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Saidou Khan (right) celebrates a Chesterfield goal with team-mate Kabongo Tshimanga
Saidou Khan (right) says his dad, Kalifa, would be “jumping for joy” knowing he was facing Chelsea in the FA Cup
Date: Saturday, 8 January Venue: Stamford Bridge Kick-off: 17:30 GMT Coverage: Live from 17:20 on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website, app and Red Button.

When Chesterfield’s team coach rolls through the gates into Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon, Saidou Khan will be thinking of his dad who passed away when the midfielder was aged just 12.

Growing up 3,000 miles away in The Gambia, Khan’s father, Kalifa, would encourage his football-obsessed son to chase his dreams of becoming a professional player.

“When he died after being diagnosed with cancer, I thought my dream of becoming a professional footballer died too,” says Khan.

“He was my best friend. It was a hard time growing up because we didn’t have much money, but he would buy me and my brothers a football and boots to play in.”

Thirteen years on from his dad’s passing, the FA Cup third-round draw paired non-league Chesterfield – who Khan joined in the summer – with Chelsea, the champions of Europe.

“My dad would be jumping for joy,” adds Khan, 26, who joined the Derbyshire club after his contract at Maidstone United expired.

“When I was young, I would watch Chelsea’s matches on television with my cousin and we’d talk excitedly about one day coming to England to play against the biggest clubs.

“Neither of us really believed we would get the chance. But dreams really do come true.”

‘I thought it was a prank when dad died’

As a soldier who was part of The Gambia’s peacekeeping mission in Liberia, Kalifa Khan was away from his family for long stretches.

Life was not always easy for young Khan growing up with seven relatives in one small house in Sanchaba, close to the city of Serekunda.

Yet he was at his happiest whenever there was a football nearby.

There was no money for official football shirts so Khan would write Kaka’s name in pen on the back of his top whenever he played.

“Someone said to me ‘you OK like Kaka’ after one game, and from that moment on I watched every AC Milan game I could on television,” he says.

“When I go back to Gambia, most people still call me Kaka. They don’t even know my real name.”

Saidou Khan with his father, Kalifa
A young Saidou Khan with his father, Kalifa, in The Gambia where his dad would encourage him to chase his dreams

His father later left the army for a better-paid job as a security guard in Brixton, London, and would send money back to The Gambia to support his wife and children.

“When he came back to visit us he’d always bring back a football and boots,” adds Khan.

“I remember my brother and I had one football between us and it was the only football in my area. Both of our teams had a game and we ended up fighting because we both needed the football.

“After we told our dad what we were fighting over he came out with a large knife and cut the ball in half, leaving us with half a ball each.”

Khan remembers the moment he was told that his father had died.

“I walked out of the house and carried on walking. I didn’t know where I was going. I was waiting for someone to call me to say it was a prank.”

‘From Lidl to Chelsea’

“I rang my mum: ‘We’re going to Chelsea’,” says Khan of the moment Chesterfield were paired with the European champions.

Yadicon Khan knew how hard her son’s journey had been and how many setbacks he had endured since arriving in England in 2010, two years after his dad’s passing.

As well as spells at Tooting & Mitcham, Dulwich Hamlet, Carshalton Athletic, Kingstonian and Chipstead, Khan studied at the University of East London and worked part-time at a Lidl supermarket in Camden Town.

He had two trials at MK Dons – one in 2017 when he was playing in the eighth tier at Chipstead, and another after signing a full-time contract for Maidstone United.

When the second trial did not result in a deal Khan seriously considered a different career path.

“I was 23 at the time,” he explains. “When I first came to England people told me that if you’re 18 or 19 and not at a professional club then that is it. When it didn’t happen with MK Dons I thought that was my last chance.

“In the end I decided to carry on. I thought if I quit now I wouldn’t only be giving up on my dream, but my mum’s dream as well.”

‘Mum’s taken the day off to watch’

Quite an experience awaits Khan this weekend.

The last time he visited Stamford Bridge was as a spectator to watch his friend’s brother – Vontae Daley-Campbell – play for Arsenal against Chelsea in the 2018 FA Youth Cup final.

On Saturday, he will walk out in front of a crowd of about 40,000 looking to cause one of the great FA Cup upsets.

Among the 5,800 travelling Chesterfield fans will be Khan’s mum. “It will only be the second time she’s seen me play,” he says.

“My mum came once to Tooting & Mitcham and said afterwards ‘I can’t be doing with this, it’s too cold’.

Chesterfield are top of the National League table – the fifth tier of English football – while Chelsea are second in the Premier League. Chesterfield were the first team ever to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, on 21 October 1905 in Division Two.
The Spireites have not faced a Premier League side in the FA Cup since the 1996-97 semi-final against Middlesbrough – after a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, they lost 3-0 in the replay at Hillsborough. In the Premier League era, there have been 47 instances of non-league sides facing Premier League opposition in FA Cup ties, with two of those winning – Luton at Norwich in January 2013 and Lincoln at Burnley in February 2017.

“Since then she just calls me after games, but she’s taken the day off from her supermarket job to come to Chelsea. It’s going to be a special day.”

Khan hopes Chesterfield can do themselves proud at Stamford Bridge, but decided not to watch Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool last Sunday on television. “I didn’t want to scare myself,” he laughs.

Whatever the result on Saturday, Khan’s football journey still has many years to run but he already knows where he wants to focus his energies in the future.

Having lost his dad at such an early age, he wants to help children who have been orphaned.

“I would love to work with kids that aspire to be footballers, mostly orphans or kids with a single parent,” adds Khan.

“I’m planning on having my own foundation set up for that.”

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