How the tale of Everton and one Kenyan refugee brings home the human side to English football

Jacob Vieira’s roll neck top does not obscure the pronounced scarring to his neck and it soon emerges that his forearms are equally disfigured.

This was the consequence, he says, of him avoiding what the drug gangs can demand of elite young footballers in the capital of his native Kenya: ferry narcotics across the border on the team coach when they’re playing in neighbouring Tanzania. 

Vieira gave the dealer who approached him in Nairobi the slip by providing a wrong departure date for the Kenyan national youth team’s trip out the country. A few weeks later, the player arrived at the man’s front door and discovered, on trying to open it, that it had been rigged up to a high voltage electrical current. He was electrocuted, rendered unconscious and much of the skin on his face was burned off.

It was in this state that he arrived for a pre-appointed trial with Newcastle United in August 2014. So startled were the coaches at the club’s Academy after hearing his story that they urged him seek asylum here. Two and a half years later and now 21, Vieira is still trying to convince the British authorities that a return home risks more serious injury. An individual within the British asylum appeal system is not permitted to work or study, though, so all hope of joining Newcastle, or any other side, has been put on hold.

The Home Office says it refuses to discuss individual cases but Vieira seems to have been treated with the suspicion which pervades many western countries where those seeking asylum are concerned. He says the Home Office have told him to demonstrate he is high profile enough to be at risk if he returns.  Since he played for Kenyan Premier League side Muhoroni Youth FC before Newcastle paid for his flight to Britain, he thought that newspaper cuttings would be enough. Not so. He is still mired in the appeal system.

Vieira in training with Martinez at one of Everton’s coaching sessions for refugees

Nowhere in the midst of this on-going struggle did Jacob, who is now 21, think he would form a deep attachment to a Premier League football club. But after being held in the Harmondsworth Detention Centre in west London, he happened to be dispersed to the city of Liverpool while his case for asylum was considered. It is there he has come into contact with Everton, the club who have arguably done more than any in Britain to provide sanctuary and activity for refugees and asylum seekers.

The club’s weekly coaching session for them, run by Everton in the Community in the local Kensington district, has helped more than 250 people from around 25 countries – predominantly those worst affected by conflict in the Middle East. A total of 59 Sudanese, 10 Iraqis, 19 Ethiopians and 74 Eritreans have been welcomed through the club’s doors and they have not been the only beneficiaries. Local young players have been keen to play matches against them, helping remove potential race-related suspicion. “It helps remove…

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