"People worship footballers but I find it strange sometimes, I really do." It is not a surprise to read such words in a publication like the Catholic Pic, but what may surprise you is the fact it is actually a footballer saying them.
For Victor Anichebe, though, there is a good reason he feels this way and his Christian faith has rather a lot to do with it, as he explains as we sit talking in the media room at West Bromwich Albion's training ground. "Some people are football, football, football but I am not like that and I wasn't raised like that," says Victor, who attended Ursuline Primary School and Sacred Heart Catholic College in Crosby.
"People from the outside think football is the best thing in the world and we are very blessed. I do feel blessed – I have been given this opportunity to go and do something I love – but at the same time, it is really not the be all and end all. Sometimes people get me mixed up and think I don't care. It is not that I don't care. I see a bigger picture sometimes and don't think football is the only thing. I put God and all these things like helping others before this."
For the 27-year-old former Everton forward, his faith certainly provides a focus away from football, and its significance was brought home to him by an episode that occurred one night on a country road as he was driving home from the Midlands. It is an episode that Victor – a boyhood parishioner at St Joseph's, Crosby – related in a recent testimony at a church he now attends in Manchester.
"I must have dozed off," he recalls. "I don't know how long it was but I closed my eyes and all I could hear in my head was the clearest voice I have ever heard in my life. I heard 'Chinedu' – my Nigerian name. 'Get up, Chinedu.' As I woke up, I was in the other lane and there was a lorry and I was going right for it. I don't know who it was, if it was my guardian angel or my grandmother, but they were shouting. I swerved into the other lane and that is how I was saved."
This is not your usual training-ground conversation. At West Brom, he says, it is "the foreign players more than the English players" who are willing to offer outward expressions of faith. For the Nigerian international, however, it is a different story when he plays in Africa. "In Nigeria, it is a big thing. We have to go to a group prayer if we are in camp, and the whole group will come together in the changing room before and after the games, win lose or draw, and will say some kind of prayer."
Victor's life in football began at 11 when he signed as a schoolboy for Everton. There have been precious opportunities to "play in big stadiums" and "travel the world" in the ensuing years. "At Everton I scored loads of goals in the Europa League, and played in the Premier League at such a young age. I have represented my country too and won an Olympic silver medal. We get to do things that people could only dream of." That said, there is a downside. "We get criticism all the time and that is probably the worst part of football – the criticism, the scrutiny, the pressure."
If that covers some of the good and bad, he is particularly grateful for the platform football has offered him to help others. He is currently looking to develop a relationship with an unnamed charity, and also supports communities in the village in eastern Nigeria where his parents originate from. "I go back and am able to give something to people who have nothing," he says. "I went back last summer and walked around with my brother and had an event for the whole village with food and drinks for the people in the community. These are the best things about football."
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