Thursday, 17 March 2011

Over Land and Sea

Here's the full version of my feature article 'Over Land and Sea', completed as part of my major multi-media project. The rest of my project can be found here.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Over Land and Sea (Online version)

Many kids around the world dream of becoming the next Didier Drogba or Cesc Fabregas – but for the lucky few who get their dream move to England, it can come at a higher price than just spending hours on a muddy training pitch and scrubbing changing room urinals.

We all know moving house is one of life’s most stressful events, so how does a teenager cope not just moving from Reading to Rochdale but travelling the thousands of miles from Lagos to London, or Buenos Aires to Birmingham – leaving behind their home, family and friends?

“Since I was young I wanted to come to England to play football because my favourite players play in this country,” says Chelsea’s on-loan Fulham winger Gael Kakuta, whose controversial move from Lens came when he was just 15.

“At the beginning it was a little bit hard because of the language [barrier] – I couldn’t speak with the other players. But after that it was easy – everyone was nice and helped me to find my way in the club.”

The teenager impressed coaches at the Blues’ academy, was fast-tracked into the first team reckoning and is now gaining valuable Premier League experience under Mark Hughes. Kakuta attributes his success to the support offered by his family and friends.

“My mum said ‘you make your decision and I’ll always be there for you’,” smiles the 19-year-old. “I have a sister who’s been living in England for 10 years. My mum comes over sometimes and I stay in touch with my friends in France.”

Wolves defender George Elokobi was also 15 when he moved to England, but for the Cameroonian, football was far from his thoughts at the time.

“I wanted to be reunited with my mother because she was over here studying. I came to England to do a degree. Opportunities back home are a little bit limited, so for me to come to England with all the opportunities here was massive.”

Unlike Kakuta, the Wolves man owes his Premier League career to the traditional British route of working his way to the top, via Dulwich Hamlet and Colchester.

Despite leaving behind family, Elokobi has yet to return home in the 10 years he’s been in England – a sign of how easily he settled in. Of course, it helps that he was able to have his mother here to help him with the transition.

“I got massive help from my mum who supported me financially and to have motherly support was important for me,” says the 25-year-old.

But listening to your mum isn’t the only piece of advice Elokobi has for aspiring youngsters looking to make the move to the Premier League.

“They need to keep their head down and don’t get distracted. It’s important to work hard, learn quickly and be patient. It is not easy playing in England, it’s the best league in the world.”

Elokobi and Kakuta are two of the lucky ones – the bigger the club the better the support network – a factor which Amanda Owens, former head psychologist at Southampton, feels is paramount to players’ success.

“Social support plays a huge role,” she says. “It can affect the players in a negative way if they don’t have the correct social and educational support in place.”

“Cricket’s got a very good structure and football’s still lagging behind a little bit, but the FA are moving things forward and investing a lot of money in welfare, lifestyle support and psychology.

“At Southampton, Gordon [Strachan] brought in a specialist language interpreter for two players which helped enormously, because the language barrier can have a huge effect on the player integrating into the team and their performance on the pitch.”

Agent Tony White is like a footballing equivalent of a modern day Abraham, leading starry-eyed kids from France to the promised land of the Premier League. “England is looked on as the end of the rainbow – everyone wants to come here.

“The French media publicise the enormous salaries that can be earned in the Premier League and the players are attracted by that. They’re looking for England to solve the financial future of the whole family – they look for football as a way out.”

It’s an escape route which can prove lucrative for the select few but for White, the secret to success is maintaining a stable life off the pitch, as well as on it.

“Most players will make it through if they’ve got outstanding ability but when you’re that young you need family and friends around you. It’s difficult to go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, or don’t like the food. If you’re happy in your mind, you’re going to perform better.”

White believes so strongly in the welfare of his young charges, he will go the extra mile to support their needs.

“For me that’s part of the role of an agent, being a counsellor and a mentor. I like to work with a club and give them as much information about the player’s likes and dislikes. Sometimes a player will hide things from the club because he hasn’t got enough confidence in the people who work there.”

But even for those who don’t make the grade at the top level, moving to England can leave a real impression. Former Chelsea youngster Nick Hamann, now back in his native Germany, admitted he ‘fell in love’ with England. He said: “I really like the way of life over there.

“I’m playing at home again and I actually feel homesick as I call England home now. Every time I get a couple of days I’m on the next plane to London to see my mates and my 3 godchildren who are the grandchildren of my foster parents I stayed with. It was harder leaving England than moving away from home when I was 15.”

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A Day in the Life - Nick Hamann

Former Chelsea youngster Nick Hamann spoke exclusively to Hannah Duncan about what a typical day entails for a foreign player at an English club.

0830: Leave my digs near Harlington to go to training in Cobham. Before I was 17, I had a driver who would pick me up every morning. When we used to train in Harlington, I had a bike I would ride to training and when we moved to Cobham, Chelsea offered to move me over there, but I turned it down because I loved the digs in Harlington.

0900: Breakfast at the training ground. I never really had to eat English food as the chef at Chelsea was Italian!

1030: Training started. We would sometimes have gym sessions, swimming or massages before and after training – going on until about 3:30, but generally training on the pitch would last 90minutes. We would often hang around after because there was everything there, from Playstations to snooker and darts.

1600: For the first two years, I had to study three times a week – including English and nutrition. I’d also do a lot with the lads after training as well, we were a great bunch and I’m still in contact with a lot of them.

1800: Back to digs for dinner there or sometimes I went for dinner with some of the players. Every Sunday my digs had a family roast where I was always there no matter what, with Julia and Franco (my digs parents), their two daughters, two son in-laws, three grandkids and Robert Huth.

2000: There weren’t any rules set by the club about when we had to be in or anything like that, they left that to the digs parents. I think we all knew that as a Chelsea player you had to behave a certain way and represent the club in a good way. So there was never really a need for them to make up any rules.

Sebastian Kneissl & Nick Hamann - Exclusive Q&A

Former Chelsea duo Seb Kneissl and Nick Hamann spoke exclusively to Hannah Duncan about moving from their German homeland as teenagers to join the Blues.

How did your move to Chelsea come about?

SK: One of the Chelsea scouts watched me play for the Under 16 German national team. After the game they invited me to come over for a week to have a look at the club and train with them.

NH: It was the same for me, being approached by Chelsea after a German Under 16 tournament. I had lots of offers from Bundesliga clubs like Cologne, Stuttgart, Bochum and Dortmund, so I was going to move away from home anyway. After the trial, Chelsea offered me a contract and I signed a couple of weeks after that.

How easily did you settle in at Chelsea?

SK: Of course, it is hard to move to another country at that young age but the I adapted really well. I didn´t know anybody at the club although Robert Huth moved to London just 6 weeks later. It was good to have someone you can speak to in your own language.

NH: I settled really easily in England as all the people at Chelsea looked after me really well and they put me in a great digs. I already knew Robert Huth before I joined Chelsea so that made it even easier to settle in.

How did Chelsea as a club help with the transition?

SK: I used to live in digs.The family was great although a bit mental at times! As you are around the training ground most of the time you only have contact to the "Chelsea lot" and noone else. Frank Steer (Frank the tank) was always there for me when I had a couple of questions - so was Gary Staker.

NH: Chelsea sorted everything before I came over so I had only the football to worry about. I cannot name one player or staff member who didn’t make me feel welcome. Especially John Terry looked after us young guys really well. And obviously Robert Huth and Sebastian Kneissl were the 2 players I socialised with the most as they are German.

Did you have an opportunity to continue your education?

SK: I finished my education in Germany so I just wanted to concentrate on football.

NH: As I was pretty young when I moved away from home I wasn’t finished with school so Chelsea put me into the German school in Richmond for one year.

How often did you see your family and friends and what did they think of the move?

SK: My parents came to London quite often. When we had a weekend off training, I was on my way to see my friends and relatives in Germany of course. But it wasnt that often. I visited Germany maybe 3 times a year.

NH: My family came to see me once every 6 weeks. Chelsea paid for everything like flight and hotel. It was obviously very hard for my family because I’m an only child but at the same time they were really happy for me as I made my dream come true.

What was the hardest part of coming to England?

SK: THE FOOD! Having to stand on your own feet was hard for me at the beginning. Not having your family around you when you needed someone was quite hard too.

NH: Being away from my mates was the hardest part. But as a whole I fell in love with England.

Looking back on your experiences, what advice would you give to any young players coming over now?

SK: If it feels right, go for it. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks about it. If you have any doubts, dont do it - you will not get to your target.

NH: I would say to players who come over now that it’s just such a big opportunity for them, especially at big clubs like Chelsea where they get everything done for them. They’ve got to realise that this isn’t the real world of football. The problem is that most players realise it too late when they leave that big club and have got play for lower league teams. You can’t expect to get straight into a Premier League or Championship team even if you come from one of the biggest clubs. I think that this is the biggest challenge to overcome.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Sporting Behaviour exclusive! Dorking Ladies sign Portuguese starlet Veiga

Portuguese Under 19s international Andreia Veiga has made the move from her home country to join Dorking Ladies.

Hannah Duncan speaks exclusively to Veiga and some of her Dorking teammates and coaches about how she's finding life in England.

For more about young foreign players coming to England, including exclusive interviews with Chelsea's Gael Kakuta and Wolves defender Geroge Elokobi, keep checking the blog or visit

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Young footballers abandoned on the streets of France

Prospective young footballers are being abandoned on the streets of France and Belgium, a football agent believes.

Tony White, a former West Ham player now representing footballers in France, says young players are being brought to the country from overseas by agents looking to make a ‘quick buck’ – only to be abandoned on the streets by the agents when they are unsuccessful.

“It’s mainly players of African origin,” says Mr White. “If the don’t make it, the agents just leave them and literally dump them on the streets.”

These allegations follow a story which broke in France last year, about a young man who was taken to the country by an agent, with the promise of trials at clubs and the wealth and success that went with it. Following two unsuccessful trials, the player sustained an injury and never heard from the agent again. He was later found living rough outside the Eurostar station in Paris.

“I believe that wasn’t an isolated incident,” said Mr White. “Thankfully in England, we have restrictions to stop that, but there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who put the wellbeing of young children at risk to fulfil the dream.”

“The agents take the attitude that if the players make it then great, they would make some money out of it. If they didn’t make it – next.”