After losing his right leg at 17, Michael Ishiguzo thought his sporting career was over. But now he’s got a chance to play amputee football at the highest level…
‘I used to be a professional footballer back in Nigeria. At 17 I was playing for one of the top teams, but one day, in a tackle during training, I broke my right leg.
Although I was playing professionally, there wasn’t much money in it. We were playing for passion and hope, and sometimes it was even hard to afford to eat. So when I broke my leg, I could not afford a doctor, and I went to the traditional bonesetters. I’d seen a lot of players break legs and go to these people, and they’d carry on playing. But my leg was not properly treated. I contracted gangrene and they had to amputate. That was the worst moment of my life.
I couldn’t come to terms with it and I attempted suicide a couple of times, but I was saved for whatever reason – only God knows. I was ashamed. I’m sorry to say this, but in Nigeria disabled people are not human beings. You become a second-class citizen, especially when you’re not well-to-do.
One of the people I had grown up with lived in London. They said, “You can come to UK and follow your career in sport,” so that’s how the whole idea started. When I arrived I found out it wasn’t as easy as that, but going back to Nigeria was not a good idea. At least here I’m living my life as a human being.
I moved to London in 2000, when I was 20, and I still live in the same area, the south-east. I started playing football with an amputee team called London Amps. We approached Arsenal in the Community, Arsenal FC’s outreach programme, to see if they wanted to take us on. They give us a facility to train on and Arsenal kits to wear, and when we play matches they provide transport.
There are eight amputee teams in the country right now, playing in the National League. The best players are selected from the league and get to represent the country in the England team. But the national squad depends on sponsorship and charity. To get to the World Amputee Football Federation World Cup that’s coming up in Mexico in November, we need to raise £70,000.
One of our sponsors, Simply Business, has been able to give us half of that, but every player is raising money too. I approached my local gym, Everyone Active, and explained what was going on. The manager spoke to someone, and before I knew it I was part of their Sporting Champion scheme. This gives me £500 of funding and free access to any of their gyms. We still need a lot of money, but we are all fundraising to get this done.
Every footballer dreams of playing at the highest level, and it would mean everything to me to be able to play in the World Cup. When I had two legs, my dream was playing football in Europe, in the best leagues. That dream went with my amputation, but I’ve been resilient. I have played in Europe, I’ve played with Arsenal in the Community and going to the World Cup will be the complete circle. I never achieved this when I had two legs, so if I could achieve it with one, that would be even sweeter.
Life is never going to be easy, whether you’re disabled or not. Life is not fair. But no matter how many times you fall, you owe it to yourself to get up and keep going.’
Support Michael’s fundraising at www.justgiving.com.
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