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Monday, 22 December 2014

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New dad Tom Taiwo battling for his place at Carlisle United

When Tom Taiwo was replaced at half-time in Carlisle United’s last game, his thoughts turned not to his own frustration but to a person who did not exist four weeks ago. The Blues’ newest dad is no longer battling to hold down his place for his own benefit, but for Freya’s.

Tom Taiwo photo
Tom Taiwo

Freya is Taiwo’s baby daughter and the midfielder’s new focus. Fatherhood has immediately broadened the 21-year-old’s perspective on what being picked to play for the Cumbrians means.

“It’s obviously disappointing to be brought off in games,” he says, reflecting on his 45th-minute substitution against Tranmere in United's media room. “That’s why the boys have all got a massive motivation because of the level we’re at. You’re not just fighting for the club and getting promoted, but also for your career.

“In League One you are at a crossroads. A good season can see you propelled into the Championship and maybe then the Premier League, but a bad couple can see you out of football. So we have our careers and our families to play for.”

The family motivation has been on Taiwo’s plate since he and girlfriend Rachel became parents. Freya’s old man, who faces Brentford at Griffin Park tonight, regards himself as breadwinner and the new responsibility is plainly on his mind as he discusses his first month as a dad.

“Touch wood, it’s been great,” he says. “Rachel is brilliant, a great mum, and the baby’s been fantastic as well. She’s sleeping a lot of the time, which helps.”

He flashes a wide smile. “It’s all systems go, though, and I’ve taken lots of advice from Peter [Murphy] and Paul [Thirlwell]. They tell me what to do, but I don’t listen to them now because they’re looking a lot older all of a sudden.”

More seriously, he adds: “Becoming a father makes me realise how lucky I am to play football, to earn a half-decent wage. It’s always about providing for your family.

“You see this little person come into your life who just depends on you 100 per cent, and it hits home how lucky you are to be in this privileged position.”

You have to search hard for a player so ready and willing to talk about his own needs and wishes; most have it media-coached out of them and are petrified of speaking of anything outside of the team and its goals. Taiwo, who may not yet be wearing the badges of sleep-deprivation (you will have to look hard for any bags under his eyes), is plainly not afraid to discuss his wider motivations.

His candid talk of fatherhood gives another angle to his wholehearted play in Carlisle’s middle ground.

The former Chelsea player, who has enjoyed a run in the team this winter after an autumn of benchwarming, insists, though, that his determination to succeed for the newest member of the Taiwo clan does not overlap into anxiety about a contract which has only a few months left to run.

One of a cluster of first-teamers whose deal is up this summer, Taiwo says that matter will take care of itself as long as he is honest with his performances in Abbott’s midfield.

“If the team are doing well and I’m playing, the contract and everything will fall into place,” he says.

“I just look towards playing well. More than anything, the boys seem to be enjoying their football more now than in previous years. In the past it has been a bit of a grind, trying to consolidate ourselves in League One.

“This season we have a belief we can out-football any team. It’s nice to go onto the pitch with a lot of players who believe in their own ability.”

Tonight, on live TV, Taiwo will hope to retain his place in Abbott’s midfield and confront a Brentford team who have featured often, and significantly, in the young battler’s professional memories.

That does not just mean last April’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final jamboree. “I remember when I first signed and we played them in the first game of the season,” Taiwo says. “We beat them quite convincingly that day but since then they have grown into an established League One team.

“They have got some quality players but they have not shown a consistency that maybe they threatened to do, and we have to capitalise on that.

“Wembley last year was the main part of our season, the big highlight. I would like to think the highlight this season will be getting to the play-offs.

“Both teams have had a lot of personnel changes since Wembley and I think we have improved in terms of the quality of our football – we’ve produced good performances as well as toughing out the hard games and grabbing valuable points.”

Taiwo puts last Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Tranmere into that category, however frustrating a night it may have been for United’s supporters, Abbott and the midfielder himself. Avoiding defeat when below-par is a handy habit, certainly, and ensures United’s competitive spirit has not been damaged unduly as they advance on Griffin Park tonight.

“We’ve taken four points from our last two games, and if we carry that through the season we will be very unlucky not to finish in that top six,” Taiwo says. “It’s important not to get too disheartened by games like Tranmere.

“It’s hard to put a finer point on what didn’t go right, but fortunately not a lot went wrong. It’s the sort of game you pass off as a one-off and we will go to Brentford with renewed vigour and take the game to them.”

As at Wembley, the cameras will this evening fall on Taiwo going into battle with the Bees’ sizeable midfield operators, such as Toumani Diagouraga, the gangly customer who was sent off in the JPT final.

As at Wembley, Taiwo intends to be on the right side of a competitive contest, and pledges that those cameras will not make a jot of difference to how Carlisle rise or fall. Freya might be oblivious to it all but it will be a larger audience than normal that assesses the truth of her dad’s claims tonight.

“At Wembley there was such a big hype surrounding the game, but once we were out there the sole focus was on winning,” Taiwo says. “It will be the same in this game.

“It will be nice to be able to go home and watch the game back, and have people saying we won and it was good to watch. But when we’re out there, it’s just another game.

“We know what Brentford are all about, they probably know what our styles are, and it will come down to those individual battles. If we can win ours and compete at our maximum for the first 15 or 20 minutes, it will then be about who can play the better football. And, like I say, we know we can out-football any team.”

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