FA Cup: Ilkeston goalkeeper's journey from war in Ukraine

Evandro Rachoni
Evandro Rachoni is finding himself dodging tractors, rather than tanks, after escaping war in Ukraine to move to Ilkeston

Playing in the seventh tier of English football was probably not quite how Evandro Rachoni saw his career going when he left Brazil to seek fame and fortune. But then, being threatened by masked gunmen as a platoon of tanks drove by was probably not part of the plan either.

That, though, is just one part of an incredible journey that has seen the Brazilian goalkeeper go from playing against Ballon d'Or winner Rivaldo in Angola, escaping war-torn Ukraine to now living in the small Derbyshire town of Ilkeston preparing to play in the FA Cup first qualifying round.

"It is quiet, and there is not much to do, but it means I can focus on football," the 25-year-old told BBC Sport.

The quiet life was something Evandro had not dreamed of having when he was a youngster growing up in the bustling metropolis that is Rio de Janeiro.

Dream move turns into a nightmare

Rivaldo
Evandro was saving shots from Brazilian former world footballer of the year Rivaldo (l) when he played in Angola

Developing his craft at Fluminense, the ambitious teenager recognised he could use his talent to make good money, and when his agent found a lucrative opportunity in Angola, he jumped at the chance.

"It was a lot of money," Evandro said. "I was 19 and when you are young you are looking for a lot of money, so I moved there and spent two seasons there, playing against Rivaldo. He was one of the best players and it was a real pleasure to play with him."

As good as the money was, watching the greats of the game play in the Champions League on television fuelled Evandro's determination to play in Europe.

His brother-in-law, playing in the Ukrainian top flight, mentioned there was a potential opportunity at Arsenal Kiev in the summer of 2013 and Evandro saw it as a chance to finally show what he could do on the continental stage.

"They were playing in the Europa League qualifiers," he added. "You have Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev, Metalist and Dnipro, but Arsenal Kiev were up there too."

Joining the second biggest club in Ukraine's capital city must have seemed like a dream come true for Evandro, but it quickly turned into a nightmare.

Arsenal Kiev were owned by Ukrainian millionaire Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who competed at London 2012 in equestrianism, but he stepped down in November 2013 and the club were declared bankrupt.

Dodging tanks on the way to a war zone

Tanks
Evandro says it was not uncommon for his team bus to pass more than 50 tanks on the way to games in Ukraine

Evandro joined Ukrainian lower league side FC Retro as he looked to maintain his fitness while he considered his options, but when war broke out in February 2014 the young goalkeeper found himself increasingly concerned for his safety.

"On the way to a game once our bus was passed by something like 50 tanks on the way to the war zone," he said.

"Maybe the other guys were used to seeing that but for me it was very different, very hard to see. You cannot imagine, tanks of war coming in your direction."

However, it was the moment gunmen burst onto his team bus on the way to one game that convinced him he had to leave the country.

"I was the only one on the bus from Brazil while everyone else was from Ukraine, so it was very bad," said Evandro.

"We were going to the game and rebels stopped our team bus and got on, with guns and masks on, and asked what we were doing there.

"Some were angry and when they came inside the bus with guns, we didn't know what they wanted, so for me it was very scary and of course my family were very worried."

Evandro Rachoni
Evandro Rachoni (back row, second from right) briefly played for FC Retro in Ukraine, and it was while playing for them that gunmen boarded his team bus

Evandro's fears for his safety grew when a Malaysian Airlines plane crashed in Ukraine in July 2014 - it was at that moment he decided he had to leave.

But he found some resistance from his agent.

"I spoke to my agent but he didn't want to move me out because he could make a lot of money there," he said.

"For me, when the airplane went down it just made me think 'you never know what can happen'.

"We used to fly a lot to games when I was at Arsenal Kiev and it was then I thought 'no way can I stay here'. I had to get out."

'I nearly joined Peterborough, but everyone got sacked'

Evandro, who holds an Italian passport through his grandfather, cut ties with his representative and decided to fend for himself, leaving Kiev and flying to London in September last year.

"The best football is in England and a friend of mine said there were a lot of clubs in London and suggested I moved there, so I did," he said.

"I arrived without any contacts but searched on the internet and managed to get a game with a club that played in the ninth level, London Bari."

Brief spells at Conference South side Concord Rangers and Crawley, then in League One, followed before a successful trial at Peterborough saw him on the verge of signing a permanent deal with with the third-tier club.

"I played in a reserve game for them, which we won, and the manager Darren Ferguson came to say he liked me and they would sign me the week after," he added.

"But they played on Saturday against MK Dons, lost 3-0 and everyone got sacked."

Once again, Evandro found himself in a situation where his future was uncertain. Dave Robertson, who replaced Ferguson, assured him a deal was still on the cards.

Peterborough
Evandro believed he was set to get his break in English league football at Peterborough, but that fell through when manager Darren Ferguson (r) left the club

He added: "Robertson said they just needed to wait for the chairman to come back from overseas but when he did he said they would not be making any signings at that point."

Without a club, Evandro found himself back where he had started when he first arrived in England.

However, the chance to join Ilkeston came in July this year when the club's manager Gavin Strachan, son of Scotland boss Gordon, invited him to join the Derbyshire side.

"I knew Gavin from when he was a coach at Peterborough," added Evandro.

"Ilkeston have really good facilities and are really ambitious. Carlo Nash, who played for Manchester City, is the goalkeeper coach there. It was a really good opportunity."

Three months into his time at Ilkeston, Evandro is already a fans' favourite.

"They call me Brazilian Bob," he said.

"I can see that it might be hard for some people to pronounce my name and I think some kid called me Bobby and then everyone called me Brazilian Bob.

"It is nice, though, and great to have that sort of fun with the supporters."

'I grew up wanting to play in the FA Cup'

Now more accustomed to dodging tractors rather than tanks on the roads of Derbyshire, Evandro feels more settled than ever before.

His focus now, is to make a name for himself.

Ilkeston
After spells in Brazil, Angola and Ukraine, Evandro Rachoni now plays his football at Ilkeston's 3,000-capacity New Manor Ground

Having seen the giant-killing exploits of Blyth Spartans and Warrington in last year's FA Cup, Evandro is hoping that the competition can propel both himself, and Ilkeston, into the headlines.

"The FA Cup is the most important club competition in the world," said Evandro, before this Saturday's FA Cup game against Rugby Town.

"There is nothing like it in Brazil or Ukraine - where every level of clubs can play and have the opportunity to show what they can do.

"For me, it will be a real privilege to play in the FA Cup and we are determined to make a name for ourselves in it this year."

Check out this weekend's FA Cup fixtures.