INTERNATIONAL football is on the agenda, and the possibility of League Two players making it to the highest level. But the topic of conversation is not of Tendayi Darikwa’s making.
“On my Wikipedia page it says I’m born to Zimbabwean immigrants, but there’s been a bit of a mix-up,” says the Chesterfield forward born in Nottingham and raised in West Bridgford, a full-toss from Trent Bridge and a free-kick away from the City Ground he once dreamed of calling home.
“My mum Donna’s from Ilkeston,” continues the former Forest junior. “It’s only my dad, Tim, who’s from Harare, a little town called Mufakose. He came over here to study years ago, and through him I qualify to play for Zimbabwe.”
The line of questioning, of course, is to find out whether the 21-year-old – who had scored in each of the table-topping Spireites’ last two matches before yesterday’s clash with AFC Wimbledon – would consider repre- senting the African nation if asked.
“I’d definitely consider it, because you don’t know which way your career can go,” he replies. “I am English, though. I was born in this country. My mum is English. So this is the country my first representation should be for.
“But being in League Two, you just don’t know. You see Rickie Lambert playing for England and he started where I am now.
“I’m just focussed on playing for Chesterfield at the moment. I’ve just got back in the team and if anything happens internationally (with Zimbabwe), it’s something I would sit down with my family and speak about.”
Suddenly, because Southampton’s unfashionable centre-forward has scored a couple for England and was picked to lead the line in a vital World Cup qualifier, every lower league footballer has a role model: a former beetroot factory worker and Stockport sub.
“I’m a big believer in hard work,” says Darikwa. “If you are working hard, eventually you will get your rewards. For someone like Rickie Lambert to play for England at 31 has proved that.
“He hasn’t got there through luck. He’s kept plugging away and he’s got his reward with international football. For me, that’s the biggest thing you can achieve, so fair play to him. It shows that if you don’t give up, then one day you’ve got a chance.”
Reported interest from Everton and Liverpool, before an operation on a double hernia interrupted last season, suggests that Darikwa might have a better chance than most.
He says: “Last season was my breakthrough season and you do read stuff. It is nice to see your name linked with
clubs like that. But there was no concrete, official interest. For me it was just about playing for Chesterfield, and if anything did come along it would take care of itself. All I can think about is playing regularly and well, then those rumours might become reality one day.”
The level-headed wideman knows, however, that his first major battle is to secure a regular spot in Paul Cook’s team again, with summer signings Gary Roberts and Ritchie Humphreys limiting him to substitute appearances until last week’s first start against Accrington Stanley.
“The gaffer’s been great,” says Darikwa. “He’s been telling me to keep my head down, keep working hard and my chance will come. Hopefully I’m doing myself no harm when I do come off the bench.
“To get the goal at Portsmouth a couple of weeks ago was fantastic. The atmosphere was electric and I was only on for ten minutes, so to score was brilliant.
“Last week I got a chance to start and it was the first time I’ve ever scored a winning goal, so that was special.
“The signings the gaffer has made are all good players and competition is healthy. It brings the best out of you. If you’re not performing well, you know someone else will come in and do your job.”
After narrowly missing last year’s play-offs, Proact Stadium players are determined to go a couple of steps better, say Darikwa.
With five wins and a draw from their opening six, they’d made the Derbyshire club’s best-ever start to a Football League season before facing the Dons yesterday, with fellow pace-setters Oxford next.
“This run now, with Wimbledon in third, Oxford second and then a big derby against Mansfield, is going to be tough,” says Darikwa, “But we don’t fear anyone. We feel we’ve got the best players and the best squad to go up.
“That is no disrespect to any team and it won’t come easy, but we honestly feel we’ve got the best chance of getting the No 1 spot.
“It was disappointing to miss out last season, but it’s given us a kick up the backside and the motivation to get automatic promotion.
“The new signings are all quality players and I think there is the right mix of youth and experience. The gaffer insists on us playing good football and the spirit is first class. Hopefully we can all pull each other through.”