Globetrotting Bantams striker Folan has game of his life at White House (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Globetrotting Bantams striker Caleb Folan has game of his life at White House
HAVE BOOTS, WILL TRAVEL: Caleb Folan (top left) meeting president Barack Obama during his season with Colorado Rapids
Playing a practice match on the front lawn of the White House is not your usual kick-about in the park.
But then Caleb Folan isn’t your normal type of footballer.
British footballers abroad have come a long way since the days of Ian Rush complaining that his short stay in Italy was “like living in a foreign country”.
But few can have shared the experiences of the centre forward who is signed up to City for the next three months.
Folan was born and still lives in Leeds so a short-term deal on his doorstep at Valley Parade suits him down to the ground. But his route here from his last domestic club Hull went rather further afield than just down the M62 – via America and Malaysia.
“I’ve always been a free spirit,” said Folan. “I look at the world as a place I want to explore.
“I remember when I was 16 on Leeds United’s books and saying to my close friends that I’d love to go and play in China. At that age it’s not really normal!
“Most would have said Spain or Italy but I’ve always been fascinated by the far-off places and different cultures.
“That’s just me. I still do art and design and have that creative feeling, the football came naturally.”
The offer from the Colorado Rapids came as a perfect antidote to an unhappy ending at Hull. His time at the KC finished sourly with public disputes with boss Phil Brown.
“In the last year or so I’d had a few ups and downs with the manager and it was in the press quite a bit. I’d had such a good time with Hull and for things to change over individuals was quite disappointing.
“I needed something really different to enjoy playing football again.
“Some were saying that it was a silly move to go to America at the time. There were still teams in England where I could have walked into.
“But for me, I just wanted to find myself again and followed my heart. It turned out to be one of the best years of my life.”
Folan embraced Denver life to the extent that he hardly missed a home game of the Nuggets basketball team. He also adapted to playing at altitude – the city is a mile above sea level.
“It was always a challenge training every day. There wasn’t a time when you didn’t feel it.
“But you also had the benefit of that going to other places across the States. You had that extra bit of energy and fitness, so there were advantages.
“They take soccer really seriously and the facilities are second to none. The drive they have for it is huge so I wasn’t surprised by the standard – everywhere across the board is at a high level now.”
And as reigning champions, the Rapids were invited for a meet-and-greet with Barack Obama. It’s an American tradition for all their winners to be treated to a day at the White House.
Folan had joined after their victory but, as a member of the squad, got his “free ticket”.
“Wow, it was so surreal,” he recalled. “We got measured up for suits and then went to meet the president.
“There was an aura about him shaking his hand but he came across as such a laid-back guy.
“It was brief because he had to go through the whole team but we had a big ceremony and then he gave a speech. I was stood on the smallest bench at the back and just felt so nervous.
“Then afterwards, we got changed and had the chance to play on his front lawn. I kept looking up and seeing this magnificent building and thinking ‘this is incredible’ ...”
A change of the Rapids hierarchy saw Folan return to England at the start of 2012 and he briefly joined Birmingham but never featured because of injury.
Then the travel bug bit again and his road to recovery headed for the Far East and Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia. Folan and former Hull team-mate George Boateng were signed as the two permitted overseas professionals at T-Team.
He added: “I fell in love with the idea of going out there. It ticked every box. I also felt quite honoured for them to have full faith and trust in me because I’d been injured for some time.
“It was always going to be tough playing but what a great experience again. George and I tried to carry the team through and I took on a role in helping to develop the younger players.
“They spoke a little English but Malay seems quite an easy language to learn so you can’t help but pick things up.
“It’s funny how you lose that the minute you come back but I loved every minute.
“And who knows, in the future it might be something that I’d like to explore again.”
For now, Folan is happy looking to re-establish himself back in his native West Yorkshire.
His late outing at Walsall was his first on the domestic stage in three years.
“I just want to be fit and healthy and give it my best. I’m not 21 any more.
“You don’t play forever and I’m trying to make the most of every game.
“I’m quite comfortable within myself and I believe that if you’re genuine, work hard and respect others – the normal simple things – then they can take you a long way.”
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