When Malyk Hamilton was just 11 years old, the idea of being a footballer was still a distant dream.
Sure, the young Calgary Foothills player wanted to turn pro one day … but when you’re young and the world is still so big – not to mention that Calgary feels so disconnected from Europe’s grandest sides – those dreams tend to be just that: A fantasy.
Still, with support from a football-loving family, Malyk dreamed those silly dreams.
His mother was his biggest supporter, filming Malyk’s youth games at the Calgary Soccer Centre. Family in England were curious to watch Malyk play, after all. His father took that tape and put together compilation videos, uploading them to YouTube. That’s how you did things in 2010, where the viral internet is the sport’s cultural backbone.
The world is utterly foreign to those who once called it their own; try telling Malyk’s cousins Marvin Bartley of Bournemouth fame, or Mitchell Thomas of Tottenham and Luton Town, that their young relative would be scouted off the back of a YouTube video, and they’d scratch their heads in confusion.
That’s exactly what happened, though.
Foothills coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. can’t make it over to an Arsenal youth tournament. Malyk’s father takes his son and the Foothills kids to London, instead. Family get a hold of Malyk’s game videos. One family member is friends with an agent (there’s always one, right?). That agent sees the video. Likes. Subscribes. Hits that bell to receive notifications. The wheels are in motion.
See, while Hamilton was over in London playing with his Foothills youth team, one of those videos managed to find its way onto the desk of two of London’s biggest outfits: Fulham FC, and West Ham United.
The following year, Hamilton went on trial, and both clubs offered him a two-year contract.
That’s how fast it happens. Blink, and you might miss it.
‘This has always been my dream’
That’s what Hamilton, now a bona fide professional with Cavalry FC, told CanPL.ca as he reflected on his journey back home to Calgary, after enjoying an eight-year stay in London.
The pull of West Ham is unique in the English capital. The club is known as the “The Academy of Football,” having produced some of the finest talent England has ever known – including Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, and Glen Johnson.
Could you blame Hamilton for wanting to walk among the greats?
“When I heard about the opportunity, I remember approaching it thinking to myself that this is one of those camps where you go and train and just learn from it,” Hamilton recalled. “I didn’t go in thinking that, a few months later, I’d uproot my entire life and move to England.”
Hamilton met quite a few interesting characters in London, including an older striker named Jordan Brown. The two connected on Instagram, and became friends over the years, playing and training at West Ham. Still, there was a job to do: With higher stakes, came greater pressure. Yet, Hamilton rose to the occasion, time and time again.
“I’ll never forget it,” Hamilton begins, recalling his finest moment in a West Ham shirt, with the Under-15s.
“I remember we went and played Tottenham away, and we beat them 6-1; I scored four, and set up the other two. That was a really great day for me. That same day, I actually got to be a ballboy at a West Ham first-team game. That day was an emotional roller coaster. It was my first time scoring four goals in a game, and then straight off the bus after the game, I get dropped at the first-team stadium and I get to ballboy.”
Throwing the ball back into play wasn’t the reason for this special memory, though. What made it so?
“I’m a Liverpool supporter … and they were visiting. I got to see Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard, up close in the tunnel and alongside the pitch,” Hamilton adds, and you can sense nothing but truth in his voice. Love of Liverpool runs deep in the family.
It’s why Hamilton didn’t hesitate for one moment when asked to close his eyes and imagine, but for a moment – what does the dream really look like?
“Oh, this one I don’t even have to think about – playing in the Premier League, wearing a Liverpool shirt,” he enthusiastically answered. “For me, playing for Liverpool would be me reaching the height of my career. It would be amazing, not just for me, but for my family. It’s just putting on the shirt. The love I have for the club is so much deeper than anything else. It would be me fulfilling my ultimate dream.”
Oh, Liverpool, the pride of Merseyside, and host of many a legendary night at Anfield. A storied past. A bright future. Champions League title holders, too – and don’t you forget it, he reminds this Chelsea supporter.
Hamilton dreams red-tinted dreams.
Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. … does not hide his love of Everton blue. There’s no love lost when these two clash in a Merseyside Derby. Luckily for Hamilton, this back-and-forth isn’t new.
“I’ve known Tommy since I was a kid, so we’ve always had that sort of banter between me and his family, always giving it to each other whenever there’s a Merseyside derby,” Hamilton concluded, with a chuckle.
Plenty of players who experience life and football abroad return home with a similar sentiment.
The experience of playing and living in a foreign place during your teenage years has a certain maturative property.
“I ended up spending eight years of my life in England, and I developed not only as a footballer, but as a person,” Hamilton said, to that end. “I was forced to mature, and I learned a bunch of things about not just football, but about life. It shaped me as a person, and as a player.”
Hamilton does a great job of quantifying this growth. You can hear it in his voice. He speaks well beyond his 20 years. It’s tinged with the sort of realism that doesn’t typically settle in until your mid-to-late 20s.
“I remember growing up at West Ham, the coaches always used to say to us, I forget the exact number, but it was a percentage, zero-point-whatever percent of players from academies actually go on and make a good living in this game,” Hamilton recalled.
“There are so many people who want to be professional footballers, but not everyone gets to live that dream. But there was never a point where I was thinking I’d give up. There were definitely challenging moments, though, and those are the moments that prepare you for the next stage of your career. There are times you don’t see the next step, but it’s that challenging time that opens the door for your next opportunity.”
That attitude permeates into his game. It’s why the young fullback stepped in for Chris Serban and Dean Northover without missing a beat in 2019, making 16 appearances as a starter and a substitute.
But the biggest lesson learned is one of introspection, and perception.
“A lot of young players here in Canada feel like we’re inferior to players out in Europe, because of the stereotype of how, in Europe, young players eat, sleep, and breath this game,” Hamilton reflected. “Because of that, a lot of young players here feel the dream is impossible, when really it isn’t.”
He added: “I know what life can be like when you’re working a job that you don’t enjoy. It’s one of the biggest lessons of it all; the fact that you’re able to do what you love every single day, and you’re enjoying it. I always play with a smile on my face. That’s something that not a lot of people get to do. That’s the coolest thing about it all, really.”