'
The fact Alfie May made it to Doncaster Rovers in the first place is quite remarkable.
The fact he is thriving following his incredible climb out of non-league is another matter entirely.
Less than three months ago he was playing for Hythe Town in the eighth tier of English football, all while working full time for his brother’s carpentry business.
Fast-forward and the 23-year-old has started the last five games for the League Two leaders and has bagged his first Football League goal.
It was not too long ago that the striker had given up hope of becoming a full time professional.
Now, as he puts it himself, May is living the dream.
Sitting in a cabin at Cantley Park after a morning of training, he is a refreshing interviewee, lacking the polish of media training which many young footballers are put through when attached to clubs.
Such polish often makes for bland responses. May’s are anything but. Honest, open and emotive.
But when someone has the story he has, it would be incredibly difficult to be bland.
He has come a long way from suffering the nightmare of any young footballer – being released by a club.
“I was in Millwall’s Academy from nine up until 14,” he told the Free Press.
“Then I got released, just for size reasons really. It was devastating.
“The Academy director Nicky Milo came up to me and my grandad after a game and said they were not going to extend my deal because of that fact I was a bit too small.
“My cousin was also in the Academy and he is 6ft6. They even said if I had his height it would have been a totally different story.
“You think that it’s a kick in the teeth.
“They said I could come back and train with them for six months but I never wanted to do it.
“I gave football up for a year. I just didn’t want to play.
“I wasn’t in that full time environment where I couldn’t wait to go in to see the boys. It wasn’t like that any more so I just stopped.”
May’s football was then restricted to playing on the park with his mates. But his talent remained and soon he was lured back in, beginning his non-league career.
He said: “My brother’s friend used to manage a Saturday side and he started gradually getting me back into it.
“At 17 and 18 I was playing for my brother’s friend, all my brothers were playing and I was enjoying football again.
“I started doing really well and I won the golden boot in the Kent League.
“I started moving up and around places but kept going back to the old club because it wasn’t working out. I was getting really frustrated.”
Spells in the Conference South with Billericay and Bromley failed to bear fruit for May.
But then came the chance to join Hythe in the Ryman League Division One South.
Joining the Kent side would ultimately change May’s life, putting him on the path to a professional career.
Key to that journey was Hythe manager Clive Cook.
“Clive was unbelievable, he was like a father figure who you could chat to about anything,” May said. “I still speak to him daily.
“Apparently he’d been chasing me since I was 18. When he got the job at Hythe he took me on.
“He got the best out of me because of the way he was. Everybody loved him.
“When I scored my first goal at Doncaster he sent me one of the loveliest messages you’re ever likely to receive from a football manager.
“You can see he really wants it for me.
“Other managers in non-league want it for themselves but he looks out for his players that get him somewhere.
“We got into the play-offs last year and I don’t know how. We were third bottom when I signed and we went on an amazing run.
“It was great but unfortunately we lost 7-0 in the semi-final.”
Goals flew in at an incredible rate for May and by the time he left Hythe on New Year’s Eve, he had netted 49 times in 67 appearances.
This came all while working full time for his brother, getting up at 5.30am every day and returning home at 6.30pm with his routine not changing even when Hythe had a midweek game, home or away.
With form good and being part of a nurturing environment, he admits he was content with his lot in football terms and had accepted a future as a non-league player.
One person that had not accepted that future for May was manager Cook.
“He would ring me daily and say ‘trust me you’re going to get this contract,” May said.
“I would say, ‘yeah but when, time is running out. You know how much I want it.’
“He’d just say keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll score goals and get your chance.
“Literally he promised me and it happened. It’s unbelievable.”
May’s chance began to present itself earlier this season. And it came in the form of trials, first with Stevenage and then Rovers.
He spent a week at Cantley Park in November and clearly impressed.
It was a week that made a major impression on May himself, reigniting his dream of a pro career, something which made the days following his trial agonising as he awaited a verdict.
He said: “I just wanted that phonecall to say they wanted me.
“It was how much I enjoyed it, how much I enjoyed working with the gaffer.
“My brother would tell you what I was like. We were working on the building site and I can honestly say for two weeks I did not do anything.
“I just sat there with my phone, waiting for the call.
“My brother would moan at me every day. I’d run all the jobs and property for him and he had the site managers commenting that I was good but that I didn’t do a lot.
“I got a call from my agent after a couple of weeks saying he thought a deal would be done.
“Then I got a call a couple of days later from Clive.
“All he said was ‘what did I tell you?’
“It got a bit emotional between me and him. He wanted me to go and live my dream, he’d said that from day one.”
It was a life-changing phone call. One that meant he would have to leave behind all that he knew to move up north.
“My brother got upset when I left,” May said. “He didn’t want me to leave but he was happy.
“We actually lived together for a couple of months. He’d be the best man at my wedding, he’s one of my best mates.
“He didn’t want me to go but just for reasons that he was going to miss me.
“He’s all right now. He comes up to watch.”
Despite agreeing to join Rovers, he still had several weeks to wait for the opening of the January transfer window. More agonising waiting time.
May continued to feature for Hythe and played his final game the day before his switch to South Yorkshire was confirmed, receiving a rapturous response when he was brought off after an hour.
After bidding his goodbyes, he immediately travelled north.
“Everyone was saying I’d not be going out on New Year’s Eve but I didn’t care,” he said. “I travelled up on New Year’s Eve and sat in the hotel.
“I didn’t want to go out. I just couldn’t wait to get started here.
“It might sound busy but for someone that wants it so much, to live in this environment, be a pro footballer, for my dreams to come true.
“The first week I was up here I was sitting in the hotel thinking it was all a bit different, away from friends and family and wondering if I’d get on well with the lads.
“Now I don’t mind not going home because I’ve made real friends up here who I see daily.
“I go out after training with a couple of the lads, Harry Middleton, Joe Pugh, Will Longbottom.
“I’m close with Ian Lawlor and Conor Grant from being in the hotel.
“I’ve made good mates up here. The lads have been brilliant welcoming me in.”
Regrets are few for May but one is that his grandad never got to see him make his professional debut before his death.
But he says one particular connection to Doncaster made his move all the more special.
“I think my grandad is looking down on me,” May said. “I think he’s done all this for me.
“He was a hero to me. He took me to every single game when I was in at Millwall.
“I wish he was here today to see me.
“He was a big Manchester United fan and he loved Sir Alex Ferguson, so for me to be working for Darren Ferguson, my mum says would have been his dream.”
May walked into Rovers on January 1. On January 2, before he even had time to comprehend his new situation, he was named on the bench for the clash with Stevenage.
Less than a fortnight later came his first appearance, a cameo turn off the bench in the 3-1 win at Barnet.
He said: “When the manager called me over, I started to get a bit nervous.
“I quickly realised I’d got to get my head down, work hard and do my thing.
“I didn’t think I was going to be involved straight away when I came in. I thought I would have to work hard to prove to the manager that I could play in this league.
“They’d only seen me in training and then we had a game with Scunthorpe and I scored.
“You just want to work hard and be involved with the squad.
“I didn’t think I was going to be. I thought it’d be a couple of months to even get into a squad.
“And I definitely didn’t think I would be starting.
“Now I’ve made a few starts, it’s the dream.”
On his third substitute appearance, in a vital clash with promotion rivals Luton Town, May scored to earn a 1-1 draw and go a long way towards securing his first league start a week later.
“I was glad to get that first goal out of the way and hopefully I can grab some more now,” he said.
“I got shivers running through my body when I scored and it was a great point for us in the end.”
That goal solidified the strong early impression May had made.
An all-action striker, he is a terrier that can seemingly run all game, bothering opposition defenders with his energy.
And the manner in which he took his maiden strike backed up the assertions of his new boss that he had a quality touch inside the box.
But there is no way he will allow himself to think he has made it yet. This is the start of a long journey of proving himself worthy of a place in the Football League.
“I could score in the next ten games or I could go on a run where I don’t get any,” he said.
“You can never tell until you’ve actually done something.
“I said to one of the boys the other day, I’m nothing.
“I’m still nothing.
“I might be here but I’ve still got a lot to learn and to show people how much I want it.
“I want to get goals and progress.
“That is everyone’s dream.”