Garath McCleary, Reading F.C, Ex Bromley FC, Slough Town F.C. and Nottingham Forest F.C.
One incident I recollect was when I was caught in the dilemma of choosing between university and football. I was serious about football but I knew I needed a backup plan in case it didn't work out and so I went to Francis as he had been in the same situation at one point. I had been accepted to various universities but Francis stressed to me to keep at it because I was only 20, still young and good enough to push on to league football. At that point there wasn't any interest from league clubs but I took his advice, stayed focused and held out for another year. I'm not saying Francis is the reason I'm at this point in my career but he had a massive influence and I'm ever so grateful. I fully support Francis in his attempt to set up Our Game because it is something non league players, especially young ones, could really do with to help them with guidance, focus, information and knowledge, and seeing how Francis influenced and helped me, I know he would be able to help many more people like me with this organisation.
Christian Jolley, AFC Wimbledon, Ex Kingstonian F.C.
If there is one bit of advice that I would give to anybody, at any stage of their career, it is to find yourself a good mentor. These are the people that guide you, shape you, help you and listen to you; both when things are going well and also when times are tough. For me that person is Francis.
As a role model, a great professional and a friend, he helped me settle at Kingstonian FC when I was new to the scene and balancing university life with kick-starting my professional football career. He was, and still is, a person I look to for advice and someone I have modelled my own career and behaviour on.
Be it tapping into his own experiences of juggling a hectic work and home life, stopping me getting into bad habits or giving me the right mental attitude to deal with all the 'ups and downs', he helped me navigate the terrain and the people within the football industry to help take me to another level. His contribution has been invaluable. For these reasons, I would recommend to anyone that they join Our Game as I believe that you would no doubt get a lot of help from Francis and in my opinion, as it is him giving the help, the help will undoubtedly be worthwhile.
Martin Tyler - Sky Sports and Kingstonian FC
I have worked with Francis Duku and regard him highly. He is bright, conscientious and a proper team player, which as everyone in football knows is the ultimate accolade.
Francis has the business acumen and the knowledge of non-League football to make this enterprise work, and all of us who love the game at all levels should support him.
Sam Wood - Wycombe Wanderers FC, Ex Cray Wanderers, Bromley FC and Brentford F.C.
Francis was always someone that I felt comfortable asking for advice from when we played together as he had been in a similar situation to the one I found myself in playing wise, and he was also someone I found very easy to talk to and get on with. I also knew through some of our mutual friends of the level of contacts and experience he had in the game and also that he had a good reputation with so many people.
I had a dream of reaching my goal of full time football, but had to juggle work and part-time football for a while and he obviously understood my point of view as he has experienced the same. I looked up and still look up to Francis for the things he has achieved in and around his football, and will always respect him as someone who gives good advice and draws from his many experiences to help others if they need it. This kind of help is important for young players as they can get distracted along their way and sometimes need a more senior figure to look to for help. I think that the idea that Francis is putting together will be helpful to all non league players looking to make the most of their time playing football whether they have ambitions to go into the full time game or remain playing semi-pro to the best of their ability. Francis is still a great friend of mine, and I feel he has a lot to offer with these services and wish him the best of luck.
Tony Gale - Sky Sports & Walton Casuals F.C.
I first met Francis when he was 18 years old playing for one of my old team mates (Alan Devonshire) at Maidenhead United. He was someone ‘Dev’ thought very highly of, both as a player and a person, and as he became my last defensive partner in my career, I got to know him quite well and agreed with ‘Dev’ that he was both a player with a good future and was also a good lad as well. He spent a fair bit of time asking me questions and trying to learn from my experiences which was not something I expected to come across in many non league youngsters. Over the years we have kept in touch and have had our paths cross on the non league scene, and I have always liked and respected what I have seen and know of him. Francis first mentioned to me the possibility of creating this sort of organisation about 5 years ago, and I thought it was a great idea then, and still do now! As I understand it, the idea never got off the ground back then due to Francis's assessment of other commitments he had, but he has now decided he can dedicate enough time to this as he is coming to the end of his playing career, and I have no doubt he can make a success of it. The PFA is a superbly ran organisation which does a lot of work to protect and help its members, and its about time that the non league game had something similar which suited its needs. Through my involvement at Walton Casuals and my playing days with Francis at Maidenhead, I have seen first hand the unique situation a non league player is in, and can see no one out there able to offer the help that could inevitably be needed by a non league player. If the necessary help is being made available from someone who has "been there and done it" at this level, and is being made available by someone with the personal qualities I know that Francis has, I think it would be worthwhile supporting and could add a new dimension to the life of a non league player.
David Howell - Manager: St. Albans F.C.
I have known Francis Duku or 'Dooks' as he is fondly known by most people in football for many years... As a player he was reliable and consistent in his performances as a central defender. He was a strong and very influential player who was not afraid to lead from the front. He was a player I tried unsuccessfully on several occasion to sign, as I was confident I could build a good team around him.
I also came across ‘Dooks’ on the club scene where I was also an Event Manager hosting various parties and club nights in the West End. He was also very well respected in this environment by many people in the industry, club owners and promoters along with footballers ranging from non league to Premiership players.
‘Dooks’ has the right background, contacts, knowledge, experience and fully understands what is needed to help support the non league game. He is also respected by everyone that I know and if he is able to run with some of his ideas I have every confidence that non league football would definitely benefit from ‘Dooks’ putting something back in to our beautiful game...
Alan Devonshire - Ex West Ham & England International, Manager: Braintree United F.C.
Back in 1996 a young 18 year old lad turned up at a Thursday night training session at my club Maidenhead United FC with a young colleague who both went on to fantastic football careers in the non- league game. You could tell from the first time that I met Francis that he had the drive and desire needed to have a successful career in the game. He was only with me for around 7 months as he soon moved on upwards and onwards to Crawley Town. Since then we have met again many times at clubs like Fisher Athletic, Gravesend & Northfleet and Dulwich FC amongst others and although unfortunately I have never had the pleasure to work with ‘Dooks’ again he is someone I have always kept in contact with due to his personal qualities and vast amounts of non- league contacts that I have dipped into a few times for a few phone numbers.
I am also very pleased to hear that ‘Dooks’ is planning to put something back in into the non-league game after his career and I firmly believe that he is the ideal person to do this due to his reliability knowledge and contacts within the game and I can think of nobody better served to make it a success.
Liam Hatch - Gateshead F.C., Ex Gravesend and Northfleet and Barnet F.C.
I first met Francis when I joined Gravesend and Northfleet (now Ebbsfleet United) from Herne Bay back in 2001. When I joined he was one of the most influential players in a team that was chasing (and ended up winning) what is now the Conference South, and was very influential and well known and liked both in the team and from what I could see, throughout non league football. He had a nickname of "The Fridge" which had started to make its way around the local football scene and that was a sign of the respect people had for him.
Even though I was the new boy joining from a lower league team, he straight away made me feel welcome and helped me to settle in at the club, taking time out to help me with anything that I needed and just making sure I was ok. This helped me adjust to the change in my football and helped me to feel part of the team, and adjust to the new level quickly. Francis was somebody I looked up to while I was adjusting to all the new things going on around me and I remember and appreciate the help and time he gave me.
Knowing what he is like as a person, as a player and the experiences he has had in football and work (I remember him working a good job in the city while doing everything he did at football), I think this is both a great idea, and one I know he can definitely make a success. All I can add to this is I know how he helped me, and can only see him helping more people through this project.
Simon Osborn - Ex Crystal Palace, Wolves, Walsall, Bromley & Cray Wanderers F.C.
When I came out of full time professional football, at the end of my career I joined my local club Bromley FC where Francis was captain of the team doing incredibly well in the Ryman premier.
Getting to know him and my new team mates was an easy transition and Francis played a big part in that. Off the field, he is an intelligent gentle giant, with a sound financial brain and great knowledge of non-league football (he should have as he has had more clubs than me) and also a leader on it. We had a very successful season and he led us in that both on and off the field. He was always reliable and helpful to the younger players offering advice on everything from personal to financial. The following season I had the pleasure of managing him and found dealing with him on that basis just as easy as playing with him.
I am sure that that whatever path Francis takes he will prove to be a success as he has the knowledge and drive to succeed as he proved in Non-league football as holding down a demanding and challenging job, and training twice weekly and playing on a Saturday is no easy feat. I wish him all the best in this venture and feel sure it will take off.
Andy Drury – Ipswich Town, Ex Luton Town, Stevenage Borough, Lewes and GNFC
I signed for Gravesend and Northfleet in the summer of 2003 when I was 19, and, having played a few leagues lower until that time, I knew nobody at that level, so was very nervous when I arrived. From the moment I got there Francis was very welcoming and helpful to me settling in. I once got injured in pre-season and was out for a few months, Francis was there for me, offering support and advice and keeping me focused on taking the chance I had been presented with.
I think at this level of football it is very important to less experienced players to have a good mentor, whether it’s for players coming from league football or like I did, lower leagues, and after knowing Francis for nearly 10 years I can't think of a better more professional person to be this. Nearly 10 years after I met him and even though I am now 27, I still speak to him and chat about lots of different things.
The advice he has provided has been so important to my career and I will be forever grateful for the little things he has done that have helped me along so far. The idea of a non league players union is a fantastic idea and one which I feel will be hugely beneficial to the game, and after playing non league for over 10 years, I cannot think of a better person to be at the forefront of this project. He has shown me over the years he has the contacts, knowledge, and experiences both in and out of the non league game that will make sure this is a success!
Alan Dowson - Manager: Kingstonian FC
I have known Francis for a number of years now before I signed him as a player for Kingstonian Football Club last season. I immediately made him Captain and we then went on to the clubs most successful season in over 10 years which Francis played a big part in, he is a great player with great enthusiasm and commitment.
Francis was always a great role model for the more inexperienced player, was a great help with the team as a whole in a variety of situations, and is someone I consider a very genuine, honest and reliable person. He was always very professional and has great knowledge of the game and life, and a range of experiences to prove it. With the contacts Francis has I am sure he will be very successful with this project. Having been a non-league player myself for 20 years I am sure the project will be a great addition to players at this level.
Andy Ansah, Sports on Screen and ex Southend, Brentford, Gillingham, Heybridge Swifts and Farnborough Town F.C.
I have known Francis personally for a number of years now and is someone I consider a friend and who I also share a number of friends with. Being an ex pro, someone who has played non league football, and also now a business man, Francis has turned to me over a long while now to talk over his ideas for "Our Game" and where and how he wanted to develop it, so he could get a perspective on some related areas he had less experience with.
The biggest thing that has struck me over the time we have discussed this has been his obvious passion for the project and also some of the great ideas he has for where he wants this go. What has quickly become clear is that this is a very good and at times simple idea that should really help a lot of semi-pro footballers in a way that clearly does not exist at the moment. If executed well, this is the kind of service that could have a significant positive impact for many of you in the semi-pro and amateur world. The work of the PFA is greatly appreciated by many professional players and it seems to me that the work of Our Game could potentially have as many if not more benefits for those outside of the professional game.
When invited, I was more than happy to agree to work with him and make my "Sports on Screen" company an affiliate of "Our Game" from the outset, and offer him my support in trying to make "Our Game" the success both he and I believe it can and will be.
Troy Townsend, Kick It Out.
"Kick It Out is proud to support such an invaluable service as 'Our Game'. Having been there and done it all within the non-league game, Francis is the ideal person to head up such an initiative. A lot of semi-professional footballers rely heavily on this as an income stream and if they suffer a long-term injury, it can really impact upon their lives. Player welfare is absolutely crucial and with 'Our Game' able to cater for your every need, signing up really is a no-brainer."
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Whether it's a major source of income or simply a hobby, football can be extremely tough on mind and body alike!
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