Inspirational Fabrice Muamba interview: "My dad fled Congo rebels and my family are in hiding"
Published 10:30 19/03/12 By Simon Bird
This astonishing interview was first published in June 2011, ahead of the Under-21 European Championship in Denmark.
We re-publish it now to remind the world of Fabrice Muamba's unbelievable bravery, indomitable spirit and remarkable courage in the face of adversity.
Fabrice Muamba is telling a story of political revolution, a family in hiding, death, and of a boy who fled one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars not knowing what the future would hold.
A boy who was scared, couldn't speak English and was shivering in the winter cold when he arrived at Heathrow in 1999 but, most importantly, was safe.
A boy who was being reunited with his refugee dad, Marcel, in London, with his life set on a remarkable new course.
The 11-year-old Fabrice Muamba didn't dare dream that one day he'd be sitting in an England tracksuit, a key man for Stuart Pearce's Under-21s, a Premier League regular, speaking English with fluency and intelligence.
He will anchor England's kids in their opening European Championship game against Spain tomorrow, having shown human spirit and resilience can overcome the greatest obstacles.
He said: "It was very difficult. It's been a long journey. Some people look at footballers and think it is about the cars and lifestyle, but don't understand how it was for some of us who changed life from Africa."
And he joked: "To sit here and speak English like this - I'm quite impressed with myself!"
He tells his story, of the kid from Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who played football for hours every day, seeing death on his street, and tragically in his immediate family. As he lay in bed at night, he would listen to gunfire outside.
His dad was a political advisor to President Mobutu Sesa Soko's government and became a prime target when rebels combined to form the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire.
His dad woke him one morning and said he was going out.
In fact, Marcel was fleeing to London, and wouldn't see his son for years.
Muamba, and mum Gertrude, stayed behind, moving homes, with his uncle Ilunga in hiding.
Ilunga was killed, a subject Muamba still doesn't like to broach, it is so painful.
But eventually there was a way out, when Marcel, after years moving around asylum detention centres in London, was granted indefinite leave to stay, and bring his family to England.
He said: "What I have experienced keeps me going and gets me out of whatever difficulty I face. I just set myself up to give everything my best shot.
"When I look back on the journey, I can see how lucky I am.
"I'm not the most talented footballer but I know what I can do and what I need to do to stay where I am. I just keep myself to myself and enjoy what I have and hopefully move on to better things. I want to enjoy all life can give to me.
"I don't really speak about the past that much. If you ask me, I'll tell you. Whenever I talk about it, people seem to ask me what is the truth?
"It's Africa, isn't it? That's the type of continent it is. There is always dramas, wars and stuff.
"If I had stayed in Congo, they would have seen us as an easy target to get information from the regime people, to use it against us."
Amazingly, a return to Congo, to see his family in hiding, is now on the agenda.
His country of birth have even tried to sign him as a senior international, but he politely declined amid doubts about his safety.
"Yes, they spoke to me but I gave it a miss," said Muamba. "Sometimes you have got to know what is best for you! They asked me at the beginning of the season, because there was a new manager. Because of how my family situation is back home, it is quite difficult for me to go back.
"They would see me as an easy target, to get rid of me!
"I thought they were using me as an easy target, hoping that I would come back. I just thought it was best not to get involved. I'm going back in the summer out of curiosity, to see what I might be able to give back.
"I can go back, but I have to do it secretly. Dad won't go back at all.
"This will be the first time I have been back since I left. I have got family, but they have had to change their identity - all of them did in order to be safe. I will have to go back via one country and [get] in that way.
"At the end of the day, I was born there and if I could help in any way, shape or form..."
Muamba shone as a schoolboy player in London and moved through the Arsenal youth ranks, where his long stride compared with Patrick Vieira's.
He moved on to Birmingham City and is now a mainstay of Bolton's midfield.
Winning the Euro 2011 tournament would "be the pinnacle" of his career so far. Then, in September he will start a new challenge... an Open University course in accountancy.
"Why? Because I am good at maths!," he says.
Two years ago, Muamba was part of Pearce's squad that lost 4-0 to Germany in the final of the Under-21 Euros. He added: "I remember before the game we had loads of messages in the dressing room, from Beckham, Steven Gerrard... All the seniors boys sent us messages.
"Then to come in after being beaten 4-0... that changing room was not the best place to be. Horrible feeling. We need to put that right this time."
But he knows opening opponents Spain, in Herning tomorrow, represent a major challenge.
He added: "Watching the video this morning, you have to say they are a good side. You're coming up against two World Cup winners [Athletic Bilbao's Javi Martinez and Juan Mata of Valencia were in Spain's squad in South Africa last summer] - they have to be really good players. We have to make sure we do our job and hit them on the counter.
"They play a similar style to the [Spanish] senior team. They have a very good team - pass, pass, pass - but we've done a lot of homework on them and hopefully it will pay off."
So when the national anthem plays tomorrow, think of Muamba's life so far.
He looked down at the Three Lions badge on his chest and added: "This is my adopted country.
"People have helped me, welcomed me with open arms and given me this opportunity. I'm earning a more than decent living and leading a comfortable life. I'm very appreciative of that.
"When I hear the anthem, I just think about how far I have come. English people have helped me and I feel part of it."