NEWLY-PROMOTED AFC TOTTON have begun preparations for life in the Southern League Premier Division South at Step 3 of the non-league football pyramid by strengthening their defensive options with the permanent signing of former England youth international Sam Magri.
The 29-year-old was born in Portsmouth and spent his formative years in the Pompey Academy, working under Jimmy Ball when AFC Totton’s Manager was on the coaching staff at Fratton Park. He moved on to Queens Park Rangers in 2012, going out on loan to Nuneaton Town two years later, where he played four matches in the Conference Premier. He subsequently spent the 2014/15 season at Crystal Palace, but never made a first team appearance for The Eagles.
However, during that period, the 6’1” defender – who can operate in a variety of positions, including centre-back and right-back – made a total of 31 appearances for England’s youth teams from U16 to U19 levels. The vast majority of those caps were for the U17 side that reached the Quarter-Finals of the 2011 FIFA-U17 World Cup. Among his squad mates in Mexico were the current England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Raheem Sterling and ex-Saint Nathan Redmond, who is now plying his trade for Beşiktaş in Turkey.
Upon leaving Selhurst Park in the summer of 2015, Magri had a successful trial at Dover Athletic where he soon established himself as a regular starter. He made 45 league appearances for The Whites throughout the 2015/16 season and was named in Kent Online’s Team of the Year at the end of the campaign.
Meanwhile, shortly after his arrival at the Crabble Athletic Ground, Magri switched his international allegiance to the country of his grandfather’s birth, Malta. He won four caps at U21 level for The Falcons in 2016, going on to claim seven more at senior level. His senior international debut came against Slovenia on 11 November 2016, in a World Cup Qualification game for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
After two seasons at Dover, Magri joined Ebbsfleet United. Once again, he settled in quickly and was a regular starter for The Fleet throughout his two-season stay at Stonebridge Road, before signing for Havant & Waterlooville in 2019.
He was a Hawk for four years, which included the entire COVID era when non-league football in England was all but abandoned for the better part of two seasons. Both Josh Carmichael and Mike Carter had been and gone before his arrival, but among Magri’s Westleigh Park teammates in that spell were Benny Read (from 2019 to 2022), Scott Rendell (in 2021/22) and Charlie Searle, who had six outings between the sticks for The Stags last season, as well as striker Tommy Wright, who spent the second half of the season on loan with treble-winning Totton.
Magri did not feature in the Emirates FA Cup 2nd Round tie at Westleigh Park in September when The Hawks progressed, beating Totton by a single goal, nor was he involved in the pre-season friendly at the Snows Stadium a few months beforehand, although he has played for Havant & Waterlooville in other pre-season friendlies against Totton in the past.
At the end of January 2023, Magri signed a dual registration deal that enabled him to play 10 games in the Isthmian League Premier Division at Step 3 for Bognor Regis Town, who The Stags are due to face during this summer’s soon-to-be-announced pre-season campaign.
“Benny [Read] and Rens [Scott Rendell] both told me lots of good things about the set-up here and you only need to look at what this squad has just achieved on three fronts to realise how strong a team they are,” enthused Sam, when he visited the club on Tuesday night for his signing announcement photoshoot.
“I know Jimmy from my early days at Portsmouth and when I came to meet with him and Steve Brookwell last week, I was very impressed with the professionalism of the whole set-up and with their ambitions for the club. It’s exciting to become part of it.”
PUT IT THERE: AFC Totton boss Jimmy Ball (right) welcomes Sam Magri, his first new signing of the summer, to the Snows Stadium.
Although Sam Magri is a player well known to Jimmy Ball, his signing still came as something of a surprise to the Stags boss, himself:
“Sam wasn’t particularly in my thoughts because I didn’t know that Havant & Waterlooville were about to let him go. But as soon as I heard he was available, I got involved because I know what a quality player he is and I’m chuffed to bits to have completed this deal relatively quickly,” said the treble-winning AFC Totton Manager.
“He missed a spell through injury last season but he’s a very dependable and versatile defender who can do an excellent job in a variety of positions. He has the kind of mentality that we’re looking for, with many of the same qualities as those players who joined us last season; calmness under pressure, the ability to pass the ball, to read the game very well and to get himself into the right positions at the right time. He’s a big personality on the pitch, another leader of men with a lot of footballing knowhow.
“We built a team last season that could control games most of the time, but could still go after games when we needed to. We were rarely ever beaten, fighting tooth and nail right to the last whistle for every point, and Sam is another player who fits into that mould. Bringing him in adds that extra bit of quality and strength of character we’re going to need, playing at a higher level next season.”
While fellow Southern League Premier Division South side Salisbury reportedly completed their sixth and seventh signings of the close season on Monday evening, The Stags boss rejects any suggestion that he is playing catch-up in the transfer market after having two cup finals to contend with beyond the end of the regular 2022/23 season.
“We don’t need a whole raft of players; three or four of the right players will be enough. We have a very strong squad already, the vast majority of which are staying put. Getting Sam into the squad is a very pleasing start to our summer business and I’ve got my eye on a few more, but we don’t need to rush and we certainly don’t want to disrupt what we already have.”
By Ben Rochey-Adams
Image courtesy of Craig Hobbs Photography