Antonio relishing Carabao Cup return to Cheltenham Town

Michail Antonio playing for Cheltenham Town


Michail Antonio is relishing a return to the club which handed him his senior professional debut on Wednesday evening.

The West Ham United star was just 18 when he joined struggling League One side Cheltenham Town on loan from Reading in February 2009.

Despite Antonio’s presence, and that of former Hammer Martin Allen in the Whaddon Road dugout, the Robins were unable to avoid relegation, but the winger will never forget what he learned during his three months in Gloucestershire.

“They were in League One when I went there and we got relegated that season,” recalled Antonio, whose Hammers tackle Cheltenham in the Carabao Cup second round this week.

“I had come to Reading from non-league a few months before and then went back on loan to [my former club] Tooting & Mitcham and people were trying to smash me.

“I went back to Reading and the very next day I went on loan to Cheltenham, so I literally went from grassroots football to Cheltenham. It was definitely better technically and stuff like that but it was hustle and bustle, hard challenges and everybody down there is fighting for everything and trying to get better.”

Antonio himself fought and got better, impressing for Reading and Southampton before breakthrough spells with Championship clubs Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest propelled him to the Premier League two years ago.

Antonio returned to action against Southampton

While he is now a top-flight regular, a household name and close to an England debut, the No30 will always relish the experiences he enjoyed – and endured – in the three months he spent with Cheltenham eight-and-a-half years ago.

“When I went to Cheltenham on loan, my very first game was at Elland Road and I played for 12 minutes, got challenged by Patrick Kisnorbo and I injured three ligaments in my ankle, but because it was my debut I played on for 15 minutes and then had to call it a day,” he said, grimacing as he remembers the pain of the injury he suffered at Leeds United.

“I’ve never been back since I left, so it will definitely be nice to go back and see how the club is doing and meet the same people who were there when I was there all those years ago.”

While Cheltenham will always have a special place in Antonio’s heart, the 27-year-old will have no sentiment when he takes to the pitch in front of a capacity 7,000 crowd at Whaddon Road.

Every West Ham fan would no doubt love a run in the Carabao Cup, but the powerful wideman says the tournament and opposition are irrelevant – he just wants to win football matches.

“To be honest, the ambition of this Club has to be to win as many games as possible, in every competition,” he said.

“We’re not focusing on the Premier League or on the Carabao Cup, we’re only focusing on winning, that’s the key.”

Wednesday’s tie will be screened live in the UK by Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Mix from 7.30pm. Alternatively, you can follow our Live blog on from 6pm.