Sudanese refugee's dreams of football stardom thanks to Essex club Changing Lives FC

Ussri Badawi (left) first arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry
Ussri Badawi, left, first arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry

A former child refugee who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry is now hoping to find the back of the net as a professional footballer.

Ussri Badawi, fled war ravaged Sudan as a 14-year-old, working his way through countries such as Libya, Italy and France.

He had learned English through Unicef in 2012, and as a teenager repeatedly risked his life to reach Britain, hiding under lorries in a bid to reach what he'd been told was “the safest” country.

He said: "The first time I tried to get to the UK through France was under a lorry. 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.”

Three years after fleeing the African country he made it to England in the back of a friend's truck.

Now 21, Mr Badawi has dreams of one day playing at some of the biggest stadiums in the world - all thanks to an amateur football team from Harlow in Essex.

Changing Lives FC plays in the Harlow District League

Mr Badawi said that he has “faced even more dangerous situations” which spurred him on to try and rebuild his life in the UK, where he found solace in Changing Lives FC – a football team comprised 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 multi-cultural players from different countries.

“We all know ourselves we don’t have perfect English, so we can communicate well and that might not happen with other teams, and it makes you think you could become a professional footballer.”

The team play in Division Two in the Harlow District League, which has 11 teams, and they train every Thursday for an hour and a half.

“I have a video and I still watch it all the time,” Mr Badawi said, reflecting fondly on a moment in which he scored a goal in a match.

“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.

“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 he 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.”

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