IRAIW Interview with Dante Leverock
Dante Leverock is a Bermudian international football well versed in English non-league football. Now, Europe is at his feet after a Europa League campaign with his a top-tier side in Estonia.
JK Narva Trans is now home for the defender, as he steps into the European professional ranks. Trans failed to make it through qualifying to the Europa League group stage but have a foot in the Estonian Cup and are chasing the top spaces in the Meistiliiga. We recently had a chat.
What’s your first football-related memory?
My first memories of the sport are with Dandy Town. That’s my hometown’s club in Pembroke Parish. I remember training at the club with boys who were a lot older than me. At first, I was incredibly scared. Although it was my mother who gave me the strength and encouragement I needed. I haven’t stopped playing ever since. I owe a lot of gratitude to both the club and Mother.
Let’s talk about the national team; what is it like to play for Bermuda?
Representing my country is always an honour. This year we have the CONCACAF Nation's League, I really want to get involved with that competition. I want to be someone who can make a difference to the national side and bring a bit of pride into Bermudian football and people saying: “Hey, that’s my country’s team!” Right now, we have a good group of players who are determined to be successful.
How would you describe your time in England?
The lower leagues of England turned me into the player I am today. It was there, in the places like the New Manor Ground, [where] I learned the importance of being strong. In those divisions, you simply have to stand tall with the ball at your feet. Otherwise, the opposition has already taken the ball and scored.
I first saw you at Ilkeston; how was it playing there in the eighth tier?
Ilkeston was a strange experience. There’s a great chap called Paul Scope. He’s been instrumental in giving Bermudian players opportunities to play overseas. I wanted to go there and show what I could do, but before too long it was obvious there was trouble. Serious financial difficulty. Not being paid. Not pleasant for anyone. Overall though, a great ground with some fantastic fans.
I was reading the other day they are doing well under new ownership. That made me happy to know they’ve bounced back.
What was it like playing for Bermudian and Manchester City legend, Shaun Goater?
Shaun was the manager at Ilkeston FC. He had a great experience and was very knowledgeable about the game. He found it easy to relate to players; which made it a very enjoyable experience. I’d describe my time at Ilkeston to be a tough challenge, but the time with him made it all worth it as I learnt a lot in a short time.
How about America?
I’m lucky enough to make several contacts within the American soccer industry from my time with the Harrisburg City Islanders. It was an interesting time, but I managed to forge my connection with Pro Soccer Consulting. After my contract ended with Ilkeston, I attended a convention held by PSC. The purpose of the event was to expose players to clubs, in the hope of getting a professional contract.
I was one of the lucky ones. Narva Trans, a top-flight Estonian team, liked the look of me and offered me my first professional contract. A dream come true, I took it, of course. I owe a lot to America, as well.
How’s life in Estonia?
I’ve only been here a relatively short time, but I’m enjoying life here, living out my dream and all. The people, especially my teammates have been very welcoming which has helped no end. Some of my family members have visited me, too, which has assisted me with this dramatic transition.
Here in Narva, people tend to speak Russian here. Narva is essentially on the border, next door to Russia. We are actually closer to St. Petersburg than we are the Estonian capital, Tallinn. I’m learning Russian slowly, but it’s worth it to have a better quality of life.
What are the differences between Bermuda, England and Estonia?
Bermuda has a more relaxed atmosphere. We say that “everything is on Bermuda time”. Meaning that we shouldn’t stress or worry. Just relax. Whilst that’s a beautiful mantra for a beautiful country, it doesn’t help professional athletes' careers. That’s why I moved to England. It’s a serious place. Especially when it comes to sport. I felt disciplined, but with an overall goal. I enjoyed my time in England as it allowed me to become the smart professional I am today.
Estonia is more reserved. It’s a culture based on respect and trust. So initially it can seem a little cold. Yet, in a relationship people tend to be a lot more open.
I really enjoy learning about different cultures, so I’d be happy anywhere as long as there are notable things to observe and learn. That said, I do miss Bermudian food.
What are your ambitions for the rest of the season?
We want to finish in the top three. As high as possible, but top three is certainly the target. It’d be disappointing to end the season anywhere other than that. Right now we are fourth, but applying pressure to the others.
I want to do my bit at the back and keep a few clean sheets, as well as help out with a goal or two and hopefully, we can achieve our goals.
What about long-term?
I want to play at the highest level possible. This year, of course, has broken many records for me. Playing in top-flight football, playing in the Europa League qualifying section. Although, I want more. I’d like to experience some Champions League football some day. I want to keep on improving and playing at higher and higher levels.
What’s been your career highlight so far?
It has to be playing in the Europa League. This was a journey from playing on the streets of Bermuda and the non-league of England to this point. I had gone through parts of my life doubting my ability, thinking I couldn’t cut it as a professional. I was wrong, the hard work paid off and here I am playing in a top continental competition.
I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to my family who has been so supportive of my journey here. I’ve dedicated this season to my late father, Collins Smith, who I can imagine would be incredibly proud.