George Elokobi: Wolves hero on the tragedy which inspired his journey from non-league to the Premier League

12 Jun

From humble beginnings in Cameroon to the riches of the Premier League – George Elokobi isn’t your average footballer.

Unlike many, he didn’t come through an elite club’s academy. But then again, his sole focus was never to be a professional footballer.

Instead, his story revolves around a mixture of tragedy and hard work.

George Elokobi celebrates scoring for Wolves against Sunderland
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As a ten-year-old, Elokobi had only just started to come to terms with the death of his father when to compound matters, he then lost his grandad and his uncle. The main male role models in his life were gone in the space of a cruel ten months.

Such tragedy meant a young Elokobi had to grow up quickly on the streets of Cameroon, with his mum moving to London to further her studies in a bid to support her son.

After completing his GCSEs, Elokobi reunited with his mum when he joined her in Brixton at the age of 16, but the former Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-back was terrified by the scenes that greeted him.

Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, he said: “I lost my dad when I was ten and at the same time, I lost my grandad and uncle in 1996 in the space of nine months. All the male role models in my life were taken away from me. I had to become a man when I was 10 and 11.

“What I always had was hope. I knew better things would come. It was fortunate that my mum travelled to London to further her studies. While I was back in Cameroon, I carried on going to school and once I passed my GCSEs, my mum was able to support us financially.

“It was terrifying coming into a new country, a new environment and having no friends. The first six months, I felt like a real stranger but at the same time, I had the guidance of my mum so I kept my head down and didn’t look too far ahead. I didn’t have any friends.

“It was a terrifying introduction to the UK especially in London. I was living in Brixton in 2002 and some of the things I saw – crime and gangs – a lot of that was terrifying for a kid that had come from Africa. I was humble, I kept my head down, I wasn’t peer pressured by anyone and I just went to school, came back and slowly, I got into the system. What I have achieved so far is an amazing achievement.”

Elokobi joined Colchester in 2004 and spent three and a half years with the club
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Like many growing up, the centre-back was obsessed by the beautiful game as a youngster.

But if his parents had their way, the 33-year-old would never have kicked a ball in the first place.

“If anyone knows my parents, when my dad was alive, he never wanted me to kick a ball,” Elokobi explained.

“I was a stubborn kid who wanted to play football back in Cameroon and it was the same with my mum when I came over here. When I came over the first thing was that you must study. She said, ‘I don’t want to hear anything about you playing football’, and it got to a point where her colleagues had to convince her to let me play.

“She wouldn’t sign the forms when the journey started because she wanted me to study. I respected that and I never disrespected my mum, so I carried on studying and playing in the parks.

“Eventually, I was given the green light to join a Sunday league team and that was how the journey started. I knew I was never going to be a professional footballer, as I wasn’t going to be allowed to, but it’s amazing how things click. Before I knew it, within a year and a half of being in the country, I was being scouted by Dulwich Hamlet and that’s how the journey all started.”

George Elokobi, in action for Colchester United, beats Peterborough star Aaron McLean to the ball
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Since that moment, Elokobi has never looked back.

He was picked up by Colchester United after impressing in Non-League football for Dulwich Hamlet and four years later, he moved to the Black Country when he was snapped up by Wolves.

It was at Molineux where Elokobi become a cult hero, with his dedicated and all-action performances endearing him to supporters.

He won both the League One and Championship titles during six years with Wolves and also helped the club establish themselves in the Premier League in their first season back in the top-flight.

George Elokobi is challenged by Aaron Ramsey in the Championship
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A year later, the 33-year-old centre-back cemented his cult hero status when he scored in Wolves’ famous 2-1 win over Manchester United at Molineux, before scoring the third in a 3-1 away victory over Sunderland in April 2011 to put Mick McCarthy’s men well on course for survival.

It’s clear to see how highly thought of the centre-back is by Wolves fans and the sentiments are reciprocated from Elokobi as well.

He said: “I’m a massive Wolves fan and the Wolves faithful know that.

“I want to see them win the Premier League; that’s the dream. I will probably be the first one invading the pitch if that happens!

“I feel part of the gold and black family. I say sometimes that if you cut me, I will bleed gold and black. Wolves gave me a lot. As a football club, that is where everyone took notice of George Elokobi. Yes, Colchester gave me the platform to come into the professional scene but Wolves was the making of George Elokobi.

Elokobi outmuscled many Premier League opponents
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“I wasn’t the most technically gifted player but when it came to desire, hard work and commitment, I gave them 110% every single day of my life and I’m sure fans appreciate that. It’s not just a football club but it’s a family for me. They are my family.”

Elokobi has also looked on from afar with great delight after the current Wolves side, managed by Nuno Espirito Santo, claimed a superb seventh place finish in the Premier League and secured Europa League football.

“Since Nuno took over in the Championship, they had an identity,” he added. “Wolves have been playing some incredible football and they did that and won the Championship.

“I know in the Championship, there were times when people said they were buying the Championship. To buy the players and get them to play how you want them to play and to settle these players in, it is incredible what Nuno and his coaching staff have done.

Can Nuno Espirito Santo get Wolves into the top six next season?
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“Wolves are playing some of the best football I’ve seen from a team that has just come up and in the Championship they were incredible. In the Premier League, at times, they were mind blowing. They fear no one and stick to their philosophies whether they are losing or winning and it’s incredible to see them finish seventh.”

Upon leaving Wolves, the Cameroonian defender returned to Colchester for a second stint before dropping down to the National League to link up with Leyton Orient in 2017, another club he represented so diligently.

Elokobi’s infectious character off the pitch endeared him to O’s’ supporters and he initially helped Orient stabilise in the National League despite a rocky start to their first campaign outside of the Football League for 112 years.

Elokobi celebrates a win with Nottingham Forest in 2012
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This season proved to be more difficult for the 33-year-old, who struggled with injuries and lost his place in the side to Marvin Ekpiteta, which resulted in him being released in January after initially being placed on the transfer list.

However, Elokobi certainly had a role in Leyton Orient’s resurgence and paid tribute to the late Justin Edinburgh, who he worked with at Brisbane Road, following his tragic death on Saturday.

He said: “My time at Leyton Orient was exceptional. As a club, I’m so pleased they are back in the Football League. It’s a club that has history behind it and they shouldn’t have found themselves in the National League.

“It was a two-year plan to get out of the National League and they did that which is fantastic. It’s brilliant to see them back in the Football League because those fans have gone through so much in the last three to four years.

“Justin was great with me. You knew what his philosophies were every day. It was about coming in and working hard and it was all about Leyton Orient.

“As an individual, he was a fantastic man manager. He got on really well with the boys at Leyton Orient.

“When it came to the business side of things, he wanted perfection. That’s what makes a great manager.”

Jobi McAnuff and Justin Edinburgh helped Leyton Orient win promotion to League Two last season
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Currently without a club after a brief stint with Aldershot Town, Elokobi has no intention of hanging up the boots anytime soon and is currently using his spare time to set up a motivational speaking business.

“It excites me to talk about GE3 Ltd,” Elokobi continued. “That is the business I’ve opened not long ago.

“It’s a public speaking and mentoring company which offers personal coaching. It symbolises me and the life I’ve lived and is to help whoever wants to grow into life, not just in sports but in general.

“Anybody who knows George Elokobi knows how passionate I am about succeeding, not just in football, but in life as well. I am a very passionate guy inside and the fire is always burning.

Elokobi in his second spell with Colchester United in 2015
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“I’m obviously without a club at this moment in time but I don’t panic. I trust my own ability and there are too many clubs out there if I want to carry on playing or if I want to stop playing, there are other things I may fall into. “It’s all about listening to what is out there, speaking to whoever is interested and not knocking anyone down because of their level or status in the game.”

Having proved the doubters wrong throughout his career, you wouldn’t bank against Elokobi enjoying further success in the future, either.