Co-founder Liam Flint caught up with Millwall front man Aiden O’Brien to hear about how his relationship with God has impacted his football career.
So Aiden from an early age you found yourself in the Millwall youth system, how did that come about?
“Well I was playing locally for a team that my dad used to coach, a north London based team and I played for them for a couple of years. I was just scoring loads of goals for them and then Millwall came along and watched me a few times before picking me up at fifteen.”
Growing up were you always a striker?
“Yeah from when I was young I was only ever a striker and as you can see in the last couple of months I’ve been across the front three.”
Who is your footballing role model?
“I used to love Dennis Bergkamp, it was just the way he used to manipulate the ball, he was always my favourite.”
Before you became a Millwall regular you were loaned out a fair amount, what did you learn whilst being away?
“Well when you go on loan you learn the true meaning of football because under 21s football isn’t the same. People who play first team football, whatever level that may be, are playing for their livelihoods and playing to pay rent, it’s not just a game. It’s actually trying to provide for your loved ones. It is a lot different and there is a lot more pressure, so going on loan really helps you realise this. It’s really interesting when you first go on loan, you think you are just going to play football but there is so much more.”
Early on, how much of your development at Millwall was down to Ian Holloway and his belief in your ability?
“Yeah he thought highly of me as a player, he threw me on a few times so that I was in and around the squad but I wasn’t a concrete member of the first team. There were a lot of substitute appearances but I was happy that he gave me a stepping stone to where I am now, without a doubt I might not be where I am today. He was a massive part of my development.”
Who would you say is the best player that you have played against in your career to date?
“That is a hard question! There was Joe Cole, but the best for me was playing against Rio Ferdinand in a reserve game at QPR.”
You have represented the Republic of Ireland all the way up from U17 level, can you make the step up to the national first team?
“That’s obviously what I am looking to do, it’s always in my eye-line as the next step for me in the Ireland set up. I have played for the U21s and I was one goal behind being the all-time leading goal scorer in the group stage but I lost out to Robbie Brady. So I have had a good go at it and the next step is the Ireland first team, a big one, but I feel that I can do it. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of years!”
NEW RELEASE: Read our interview with Chelsea and Ghanaian star, Christian Atsu!
Aiden let’s talk about your faith in God, tell us a bit of your testimony. Where did it start?
“It was when I was an infant, my nan always used to take me to church on a Sunday, I didn’t have a clue what was going on back then but I always used to go with her. Then as I got older I faded away and lost faith in God somewhat. Later on one two of my closest mates who are both closely related to God introduced me back to my faith because we went to Hillsong at Tottenham Court road. They said come along and it was the best thing I ever did, now I go pretty much every week and it is just one of those things. I have my friends to thank for that.”
Does your Christian faith affect how you conduct yourself on and off the pitch?
“Not necessarily but I will always have a quick prayer before and after the game to thank God for the situation, what he has done for me in the last few years and for what I have. I bless myself on and off the pitch before I leave.”
Is it hard having the publicity of a professional footballer whilst being a Christian?
“I mean you get banter but that’s just banter, people are always going to do that. For me there is always time for prayer and you can always make time. It is not a job and should not be hard. Football is my job and faith is also a part of me so I just get on with it.”
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) January 12, 2016
Have you ever had any positive ‘God chats’ with team mates?
“No I haven’t actually because I know with some, they are already connected to God, apart from that no I haven’t sat down with anyone.”
What advice would you give to other Christian players starting out in their careers?
“The best advice I could ever give is to keep the faith, because there will be times in football where things will go wrong, you will have a rough patch. I guarantee you that the first person you should turn to is God, losing the faith that isn’t a clever thing to do so just continue to be faithful and things will happen. That’s what happened to me so all I can say is to keep the faith.”