A man who fled the war in Sudan as a 14-year-old and risked his life to reach Britain has revealed how joining a football team made up of fellow migrants has brought stability to his life.
Ussri Badawi, now 21, reached the UK in 2018 after spending time in countries including Libya, Italy and France.
He learnt English through Unicef in 2012 and endured hard times before getting to the UK, repeatedly risking his life trying to enter the country under lorries, as he had heard it was “the safest” country and was multicultural.
“The first time I tried to get to the UK through France was under a lorry. You just go under the lorry and wait for your chance,” he said.
“Sometimes you don’t know where this lorry is going. You are sitting between the wheels and it is so dangerous … but if you go near the wheels, the driver might not check properly.”
Last year, a 16-year-old Sudanese boy died while trying to board a UK-bound lorry.
Mr Badawi said he finally reached the UK after being transported in a lorry by a friend for 10 to 11 hours when he was 17, after attempting to get to the UK from France for three years.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Badawi said that he has “faced even more dangerous situations” which spurred him on to try to rebuild his life in the UK, where he found solace in Changing Lives FC — a football team made up of refugees and migrants.
“I just came across to train because I didn’t know of any football teams that I could train with, and I have been here for three years now,” he said.
“The team really means a lot because it has multicultural players from different countries.”
He said because their English is not perfect they have found ways to communicate with each other, which might not have happened with other teams. “It makes you think you could become a professional footballer,” he said.
The team play in division two in Essex's Harlow District League, which has 11 teams, and they train every Thursday for one and a half hours.
“I have a video and I still watch it all the time,” Mr Badawi said, reflecting fondly on a match in which he scored a goal.
“It was really nice hearing people celebrating and cheering for us — it was a good feeling.”
Dave Simmons, 27, from Harlow, is the team’s coach. He said that when he met the “very tall” player who was “built like a machine,” he knew he would be the perfect fit for the team.
“He’s got a great smile and he’s willing to learn, which is the most important thing as a player,” he said.
“You want a player who wants to listen and who wants to do better, and Ussri’s smile is very contagious and he helps and supports the whole team.
“It is an honour to coach a team like Changing Lives, with so many young people from different countries.
“Football can be taught in so many languages just because of the movements, actions and demonstrations that you do, and with the World Cup coming up and the women’s Euros having taken place, it gets young boys and girls to dream about being professional footballers.
“Hopefully, a few of the players I’ve got on my team can one day become professional footballers.”
The team will be featured in a three-part series called Migrants United, produced by LOUD productions.