Eto: For children, football is their escape from loneliness and poverty

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Life for many children in Africa and across the globe revolves around meeting their friends on the streets or football fields to play the beautiful game and the temporary escape from loneliness, poverty, and sadness.

But the deadly Coronavirus has taken away their only outlet and relief.

That is the perspective of Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o, who sometimes gets caught up reflecting on his life.

“I think back to my own childhood in Africa. I was born into a family of seven. I grew up in a town not far from Yaoundé, the political capital of Cameroon, and until I was seven or eight years old, I lived there. Then my parents moved to Douala, which is the economic capital, after my father took a job as an accountant for a large construction company, “Eto’o told Fifa.com.

“Like billions of others, I grew up playing football in the street with other children. All of us together. Every day. Life revolved around meeting my friends and kicking a ball around. This terrible situation has forced everyone indoors,” – Eto’o. Picture: Fifa.

“For many of them, football is their outlet – from poverty, from loneliness, from sadness – and to take it away is heartbreaking. But it’s a sacrifice that must be made in order to help the most vulnerable in our societies.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the former Barcelona striker reveals that he has been thinking about the ‘wonderful memories’ football brought him during his childhood.

“I have been thinking about how I lived and breathed football – but my parents were very hard on me. They did not accept the fact that I played football because to them football was something children played if they didn’t go to school. I was obviously going to school and I was not a bad student, but I had a passion, which was football,” revealed Eto’o.

Eto’o retired from football at the age of 38 in 2019 and has played for football heavyweights such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Chelsea during his career. Picture courtesy of Squawka Football.

“I vividly remember one day I played a game in my city and I had to hide in order to go play. What I didn’t know is that my dad was with some friends in the bar in front of the field. Everything I did that day in that game gave me my ‘pass’ to play football freely. Because my parents did not know [until that moment] that I seemed to have a natural talent for the game.

“I was the hero of my neighbourhood after that game. That day, when I returned home, my father arrived a little later and said: “You are so good, I saw your match today. I’m going to talk to your mother so you can keep playing.

“That is how he gave me a ‘pass’ to keep playing. I was about 12 or 13 years old. From that moment on there was no looking back. I had the blessing of my father and you could not keep me off that football pitch. Day or night. From there, it was one or two years before I went to Europe, and my life changed forever,” added the Inter Milan and Chelsea hitman.

Eto’o is confident that the world will eventually beat Covid-19 like he overcame adversity and challenges as a child. Picture: Fifa.

“In the present, we must only think about getting through this time together. As a child – like millions of others – I learned how to overcome adversity; challenges that felt like they would never end, tunnels that didn’t seem to have a light at the end and, at times in new countries, isolation.

“These are all feelings and emotions I’m sure many of us have been feeling recently, relating to this current pandemic,” said the ex-Cameroon captain.

“But I think back to my attitude then and draw upon some of those characteristics I developed while working hard to make my way in the world as a young man.

“Some of these thought processes are valuable now. To maintain and to carry on thinking, ‘This isn’t forever, soon things will change and when they do, we must be ready – and we will never take the small things in life for granted again.”

“There are many things that will help us get through this. Small acts of kindness – for neighbours, for friends, for loved ones – can mean the world to people who may be feeling lonely, cut off, bored or inactive. Once things improve, sport – in particular, football – will play a huge role in uniting people again and lifting spirits,” concluded Eto’o, who is the Qatar 2022 SC Global Ambassador.

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By Tokelo Martin Mokhesi 

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