The former refugee dedicating his life to raising young footballers in London
Hussein Mohamud Hussein came to the UK in 1999, aged nine. His parents had sent him to live with his uncle, to escape the conflict in Somalia. But away from his parents, Hussein struggled to adjust to life in Lambeth, south London. Sometimes he’d argue with his uncle and sleep on night buses or on the street. “I was a nuisance in school,” he says. “Causing trouble. Not concentrating. A lot of teachers wanted to get rid of me.”
One day, the deputy head, Mr Wilbourn, pulled him into his office. “He said,” Hussein remembers, “‘What’s the matter, buddy?’ I told him: ‘Imagine being in a place where you don’t have your mum and dad and no one understands you’.” Wilbourn knew Hussein’s ambition was to be a professional footballer, and would sometimes give the boy his season ticket to Tottenham Hotspur. “He kept me going along with my dream,” says Hussein. “I hope wherever he is now, he’s blessed and safe.”
If football were a person, says Hussein, now 32, “I couldn’t thank them enough. It saved me. It stopped me from going to jail.” As a teen, Hussein joined a Somali-run club in Streatham called Waaberi FC, which helped keep him out of trouble, but in 2009 the club disbanded for lack of funding. “About 30 of us,” says Hussein, “had nothing to do. We started hanging around in alleyways smoking, stuff like that.” Some of his friends went to jail. A few even died.
Although Hussein stayed away from criminal activity – he was by now working as a delivery driver – the experience made him “realise the importance of participating in sport and youth programmes”. In around 2014-15, there was an influx of east African migrants into his community. “I saw all these youngsters coming in,” says Hussein, “but there was nothing in place for them.” He set up Streatham FC, a community football team, and found players with help from a community leader. “It’s prevention through football,” says Hussein. “Preventing young people going on to the streets and into gang culture.”
Hussein trains children between six and 19 – initially just boys, but now all are welcome. About 80% of the kids are from single-parent, low-income households. They are meant to pay £20 a month for kit and equipment, but few families can afford that. About 70 kids play regularly; in the summer, this can easily double. Last summer, the club ran a football programme for 2,035 kids – with help from council funding. (Streatham FC also takes donations.)
Hussein lives on the club subscriptions, which barely cover the hours he works, topped up by benefits. “When I started this,” he says, “I was much better off. But I am not in this for the money. I could go back to earning £2,000 a month as a delivery driver. But my heart is with the children. I’ve found a long-term passion.” The feeling Hussein gets when he trains the kids, he says, is indescribable. “People say: ‘Why don’t you have your own kids?’ But the feeling I get in my heart when I try to better these kids is something I can’t explain. Only Allah knows.”
“What he does for the community is amazing,” says Lula Raage. She is a single mother of four; her eldest has special educational needs. Streatham FC is a space for her children to let off steam. “If I didn’t have Hussein’s service I don’t know what I would do,” she says. “They see him as a role model and he understands the challenges I face.”
But it’s a struggle, week in, week out. For starters, Streatham FC doesn’t have any facilities. Most of the time, they train at Larkhall Park in Stockwell, south London. But in winter, it’s freezing cold and there’s no shelter. The day we speak, bad weather has meant Hussein cancelling sessions three weeks running. “We had kids cry in a training session because they were so cold,” he says.
He is desperate to find an indoor centre they can use. “I’ve made so many inquiries and contacted so many schools,” says Hussein, “but no one can help.”
We settle on finding extra sportswear so the kids can stay warm. At Hussein’s request, brands Avec Sport and Fila provide strips for Streatham FC. “Some of the parents can’t afford to buy stuff,” he says, “so having one set of kits means all the kids look the same. We’re really grateful.”
Hussein tells me, however, that he feels more bolstered by the recognition than by any gift. “It’s been challenging mentally, trying to do what I do without much support and recognition. There are times when you’re tired and have negative thoughts. To be recognised by a national newspaper has given me belief to keep going.” And with that, he’s off to inspire some more children to believe in themselves, one kickabout at a time.