Dreaming play football in Europe

Thousands of young African boys dream of leaving their lives of poverty to play football in Europe. The majority of the boys trafficked into Europe come from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. CFS estimates that in France alone there are more than 7,000 young Africans living on the streets after failed attempts to play for a professional club. Ninety-eight percent are illegal immigrants and 70 percent are younger than 18. Inspired by players like Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o, and buoyed by promises from unscrupulous, unlicensed agents and scouts, their impoverished parents deplete their savings or go into debt to finance their sons’ journeys.

Emmanuel Eboue, Arsenal and Ivory Coast
'There are some bad agents out there'

When I was nine, I played in a small team in my hometown of Abidjan, in Cote D'Ivoire [Ivory Coast]. I played for them for five years before we played a friendly against the ASEC academy, a well known academy in the city, and their manager said he wanted me to join them.
I stayed at the academy for one-and-a-half years. It has a partnership with Beveren, the Belgian team, and every two years scouts come and pick out maybe three or four players to join the club. They told my agent that they wanted me. I played for Beveren for four years.
In Africa, and in Cote D'Ivoire especially, we have a lot of academies, but I don't think children are being exploited. There are some bad agents, but there are also a lot of good people. My agent was a very good person who helped me very much. When I first came to Belgium he came with me and made everything possible.

Bernard, Guine-Bissau

Bernard, 17,In the stairwell of a concrete high-rise block in Clichy-sous-Bois, one of Paris's worst ghettos, 17-year-old Bernard Bass sits shivering in the cold. he travelled from Ghana to Senegal to Tenerife on the promise of a trial with Metz, in eastern France, from a Lebanese agent. 'My mother sold our house and my two younger brothers started work at 12 to help pay for my passage,' says Bass, who was told by the agent he could make the journey to France by boat. The journey took two weeks. "When we reached Europe I was kept in prison in Tenerife for a month and then flown to the mainland.
I told my captors I was 18 and they let me go. I made it to France, but Metz had no idea who I was and threatened to report me to the police. Now I am here in Clichy-sous-Bois, staying on a friend's floor."

Effa Steve, Equatorial Guinea

Effa, 17 and a midfielde,came to France two years ago with the promise of a trial with Dijon. His visa and flight had been arranged by a Bulgarian middleman in his home country. As with Bernard, his mother sold her house to get him to Europe. He did have a trial, but he suffered a knee injury and the club lost interest. He has since been living in a high-rise squat in the Montrouge district of Paris.
'My visa expired after 30 days and Dijon said they had no interest in me,' Steve says. 'I came to Paris and stayed on, hoping for another trial. That was 2005. I play for an amateur team now, but the standard is very good and I don't always get a game. My life now is about avoiding arrest and finding somewhere to stay at night. We make money selling fake Prada handbags in the markets around Montparnasse. I share the floor of an abandoned apartment with four others.'

Simon, Cameroon

Simon, an illegal Cameroonian immigrant. He is wearing just a black polo-neck despite the cold; he doesn't own a jacket or a fleece. 'I came here two years ago on a 30-day visa,' Simon says, 'with the dream of playing for Paris Saint-Germain. In Cameroon I was a player. My family expected everything from me, when I left my mother hired out a local bar. They made a huge banner saying: "Good luck, we are so proud of you."
'After the club said no, part of me was too ashamed to return so I stayed on as an illegal. I tell my mother I will send money home soon, to pay the agent, I tell her that I am playing well. I feel like a condemned man, that my life is hopeless. I am 18 years old and in my village in Cameroon I am a hero.'

Stephane, Cameroon

Stephane, 18, scored 12 goals in a local tournament in Cameroon when he was approached by a man who asked, "Would you like to come to Europe and become a professional soccer player?"
His mother borrowed money from everyone she knew in their village to finance his journey. Four weeks later Stephane was homeless in Paris, with no work permit and no money to return home. "I trained for one week with an Italian team in Genoa," he recalls. "Then the agent put me on a plane to Paris, paid two nights in a hotel and I was on my own. He just stopped answering his phone."
"I can't go back before I have got the money to pay back my mother," he said.

Andre Bikey, Burley and Cameroon
'Young players need more help and attention'

I never went to a football academy; I started playing at school and near my home. I played for a third-division team and it was only when I was selected for the Cameroon under-17 team that I started to take football seriously. During a tournament in Italy the Espanyol manager invited me to a trial; now I've played in Spain, Portugal, Moscow and England.
Many European teams go to Africa to watch boys with a view to bringing them to their club. It used to be only a few players, but now, every year in Cameroon, many children are brought to Europe for trials.
A lot of young players in Paris have nothing; they have come from Africa and if their trial doesn't go well they are left on the streets. Some agent will pick up the kid and take them to Europe, and if it doesn't work out they abandon him. Young players in Africa do need more help and more attention.

Login or register to share your tale.

   or register