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Virtual National Game Awards 2019-20: FotMob NPL Premier Player of the Year – Tunde Owolabi

HOT-SHOT: Tunde Owolabi has been sensational for FC United

By Chris Dunlavy

TUNDE Owolabi has thanked FC United’s “incredible” fanbase for inspiring his goalscoring heroics this season. 

The 24-year-old hitman was voted FotMob Northern Premier League Player of the Season by NLP readers after netting 35 times in all competitions before the season was scrapped.

His tally of 28 league goals for Neil Reynolds’ promotion chasers was also the highest by any player in the top seven tiers of English football.  

“It’s my first time playing at this level, and I’ve surprised myself,” admits Owolabi, who spent last season at Radcliffe Borough, began the current season in Malta and didn’t even join the Rebels until August 30. 

“Looking back, it’s like ‘Wow, I did that? OK!’ When I joined, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous about the step up. But Neil, the manager, has made me feel completely at home. The players have been magnificent, like brothers. We play for each other, work for each other.

“And the fans have been incredible. As a footballer, you want to play in front of big crowds and I’d never had that before I came to FC. My first goal, the way they roared and the way it made me feel, it was like ‘Yes, this is where I want to be’. 

“Every time I’ve stepped onto the field since, I’ve had that buzz and that extra desire to do even more. 

“Even when we weren’t winning at the start of the season, those guys stuck with us. Away games feel like home games, and that’s a rare thing in football. 

“If you score for that kind of crowd, it’s something special that you will never forget. I’ve been privileged to do it 35 times this season and it’s the greatest feeling.”

FC United were second in the NPL Premier when the season ended, 12 points adrift of runaway leaders South Shields but riding a wave of ten wins from their previous 16 league games.

“It’s a shame the season ended when it did,” adds Owolabi, whose father played professionally for Belgian giants Royal Antwerp. 

“We were second when the pandemic hit and I believe that if we’d played in the play-offs then we’d have won promotion.

“Personally, too, I was just starting to think I could get to 40 goals. I had ten games left, plus a possible two in the play-offs. Trust me, I was disappointed!

“But the team is strong. We need to have a better start next season and if we do that then the team is more than capable of going up. Hopefully next season comes soon because we’re all going crazy without football.”

Reynolds was alerted to Owolabi’s availability when an eagle-eyed friend spotted the striker in Manchester Airport’s arrivals lounge on his return from Malta in August. 

“It was a stroke of luck, because Tunde was a player I’d wanted for a long time,” said the Rebels boss. “I was delighted to get him, and he’s been nothing short of exceptional.”

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