Crystal Palace starlet Victor Moses was playing street football with a 'sticky tape' ball when he heard both his parents had been murdered..
Published 00:00 18/02/09 By By Oliver Holt
Victor Moses sat in the prefab office at the Crystal Palace training ground. He made eye contact only fleetingly. He spoke in a voice barely above a whisper and never for more than a few words.
His accent was south London, where he has lived for the seven years since his escape.
But when he hissed his 's' at the end of 'yes', that was his native Nigeria and the first echo of his tragedy.
At least now there is a little distance between him and what happened when he was an 11-year-old growing up in the city of Kaduna in the north of the country.
He has made a good life for himself in England. He only turned 18 in December but he has just bought his own flat. In a few weeks, he will take his driving test.
His boss at Palace, Neil Warnock, says he is the most gifted forward he has managed. Chelsea and Arsenal are said to covet him. He plays for England Under-19s.
And yet Victor remains an enigma.
He responds well to the Palace coaches now but when he first arrived, they felt they could not reach him.
They forgave him his silence though, because they knew there was a reason for it.
There were rumours about the horrors he had seen. It was said that he had not spoken for two years after he arrived in England because he was so traumatised.
But none of them knew the details of his story until he sat down in that office last week and whispered some of his memories.
The recollection of it all was still desperately painful and sometimes Victor's whispers became inaudible and he looked away.
He did not say his father had been a brave man but did not need to.
Austin Moses was a Christian minister in Kaduna at a time when religious violence between the Muslim majority and Christian minority was rife.
Thousands of Christians had been killed there in 2000 when they objected to the imposition of Islamic Sharia Law.
The news wires mention countless examples of Christian pastors being butchered in their churches by Muslim rioters.
Still, Austin Moses remained a pastor and with the help of his wife, Josephine, continued with his missionary work.
He did not have time for football but Victor played every day, in the streets or on a dusty concrete pitch surrounded by houses.
His heroes were David Beckham and Michael Owen.
But in 2002, there were more religious riots. The family knew that because Victor's father had his own church, he would be a target.
Victor, the couple's only child, was playing football in the streets with a ball made up of sticky tape bound tightly together when his uncle came to find him.
He told him rioters had set upon his parents in their home and murdered them. He said Victor's life was in danger, too. The little boy, an orphan at 11, was hidden at a friend's house.
"I just tried to be careful afterwards," he said. "It was a week after they were killed I came to England.
They got me out as quickly as they could for my safety."
He left so fast and in such panic, shock and bewilderment that he did not even have the chance to bring any pictures of his parents.
I asked him if he still had vivid memories of them and for the only time, his eyes blazed. "Yes," he said, "of course."
Victor did not know anyone in England. He had never even been outside Kaduna before. He was placed with foster parents in Croydon and classified as an asylum seeker.
He was juggling a ball in a park by himself one day when he plucked up the courage to ask if he could join in with a team training there, Cosmos.
He began playing in the Tandridge Sunday League with them and was spotted by Palace scouts.
They helped him gain admission to the highly-respected Whitgift School so he could take advantage of its superb sports facilities and the coaching of former Palace star, Steve Kember.
Warnock gave him his debut for Palace last season when he was 16 and he became a fans' favourite and an England Under-19s regular.
Warnock came and sat with us for a while as we spoke and listened intently to what Victor was saying.
The Palace boss experienced a different kind of parental bereavement at the same age as Victor when his mother died from multiple sclerosis.
And for a couple of minutes the manager at the end of his career and the boy at the start of his talked about how they imagined their parents looking down on them as they continued with their lives.
Warnock said Moses was good enough to play for one of the top four Premier League sides. He said if Palace did not progress, Moses would leave. He talked about how the boy came alive when he ran on to a football pitch, about how all the pain he seems to carry with him fell away when he had a ball at his feet.
And he said he wished some of today's footballers, the ones who seem to take their gilded lives for granted, could see what Victor had overcome to get to where he is.
Victor nodded. The dream of being a professional footballer meant something different to him, something terribly poignant.
"When I look back," he said, "it makes me want to do everything I can for myself and make sure I am in the right place.
"I want to live well and do the right things. I never want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time like they were."
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