Middlesbrough youngster Kamil Conteh proud of Gateshead loan despite Wembley heartache

The seeds of what would prove to be a highly successful loan spell in non-league football were sewn during the blistering heat of last summer.
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By one future team-mate’s own admission, one Middlesbrough youngster had ‘stood out like a sore thumb’ as Gateshead claimed a 3-1 win over a youthful Boro side at Rockliffe Park, before joining the National League side just under two months later. Energy, controlled aggression, quality on and off the ball, and most of all, an unrelenting willingness to push himself had made a mark that would not be forgotten.

Carl Magnay’s assessment of Kamil Conteh would not be restricted to his display that sunny pre-season day, as the all-action midfielder went on to enjoy a highly productive season-long loan spell on the south bank of the Tyne and become a firm favourite at the International Stadium.

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After slowing finding his way into the challenging environment in non-league’s top tier, Conteh has racked up an impressive list of achievements during the last seven months including an FA Cup first round goal, a senior international call-up with Sierra Leone, helping the Heed in their successful battle against relegation and, most recently, walking out at Wembley Stadium.

Kamil Conteh in action at Wembley (photo Charlie Waugh)Kamil Conteh in action at Wembley (photo Charlie Waugh)
Kamil Conteh in action at Wembley (photo Charlie Waugh)

But personal progress always came secondary to team success for Conteh, who cut an understandably disappointed figure as he gave a heartfelt interview to The Mail deep in the bowels of the home of football in the aftermath of Gateshead’s narrow FA Trophy Final defeat against FC Halifax Town.

Reflecting on the defeat and his loan spell, as well as assessing what lies ahead upon his return to Middlesbrough, he said: “I wanted to bring it home. I had so many feelings within me to bring it home, for the fans, for the club, for everyone, just for something to end the season on a high. But I know not everything in life will go your way. You just have to regroup, reset, look forwards and next season I will go again, keep striving and keep pushing to get to where I want to be.

“I am delighted with how this loan has gone. I’ve played over 40 games for the club, I’ve used the experience I’ve gathered, I will take that back to my parent club in pre-season and show them what I have learnt, show them what I can do. I believe I can do that. I believe I can keep going.”

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Premier League and Championship youngsters are often dispatched on loan spells with the aim of testing resilience, attitude and an ability to overcome adversity in the most challenging environments.

Conteh has ticked every box during his time at Gateshead, helping the Tynesiders defy the odds in the face of an almost season-long injury crisis that threatened to limit their return to the National League to just a singular season. Yet the Middlesbrough midfielder has thrived throughout and his form has turned what looked to be a season of struggle into a one that both he and his now former loan club will reflect upon with great pride.

Will Harris and Kamil Conteh celebrate during Gateshead’s win over Southend United (photo Charles Waugh)Will Harris and Kamil Conteh celebrate during Gateshead’s win over Southend United (photo Charles Waugh)
Will Harris and Kamil Conteh celebrate during Gateshead’s win over Southend United (photo Charles Waugh)

A breakthrough moment seemed to arrive when the four-times capped Sierra Leone international scored in a 3-2 FA Cup first round defeat against eventual League One runners-up Stevenage in early November. Two weeks later, he bagged a first league goal in an impressive 3-2 home win against Southend and followed that up with another strike in a 3-1 victory at Oldham Athletic in an FA Trophy tie in January.

Confidence flowed, connections with team-mates and supporters were formed as the synergy between all parties enabled the Heed to swagger away from the National League relegation zone and embark on a run of just five defeats in their last 30 games in all competitions.

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For former Watford youngster Conteh, over 40 appearances in all competitions means this loan spell can only be viewed as an overwhelming success and one that has left an indelible impression on him as he looks to take the next step in what is already a highly promising career.

He explained: “I think what I have learnt on and off the field, I’ve had experiences playing in front of crowds, playing here at Wembley, in the first round of the FA Cup, we were tipped to get relegated by everyone, but we stayed up. To stay up, I am delighted, and I am delighted to help us get to Wembley, for the fans, for everyone. Off the field, being around the lads, they’re a very good group of boys. I had to adapt, I didn’t know them, but I have forged a bond with these boys.”

 Conteh in action for Sierra Leone (photo Getty Images) Conteh in action for Sierra Leone (photo Getty Images)
Conteh in action for Sierra Leone (photo Getty Images)

Described aș ‘a monster’ by Gateshead manager Mike Williamson and ‘infectious’ by captain Greg Olley, Conteh’s enthusiasm and ability have endeared him to the Heed faithful, who seem to have committed football’s cardinal sin of falling in love with a loan signing.

The midfielder’s post-match celebration, which sits somewhere between one utilised by WWE superstar Brock Lesnar and Jurgen Klopp’s fistpump, have become a regular feature of Gateshead’s match days as the youngster marked an ever-growing list of wins with the club’s supporters. Love for his new fans and his temporary team-mates seems to have been mutual as Conteh now prepares to prove himself all over again upon his return to Boro.

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He revealed: “I’ll be back to watch the Gateshead boys, 100%, you never know what will happen in the future because it’s football. But I am a Gateshead supporter now, I will keep a lookout for what they do, and I will be back among the fans because I love the fans and I will be one of them going forwards.”

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