World Cup setback will not stop Eddie Afekafe in his quest

Last updated : 03 December 2010 By Daily Mail

Although Afekafe, a social inclusion manager with Manchester City, may have been a surprise choice to address the FIFA delegates alongside Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham and Andy Anson, he stole the show with a heartfelt speech about how football had changed his life after four years on the dole.

Starring role: England 2018 bid Ambassador Eddie Afekafe with David Beckham

The 26-year-old, who was raised in Whalley Range close to the rough Moss Side area of Manchester, said: 'If anybody had told me four years ago that I'd be here asking FIFA to support England's World Cup bid I'd have thought they were mad. I was unemployed, I was struggling to find any direction in life, to find a job. I grew up in one of the roughest parts of Manchester. 

'Loads of the guys I went to school with were in gangs. Many still are. Some even ended up in prison.

'What I got, what they didn't get, was an opportunity and that came from football.' As Afekafe spoke to Sepp Blatter and FIFA's executive, children were playing football in the snow at Medlock Primary School where Eddie has been known to give football coaching sessions just yards from the family home in Ardwick that his mother Elizabeth shares with his 24-year-old brother Stephen.

Elizabeth declined an interview yesterday, as did the man believed to be his father whose private hire taxi remained parked outside the terraced house in nearby Withington where Eddie will return today.

But Elizabeth later issued a statement saying: 'I am so proud of my son. He has been a true ambassador for his country and for Manchester City. As a mum, I was bursting with pride seeing him on that stage in Zurich today.

'He has turned his life around through Manchester City, God and through the work he and the rest of the team do at City. He is now helping others do the same.'

Afekafe's life changed when he went to a job centre in Moss Side and found out about a programme being run by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. It was part of the Prince's Trust Football Initiative and helped him find volunteer work with City's Football in the Community programme.

He was given a full-time job at City, first as a play and adventure co-ordinator and then as a social inclusion manager. Bright, articulate and equipped with the life skills to speak to disadvantaged young people like himself, he was also recruited as a young ambassador by the Prince's Trust.

Afekafe was named as the Trust's north-west Young Ambassador of the Year last month, having already won the Inspiring Young People Award from Kickz, another nationwide initiative, which resulted in his appointment as a legacy ambassador for England's World Cup bid.

Dave Coppin, a programme leader for social inclusion at Manchester City, spoke of his pride at seeing the native Mancunian speaking so eloquently on stage in Zurich. Coppin said: 'I first met Eddie in 2006 through the Prince's Trust when he came to Manchester City for a ground tour. I took him around and he said he wanted a job doing this kind of stuff at City.

'He came in for six months and we could see someone who really wanted to make a change. The one thing is he's willing to learn. He's got an infectious character and we could see we had something to work with.

'At first he lacked a bit of direction but he grasped the opportunity with both hands. We gave him the opportunity and I'd like to think he's repaying us a little bit. 'We see 300 hard-to-reach people each week and he's a perfect role model for them. We're immensely proud of Eddie at the club.'

Mike Clinton was the director of sport and Eddie's PE teacher at Oakwood High School - now Chorlton High School - where Afekafe studied between the ages of 11 and 16.

He remembers well the 'affable' youngster who went to the school for six years and is now providing a role model for other under-privileged kids from the area. 'I remember him quite clearly,' said Clinton. 'He was a very pleasant young man and had a great personality.

'Probably his best sport was football and he would always turn up for practice. He was a midfielder but he was quite happy to fit in anywhere.

'There are areas in inner city Manchester where you're subjected to peer pressure and you need a strong individual to chose the right path.

'Many are under a lot of strain to do what the friends and groups they hang around with want to do rather than what they want to do. Hopefully people can look at him and see what can be achieved despite what's going on around you.

'I wouldn't know about the gangs he was involved with but you're very aware of what's going on in the outside world. There's a great deal of pressure on them.

'He's been able to stay focussed and have aims. He's been unemployed but he hasn't lost that drive and discipline which is probably his most rewarding feature.

'He made the choice. He's an individual who people can look up to. He's been under those pressures but he chose the right way to go and hopefully they will follow that.'

 Explore more:People: David Beckham, Sepp Blatter, David Cameron Places: Manchester, United Kingdom Organisations: Prince's Trust

Source: Daily Mail

Source: Daily Mail