Ex-Notts County man Stanley Aborah: My future was at wonderful Portsmouth - I retired aged 29 when that was taken from me

It wasn’t merely the Paul Cook era which finished the day he walked out on Pompey.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th March 2021, 5:21 pm

The controversial decision also prompted a disillusioned Stanley Aborah to retire from football.

Aborah had featured for 122 minutes during the 2016-17 title-winning campaign, albeit his lack of match involvement cushioned by continued assurance of future League One football and a long-term deal.

Cook was keen to retain the services of the former Belgium under-19 international in the aftermath of the Blues’ League Two triumph.

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Then, on May 31, 2017, the manager shocked his dressing room by quitting for Wigan.

It also signalled the club scrapping contract negotiations – and, at the age of 29, a dispirited Aborah quit football to return to Belgium.

He told The News: ‘Paul Cook leaving was the only reason I didn’t stay at Pompey.

‘I had signed until the end of the season and, that summer, we were in negotiations for a new contract.

Stanley Aborah was forced to leave Fratton Park in the summer of 2017 following Paul Cook's departure. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Cook would tell me all the time: “Be patient, it’s not really about this season, it’s about the next one when we go into League One”. He saw me as Pompey’s future and I wanted to stay.

‘Then suddenly he was gone – and I was in limbo.

‘The club didn’t want to re-sign me without having a new manager in place. When he came in, he said no. That was it.

‘Kenny Jackett would have looked at the situation and seen I had only played four games. He didn’t know me, he didn’t know what Paul Cook had planned for me. It’s difficult.

Stanley Aborah's sole Pompey start came in a 2-1 win over Cambridge United in April 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘In England, the manager decides which players come in – and, naturally, he wanted his own.

‘Upset is too big a word to describe my feelings at the time because I know how this game works, but I was hugely disappointed, no doubt about that.

‘In effect, I decided that I was actually going to retire as a footballer.

‘I didn’t look for a new club afterwards, I was so disappointed in the way it had gone. It occurred to me that perhaps it was just time to stop.

Notts County's Stanley Aborah, seen here tussling with Adam McGurk, caught Paul Cook's eye against Pompey in October 2015. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘How it ended at Pompey was out of my hands. It was unfortunate, if Paul Cook had stayed for another season maybe I’d have a three-year deal and played more times for the club.

‘It was so frustrating for me, not just that but the last 10 years of my football career, which were hugely disappointing. For something to happen like that once again was tough to take.

‘You come to a club, you know it’s all about next season, the manager knows it, the club knows it. Then the manager suddenly leaves – and that’s you done there at the club.

‘I thought: “Look, maybe that’s just how the situation is for me. I’d better leave it at that”.

‘I remember speaking to Blackpool, but just wasn’t into it at that moment. I went back to Belgium and quit football.’

The roots for Aborah’s Pompey journey can be traced back to October 2015.

Pompey's squad celebrate the League Two title following a 6-1 win over Cheltenham in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South.

During a 2-1 triumph at Meadow Lane over Cook’s side, the midfielder stood out as the game’s outstanding player.

However, by January 2017, the former Belgium under-19 international was declared a free agent following a mutually-agreed release from the Magpies after 42 games and one goal.

He was weighing up switching to Thailand, with two clubs interested, when Cook declared his interest.

Aborah joined a Fratton Park club positioned fifth in League Two, 12 points behind leaders Doncaster Rovers with a game in hand.

What unfolded was a remarkable late surge to the title, the crown captured during the final 32 minutes of the campaign.

The former Ajax man would feature in just five squads during that glorious charge, making four appearances.

And he claimed the only promotion of his 12-club career.

‘I played for a few clubs, but Pompey was different,’ added Aborah.

‘You really know when you feel at home at a club. It usually doesn’t happen, sometimes it does, but at Pompey I felt at home from the beginning.

‘The previous season I was at Notts County and we played Pompey. After the game, Paul Cook came over, shook my hand, said I had played a terrific game and then told me to stay fit.

‘That doesn’t happen a lot. Normally when managers come to you they just shake your hand because you are right there near them. It felt like he went out of his way, this was different.

‘When I left Notts County more than a year later and my agent said Cook wanted to talk to me, I instantly remembered that moment.

‘Of course I knew all about Pompey from watching their Premier League matches, while my friend Anthony Vanden Borre played for them. Then there were African players such as Kanu, Benjani Mwaruwari, Sulley Muntari.

‘For me, knowing the club now played in League Two was very strange, I associated them with the Premier League. However, they liked to play football - and not many teams in that league tried.

‘When I arrived, it seemed as though they started to win games. But Paul Cook insisted he wanted me for the following season, that’s why I was not even upset to sit on the bench.

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‘I worked my socks off to be in the team and did my best in the games when I had a chance to play, but always knew at the back of my mind that I would be there in League One.

‘Look, I didn’t come to Pompey to sit on the bench, let me make that very clear. I was good enough to be in the starting XI, I felt I should have been more involved in the starting XI.

‘However, sometimes when a team wins games, even though you feel you should play, it’s about team spirit, you have to wait for your chance - and my chance was going to be the next season.

‘It’s being a good professional. If you are playing, you’d want your team-mates on the bench to behave in a similar manner. Besides, I really liked my team-mates.

‘Me and Amine Linganzi clicked instantly, we still talk to this day. He is very, very religious and we went around Linvoy Primus’ house once, although often would visit Mick Mellows, such a lovely guy.

‘It wasn’t just football, everything around that club was fantastic.’

Following six months of self-imposed retirement, Aborah accepted the challenge of League of Ireland Premier Division side Waterford in January 2018.

It signified the seventh country his playing career had taken him to, following spells in Holland, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Kuwait and, of course, England.

Aborah would make 24 appearances and score three times for Waterford as they finished fourth, booking a place in the Europa League first qualifying round.

Then it was over. In November 2018, he retired from football at the age of 31. This time for good.

He said: ‘After Pompey, I didn’t have a club for six months and had actually stopped playing. Then I got an opportunity to play in Ireland and was there for a season.

‘I came out of retirement because I had broken up with my fiance. We had been together for 12 years and had three children, then, at one point, you’re alone in the house and not doing anything.

‘I got a call from my agent about Waterford and I thought “You know what, let me just leave my country, leave this behind. Just go there for a year and see what happens”.

‘Waterford had just got promoted, so they got in a few players, including me. It was a good year, we gelled so well.

‘I came out of retirement for that season, but, at the end of it, wanted to go home and be around my children. They were more important for me.

‘Funnily enough, while I was in Ireland, Paul Cook’s agent (Eamonn Collins) was at a game and I chatted to him. He rang Paul and said “I am here with Stanley” and I spoke to him briefly.

‘He looked at taking me to Wigan, but decided they had too many midfielders at that time.

‘It was unfortunate for me. Maybe if there was more space to take me at Wigan, he would have done.’

Now aged 33, Aborah lives in Antwerp, Belgium.

As an avid Manchester United fan, he still eagerly follows the Red Devils’ progress, encouraged by progress during their current Premier League campaign.

Yet the former midfielder also keeps an eye on Pompey, the club he represented four times yet established a life-long bond.

He added: ‘After leaving Pompey and retiring, I opened a clothing line called Parte with a friend.

‘When I went back into the game to join Waterford, I was less involved. After returning to Belgium, I just left it to him. Even though I’m a little involved, my friend now looks after it.

‘I currently work for a telecommunications company called Cask BV, selling phones business to business.

‘I’ve been here seven months now. It’s nice and diverse work with good people around, and challenging as well.

‘I didn’t work for a year, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It’s difficult because I had played football all my life. When you retire, you don’t know what’s next.

‘But I am picking up some things now, looking for opportunities and am training some kids at my former club, things are going well.

‘I look back at my playing career and three clubs are at the top in terms of my favourites.

‘I was at Ajax as a youth and came into the first-team, while Ferencvarosi is a huge team based in beautiful Budapest with really crazy fans.

‘The other is Pompey. It’s just a shame I couldn’t stay much, much longer.’

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Stanley Aborah made four appearances for Pompey in 2016-17 - with the Blues winning every game. Picture: Joe Pepler