Nigerian football star,
Perpetua Nkwocha, knows
what it is like to find yourself
many miles from home,
making a new life.
Her playing career took
her from Nigeria to China
and then to Sweden, where
she has been based in the
northern town of Skelleftea
for more than seven years.
Now the multiple African
champion and African
Women’s Footballer of
the Year is helping others
who have made a very
different journey, to the same
destination.
She is player-coach for
a local team, but much of
her spare time this winter is
being taken up coaching a
group of Afghan teenagers,
some of the hundreds of
young migrants who have
arrived in the town in recent
months.
“I feel that it’s similar –
which is why I have to try to
make them happy, because
I know where they came
from,” she told the BBC.
“I feel so glad that I
connected with them and we
started this project together.
“We try to make them feel
welcome, try to make them
feel happy, try to make them
get friends and associate with
other Swedish (people).”
Her club, Clemensnas IF,
in co-operation with the local
football association and the
Swedish church, set up the
project, which has only been
running since November.
“It is really a way of
giving these immigrants and
refugees something to do
during the day,” said Jens
Karlsson, the chairman of
Clemensnas.
“If they love soccer they
can come here and practise
with Perpetua, who is a great
soccer player, so that’s the
purpose of the whole thing,
to help in the immigration of
these guys.”
The enthusiasm of
the youngsters, many of
whom travelled alone from
Afghanistan, is plain to see
as they are stuck in to their
drills, under the watchful eye
of their illustrious trainer.
It is far from clear if the
boys are aware of the stature
and achievements of the
player who is putting them
through their paces.
But if they can’t list
Nkwocha’s titles and
trophies, they certainly
recognise her qualities, even
if at the start some were
apparently surprised to be
coached by a woman.
Now there are no such
doubts.
“She’s a good coach, we’re
all happy,” Habibullah told
the BBC, before excitedly
outlining plans for a team
being put together once the
group has settled in.
Migration is as
controversial an issue in
Sweden as it is elsewhere
across Europe – but the local
authorities in Skelleftea, who
support the Clemensnas
project, are adamant that
they need people to come to
the town, and make their life
there.
“We have a problem
with people moving away –
down into the big towns in
the south,” local councillor
Daniel Adin told us.
“For many of our smaller
towns and villages, they see
this as a way to keep the
countryside alive.”
And he is a keen supporter
of using the football scheme
to try to bring the new
arrivals into society.
“We have seen that sport
is a really simple way of
creating these meetings
between people, because
you don’t have to know the
language – you can meet
and have a natural way
of communicating and
meeting.”
Nwocha says she enjoys
her life in Skelleftea, people
are friendly, it is just the cold
that is difficult.
“You cannot get used
to this weather. There is
no fashion in winter,” she
says, adding that layers are
imperative.
She has a busy life,
attending classes to improve
her Swedish – as well as the
teenage-coaching project.
Her main role will be to
lead Clemensnas to success
once the season gets going
again in May.
But the so-called “Football
for All” scheme is close to her
heart, and she is putting just
as much effort into that at the
moment.
“I feel so great being with
these lovely children here,”
she said.
“I feel like I’m home,
you know, just like when I
train my boys back home in
Nigeria, I feel the same way

Cull fro BBC Africa Sports


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