HOPE Akpan may only be three games into his fledgling Blackburn Rovers career but the initial signs are promising.

Powerful, purposeful and comfortable at carrying the ball out from his position in front of the defence, the early indications are that Akpan will bring something different to the plethora of midfielders available to Rovers.


But while the Nigeria international’s main aim is to impress on the pitch, he is also determined to make a positive contribution off it too.

Akpan signed a two-year deal with Rovers last month after Reading agreed to cancel the final 12 months of his contract.

He had fallen down the pecking order at the Madejski Stadium after sustaining a serious shoulder injury when playing for the country where his parents were born.

But while on-field success was in short supply in his final season with the Royals, that was not the case away from the field.

Akpan was one of three players to be nominated for the PFA Player in the Community Award at April’s Football League Awards.

The Merseysider eventually missed out on the prize to veteran Millwall defender Danny Shittu.

But his nomination was recognition of the outstanding work he carried out in his role as Reading’s social inclusion ambassador.

Akpan was a frequent visitor to youth clubs and football tournaments throughout the Reading area, in an effort to engage with and increase the self-esteem of young supporters.

And, having made the move back up north, the 24-year-old is now eager to start work with the thriving Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, which was named as the North West Community Club of the Year at the Football League Awards earlier this year.

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“It’s something I’m passionate about,” said Akpan, who is from Wavertree in Liverpool.

“Football in the community in the UK is massive and there are young kids and teenagers around the country who want to get involved.

“As a professional footballer, I see it as an opportunity to give back, so while I was at Reading, I got involved with their community trust, and I was head of social inclusion.

“That meant going round to youth clubs and doing different events with young people, trying to get them involved, and to get their point of view about how they feel about football and their local club; basically just seeing what I could do to help them build confidence and grow as people.

“It’s something that helped me as a kid. I used to go to youth clubs a lot and there was one time that two footballers came down from Liverpool. That was massive to me, I was buzzing, I was excited, and I spoke about it for weeks.

“They were like, ‘do you like football? Well if you do, practice as you never know what could happen’. That’s what I went and did.

“So if I can help a kid get through something, or just feel better about themselves, that goes a long way.”

Akpan was a bright student, achieving seven As at GCSE.

But instead of continuing his education, he concentrated on his burgeoning career at Everton, the rivals of the club he supported as a boy, Liverpool.

Akpan spent 10 years at Goodison Park, graduating through the club’s academy and into the first team.

But he made just one senior appearance for Everton before he moved to Crawley Town in July 2011.

Akpan caught the eye at Crawley, scoring eight goals in 60 games, and was snapped up by then Premier League outfit Reading in January 2013.

And it was when he arrived at the Royals that he began to take more and more of an interest in what he could do to help off the pitch.

“We were really proud of the work we were doing on the community side of things so it was an honour for us to be nominated for that award,” said Akpan.

“It was reward for the hard work we did and, now that I’m here, it’s something I don’t want to stop. I’m looking for an opportunity to do the same sort of stuff.

“I’ve been told about the Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, and the good things they’ve done in the community, so if I can help in any way, I’m hoping to help.

“I like to help, it puts things into perspective, and it takes you out of that football bubble where you are surrounded by your peers all the time.

“It puts you in another social circle, and you get a different idea and point of view on things, which I think is important.

“Sometimes footballers get painted with the same brush, that we’re all the same type of way, and that we like the same sort of things, be it cars or whatever, but that’s not always the case.

“There are people that I’ve seen here already who are genuine down-to-earth people. We are humans and we do like to get involved with these sorts of things.”

Akpan’s main focus over the international break has been to recover from the ankle injury that ruled him out of the 0-0 derby draw at home to Bolton Wanderers last time out.

But he admits the prospect of pulling on the green of Nigeria again is never far from his thoughts.

“Last year I got injured playing for Nigeria, I dislocated my shoulder, I was out for a period of time, and I didn’t really recover well enough,” said Akpan, who will be fit to face Fulham on Sunday.

“But hopefully as the season goes on, and if I’m playing well, that’s something I can work towards again.

“Both my parents are from Nigeria and I decided early on that I wanted to play for them.

“Watching them play was always a big thing in my house and for me to play for them is a massive and something that I’ll always be proud of.”

But he knows if he is to win his place back in the Super Eagles squad, he has to establish himself at Rovers.

“I’m enjoying it,” said Akpan about life at Ewood Park.

“The club is full of great people – the manager, the staff, and the players, we all try to do the right side of the game and do things properly.

“As a football club, it’s a great place to be.”