Many of you are by now familiar with the situation facing Watford midfielder Al Bangura. If you haven’t, well, you haven’t been reading Soccerlens regularly enough.
This article is intended to give you a better idea about who the promising midfielder is beyond the pitch, what he has been through, and why his case means something.
It’s a little ironic that, given his current plight and what he’s had to endure up to this point, that Alhassan Bangura was born and raised in the city of Freetown, the capital city of the West African country of Sierra Leone.
In 1991, when he was just three years old, his country became embroiled in a bloody civil war that would take 50,000 lives and destroy and affect countless others over the next decade.
Through it all, despite the fact that his hometown was under threat and eventually the center of the latter stages of the conflict, the young Bangura survived. There were interruptions, however, as his family was forced to flee to neighboring Guinea from time to time when the situation became too precarious in Freetown.
The civil war and the destruction left in its wake was not what drove Al Bangura to England, but frankly, it would have been enough for most.
When he was 15, he discovered that his late father was not only part of, but the chief of a secret society that participated in witchcraft and subjected its members to violent rituals. As he was his father’s only son, the secret society said that it was he who was next in line to become chief, and wanted him to become a part of the community.
However, that was not the path that he nor his mother wanted him to take, and when the society didn’t take too kindly to his choice and threatened his life, he fled back to Guinea and found a Frenchman who he had come to know while playing football in the area.
The man booked his departure from Africa to England, and it was happily ever after for Bangura, right?
Not quite, by a long shot. The man appeared to be a good Samaritan in helping the teenager to safety and freedom, but it turns out he had other ideas for him, namely as a male prostitute.
While he was waiting to find out if or how long he could stay in the country, he tried to settle himself into his new home. After having a rough period of adjustment, he found a Sierra Leonean community that not only gave him that comfort and sense of familiarity and home that he desperately needed, but it also allowed him to play football again.
He was discovered by a Watford scout while playing for a local team, and it didn’t take him long to break into the senior side. During that time, he was granted the opportunity to remain in the country for the near future.
After getting his first career start at the end of the 2004/05 campaign, he figured prominently into the side that was promoted to the Premier League the next season, and earned the club’s Young Player of the Year award as a result. Last season, he got a taste of top-flight football, though it ended disappointingly as the Hornets were sent back down just as quickly as they came up.
And, given that he may well be forced to leave the country in the next couple of weeks, he may well have played his last football match in England.
Why am I taking the time to talk about this? I don’t know Al Bangura personally, and honestly, I never knew who he was until I read about his story.
In the U.S., immigration is one of the hottest topics right now, especially going into a Presidential election year. There are many who feel as if immigrants who arrive in the country illegally are here to take from those who were born here, to freely and illegally partake in all of the things that we deem as rights – health care, education, housing, employment.
I am not one of those people who feels that way. I am aware that there are some who skirt the rules and don’t pay any mind to it, but just as well, the number of people who were born here that break the law to varying degrees and misuse and throw away those ‘rights’ far outnumber the number of illegal immigrants who may do so.
I am not railing on those who do things the right way. This is not directed at them, but at those who act holier-than-thou and have no reason to.
I am not rich, far, far from it actually. My mother raised my late brother and I on her own, working multiple jobs on many occasions and going without herself in order to make sure we had what we needed, making sure we got our education, making sure we had the fullest opportunity to make something of ourselves and have productive, successful lives. I know the value of hard work, of being thankful for what you have, and that nothing is assured and must be taken for granted or as a ‘right,’ because it can all be ripped away from you in an instant.
While I’ve lived modestly, and while I’ve endured my fair share of trails and tribulations, I haven’t had to worry about my freedom, or if I would have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and money in my pockets near as much as some of the far less fortunate have, I don’t see any point in denying someone who wants the same things but may not have those opportunities where they are from to be given their chance. It is one thing if they don’t make the most of that chance, but this is one situation where the person has done so, and then some.
I’m aware of the fact that there are laws and processes in place when it comes to immigration, but for Christ’s sake, when your life and your well-being, or that of those you love, are in danger, you will do what you have to in the name of safety, especially if time isn’t on your side.
As for Al Bangura, it’s not a matter of him being better or more deserving than any of the other people who might find themselves in the same position as he does right now, those who entered the country legally, or those that are native-born citizens of the country. There are no doubt many other similar stories going on right now that we don’t know anywhere near as much about, but that only adds to the significance of a story like his.
On the surface, the facts are that he came to England illegally, he is not a citizen, and he does not qualify to remain in the country under any circumstances or technicalities.
According to British law, refugees from Sierra Leone cannot permanently stay, unless the circumstances are deemed special enough. And, according to the decision handed down by the Home Office in his deportation hearing on Tuesday, having to flee from inhumane treatment is not grounds enough to be able to permanently stay in the country, nor is having survived a civil war that could have snuffed out his future before he even had a chance to run.
If they want to follow their rules, which are understandable, but nonetheless seemingly devoid of emotion, then they will abide by their decision and send him back to Sierra Leone.
But, this is the time of year where the heart is supposed to shine through. If they took the time to put themselves in his shoes, and imagine what he has been through in his short time in the world, and what could potentially await him if he is deported, they would reconsider their decision and allow him to permanently remain in England and gain citizenship, if they have a heart.
Not only would delivering him much-deserved freedom would benefit him, but it could also benefit others in his situation and allow them a chance to prove their worth to be a citizen.
We always say, ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Well dammit, if you’re going to give a crook the chance to prove his innocence, and often enough, give him/her a second, third, fourth, or fifth chance, whether or not they’re worthy, give a boy who hasn’t done anyone any wrong the chance at being free, and don’t be so quick to judge his or someone else’s circumstances.
In this world, it’s hard to not be judgmental in those kinds of situations, given that there are some people who will come into the country for the wrong reasons. You can never be sure about anyone, regardless of the story that they tell you. It’s not an easy position to be in, but what he’s done in the past few years since he’s been in England should make their decision a hell of a lot easier.
He didn’t waste away on the streets of London. He hasn’t become a vagrant, a drug dealer, a thief, or worse.
Bangura has taken his chance at freedom and used it better than many people do. He has become a productive, law-abiding, tax-paying member of society. He has found a profession and has thrived in it. He has found love and brought another life into the world.
It’s not the fact that he would lose his seemingly now-charmed life if he was deported that makes this case tug at your heartstrings. It’s not the fact that he would likely never get the chance to fully realize his hopes and dreams as a professional footballer.
It’s the fact that he could lose his life, period.
Just like this story has been broadcast and told all throughout the rest of the world, it has been broadcast in Bangura’s home country, and you know how quickly news can travel.
While things have improved drastically in Sierra Leone since the end of the civil war, that does not mean anything for Bangura’s life if he is forced to return there. There is a definite possibility that he could be found, and he could be made to pay the fullest of penalties for fleeing the path that he was supposed to take.
His newborn son could grow up without a father, much like he did. And how right would that be, when the father wants to be there to take care of his child?
Even if he is allowed to live, who knows? His family in Sierra Leone could be harmed or killed to get back at him.
Maybe there’s some resentment by some in England about the fact that he’s gone from refugee to wealthy footballer in a short matter of time, and is in a loftier position than many who have been in the country their entire lives.
That’s not his fault. He didn’t come to England for that purpose. It just so happened that the opportunity arose for him once he got to the country. He has something that he loves, and something that he happens to be good at, and if he has a chance to do at one of the highest levels, so be it. And hell, while we’re busy praising all of the overpaid drama kings that litter sports today, maybe they’re the ones that need to be deported to get an idea of how out of touch with reality they are.
What it all comes down to for Alhassan Bangura is that he’s been running his entire life, and he’s still doing it for a living. And it would be a real shame if he has to do it again, this time not with a match at stake, or promotion or relegation, but something that transcends anything related to his profession – his life.