As part of Black History Month, West Ham's Michail Antonio says: "There is always peer pressure to make you go down the wrong lines. I had a bit of a fighter in me. These gangs tried to recruit me. If I didn't have my brother or football, then I probably would have joined"
Thursday 29 October 2020 11:03, UK
After a sizzling bicycle kick against Manchester City at the weekend, who would have believed Michail Antonio was stuck on the bench for three months at the start of his West Ham career?
They used to call him 'The Invisible Man' and a 'poster' because of his absence.
As part of Black History Month, the 30-year-old, whose ball skills were nurtured inside football cages in south London, reveals his crazy and emotional journey into the Premier League spotlight.
Being a lifeguard at school, failed trials, recruited by gangs, not playing on Sundays because of church. He started out at Tooting and Mitcham and six clubs later, Antonio seems to have found his home and is flying at West Ham.
Here is his chequered journey in his own words, told exclusively to Sky Sports and how he has always fought back from adversity...
"I've had so many knockbacks and heard the word 'NO'. I've been so close or someone's just not taken the chance on me.
"I had trials with QPR where I won all the running drills and after playing a match, I was told that whatever I did would determine if I got scouted. I scored and assisted one, only to be told I didn't put enough crosses in. So I didn't get signed.
"I trialled at Brentford in two games. I scored and assisted one. They said I was good and they'd keep an eye on me. I went to AFC Wimbledon but went back to Mitcham and signed my contract because they refused to pay my £7 registration fee.
"I signed for Reading and then West Ham where people called me 'The Invisible Man' or a 'poster' because I was on the bench for three months. I turned down opportunities to go on loan because I'd achieved everything I wanted in the Championship.
"It took six injuries to get my opportunity in the Premier League and here I am, where I am now!
"Playing in non-League gave me the resilience. I learned everything there. You needed to fight off hard tackles and I was playing against big men. You learn how to be strong and take them on and learn resilience.
"Growing up in London, football was a life and I loved playing it constantly. It kept me busy. When I was younger it was all about the skills to beat someone. I was crazy skilful growing up!
"My mum bought my boots, while my dad didn't really care too much - he was a cricket man from the West Indies! Me and my brother played football but Sunday was church day. If I had gone to mum about playing on a Sunday - no chance!
"I had to get my manager to knock on the door and speak to her - he told her he'd pick me up and bring me back, feed me and that I'd come home when she was back from church. That was the only reason why I was allowed to play football.
"There is always peer pressure on where things could make you go down the wrong lines. When I was younger, I had a short temper - I had a bit of a fighter in me. These gangs saw this and tried to recruit me.
"If I didn't have my brother or concentrate on football as much as I did, then I probably would have joined. In those estates, it's easy to fall into those situations.
"I like to give advice - especially to the young lads at West Ham. I tell them that football is all about opinions and the best opinion you can take on is your own.
"You can adapt to what people have got to say to you but your self-confidence is what will bring you through in your career. There will always be people who try to bring you down and be negative - that's just part of it. Having self-belief will get you to where you should be.
"My big lesson is, 'always believe in yourself'. I could have easily gone back to the Championship on loan but wouldn't have had the opportunity in the Premier League.
"It took me seven years to get to the Premier League - why would I go back because I am having a tough time? I always believed in myself.
"It's jumped up in football. There's always more to be done but I can walk out on the field and be judged on performance and not my skin colour.
"Society has quite a bit to go but one thing I've realised is society has got better because cultures are blending. We have learned from all the different cultures like food and just learning about other people's lives.
"Football is definitely a place where it can make society better. I see my team-mates more than my family and my home is the West Ham training ground. There are so many different cultures and we play well together and we bond together.
"I wouldn't change a single thing that's happened to me. I've had to graft to get where I am and I've worked my way to the top.
"Even the parts where I was a lifeguard in sixth form at school. It's made me who I am and made me hungry and I'm always hungry for more because of where I've come from."
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