“I came to England with nothing, I never thought I’d be playing at Old Trafford”

It’s the day after the game. Whitehawk struggled to a 3-1 home defeat to Hampton and Richmond Borough while Lukas Podolski hammered in a winner in his final appearance for Germany. Sergio Torres, the captain of the Hawks, is only concerned about the result of the former. “Not good,” he summarises, before telling me how important Saturday’s relegation six-pointer is. This could be a conversation with any run of the mill lower league footballer, but Torres, or Paisa, which means “Country Boy” in Spanish, is anything but that.

Torres was born in Marla Del Parla, a province in Buenos Aries. His father wanted him to be an accountant, but Sergio had other ideas. “I was 22 by the time I decided to come to England, and it was really hard for me because I wanted to be a professional footballer back home but I couldn’t do it. I played in the fourth, fifth division in Argentina. After you’re 21, 22, you’re hardly going to make it into the top, so I decided to try and venture into another country”.

So at 22, Torres packed his bags, quit his job working in a brick factory and made the 7000-mile journey to London in search of professional football.

Paisa had trials at Brighton and Woking before getting a part time contract at Mosely in the eighth tier. The midfielder’s South American flair impressed many at the London club, and Torres moved up another couple of rungs in the football ladder by signing with Basingstoke in the Conference.

By that time, the Argentinian had attracted interest from bigger clubs. At Basingstoke, Torres was working at Boots in the morning and playing in the afternoon. However, that all changed when he signed for Wycombe Wanderers of League Two in 2005. Paisa had achieved his goal in just over two years, to become a professional footballer in England.

“It (Wycombe) was my first professional club. The first time I signed that contract I was so happy. Finally. It took me two years.” At that time Torres became something of a cult hero at the Chairboys. The club shop even sold a range of curly blonde Sergio Torres wigs.

“I was living in Wycombe. Always making appearances in schools. I always had time to talk to fans after the game. I always had time for them and I think the fans really appreciated that.”

It was at Wycombe that Torres had his first taste of a cup run. The League Two side overcame top tier outfits Fulham and Charlton to reach a reach two-legged semi-final against reigning Premier League Champions Chelsea.

“I was just coming back from a long injury. I couldn’t believe Paul Lambert put me on the bench and I came on for the last half an hour. After the game I said to my dad it’s a dream come true and he was like don’t be silly, you’re a star, you should be. I never thought I’d be playing against Drogba, Lampard, Shevchenko and Makelele.”

Unfortunately, after drawing 1-1 in the first leg, Wycombe lost 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Nevertheless it was a special moment for Torres with some of his family making the journey, while the rest watched on TV back home in Argentina.

The technically gifted midfielder impressed in England’s fourth tier, earning himself a £150,000 move to Peterborough in League One in 2008. Torres admits that the price tag did weigh on his shoulders.

“The money was a big part in my head. I’d never have thought someone would pay that much money for me after being in non-league and coming to England with nothing.” In his first year at the Posh, Torres struggled with injuries and was played out of position by manager Darren Ferguson.

“It was a really hard first year at Peterborough. Mentally I got really down. It was the first time I wanted to move back home. But luckily I met my wife on my last year at Wycombe at a pre-season tour, and she moved to England and she helped me move forward. I also saw a sports psychologist.”

“It’s not that easy in football. You just think you’re doing what you love and you go and play but sometimes that pressure gets in your head. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I went to training and didn’t want to touch the ball. I do understand how all footballers go through that. The brain is an amazing thing but when it goes against you it’s so difficult to control.”

The Argentine’s second season at Peterborough was a lot better than his first. Although he went on loan to Lincoln during the first half of the 2009-10 season, Torres ended up playing most of the remainder of the Posh’s Championship campaign.

In 2010 Paisa was on the move again, this time to Crawley town for £100,000, a record fee for the then Conference club. “Steve Evans met me. He sold me the club, he sold me his ambitions. It was a hard decision for me. I worked so hard to be in the (Football) League, to drop out of the League again.”

It turned out to be a good decision. Crawley Town won the Conference Premier title with a record 105 points, only losing three games all season. Torres provided the supply for a large quantity of Matt Tubbs’ 37 league goals.

During this time, The Reds also went on a run deep into the latter stages of the FA Cup. Torres scored a last minute header to overcome Derby County in the third round. And in the fifth round, Crawley got their dream draw, an away tie against Man United at Old Trafford. “That night before the game I couldn’t sleep. I woke up at four in the morning, I was so excited and nervous. I just wanted the game to start.” Crawley did lose the game 1-0, but the midfielder was grateful just to play there.

Torres and Crawley Town moved up the leagues all the way up to the English third tier, but in 2014, the Argentine moved south to Whitehawk, a club known well by football hipsters. “They’re just amazing, I’ve never seen anything like it. Even now we’re fighting against relegation. Last night they don’t stop singing for 90 minutes. Everyone should come and watch a game at Whitehawk, people will appreciated what football is really about.”

At 35, the Argentinian is in the latter stages of his career. Torres is studying for a Sports Science degree and has a football academy set up with Russell Martin, the Norwich City defender. The academy provides elite coaching to boys and girls in the Brighton and Hove area, with football education programmes taking place next week.

So can Whitehawk stay up this season? Two days after my interview with Paisa, Whitehawk lose 4-2 in a vital relegation clash away to Truro. The result is a big blow to the Hawks. However, speaking with Torres has put things into perspective, “I came to England with nothing. I never thought I’d be playing at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford”.

Written by Harry Trend

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