Hereford Times chief reporter Bill Tanner grew up in New Zealand in Wanganui, the same city as James Musa, Hereford United’s latest acquisition, on loan, from Fulham.
Bill has been down to Edgar Street to meet his fellow Kiwi.
AN empty football ground is filled with dreams; James Musa has carried the dreams of every kid taking to the fields where he learned his game across the world to Edgar Street.
And he’s so cold he can’t feel his toes. It’s mid-afternoon with a minus one freeze on, but James is chilled, it breaks the ice.
Just a few days ago, he was waking up to a heat wave back home in Wanganui, New Zealand. Just a few weeks ago he was training with Fulham’s first team and marking Dimitar Berbatov. The Dimitar Berbatov who takes to the field in a T-shirt that says: “Keep calm and pass me the ball.”
Not the sort of stunt you see in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Fulham have loaned James out to Hereford until the end of the month to get him game ready. He’s struck – literally – by the physicality of the game he now finds himself in.
“You’ve got to look after yourself…” says James, letting the sentence trail off to imply exactly what looking after yourself means at this level.
Further up the league ladder, you can tell who plays where and how he says. But lined up in the tunnels of the Conference, the opposition all appear “massive” and up for games that go by at “a hundred miles an hour”.
But those games are just what James wants to get on with. Hereford have moved him out of his centre-half comfort zone and into midfield where he’s started the last three games and finished the full 90 minutes at Grimsby.
Had Saturday’s game with Dartford gone ahead, James would have been up against a fellow Fulham hopeful in goal, the kind of coincidence that has marked him as closely as he’s marked opponents since his own days as a “dreamer” taking to Wembley Park – the home of Wanganui football - and that first under-nine game with the score long since lost to memory, though he’s sure he was subbed.
The football fates even had his Hereford spell cast. Former Hereford ‘keeper Jonathan Gould, son of bona-fide Bulls legend Bobby Gould, came to Wanganui High School as assistant coach at Wellington Phoenix to be convinced of what James could do.
Though freed by the Phoenix, James went on to establish himself in NZ’s regional league set-up as a future international and got his break at the Olympics where Fulham, too, were convinced of what he could do.
At 20, and even so far into his career, James has achieved what a previous generation of Wanganui football fans raised on Brian Moore’s Sunday lunchtime Big League Soccer show and subscriptions to Shoot magazine once thought unimaginable – from pounding pitches at Wembley Park to muscling in on the Premier League their own kids are now steeped in.
A Premier League where Kiwis can fly as high as Ryan Nelsen, unlucky not to have won at least one player-of- the-year award for his performances, free-scoring Chris Wood who has just made a £2m move from West Bromwich Albion to Leicester City, and West Ham United regular Winston Reid, their paths paved by “pioneers” like Danny Hay, Lee Norfolk, and Fulham’s own Simon Elliott.
James wants in on that line-up, Edgar Street’s frozen terraces thaw as they fill with his dreams.