Nigerian football star Perpetua Nkwocha knows what it’s like to find yourself many miles from home, making a new life. Her playing career took her from Nigeria to China and then to Sweden – where she has been based in the northern town of Skelleftea for more than seven years. Now the multiple African champion and African Women’s Footballer of the Year is helping others who have made a very different journey, to the same destination. She is player-coach for a local team, but much of her spare time this winter is being taken up coaching a group of Afghan teenagers, some of the hundreds of young migrants who have arrived in the town in recent months. “I feel that it’s similar – which is why I have to try to make them happy, because I know where they came from,” she told the BBC. “I feel so glad that I connected with them and we started this project together. “We try to make them feel welcome, try to make them feel happy, try to make them get friends and associate with other Swedish people.”
The project, which has only been running since November, was set up by her club, Clemensnas IF, in co-operation with the local football association and the Swedish church. “It is really a way of giving these immigrants and refugees something to do during the day,” said Jens Karlsson, the chairman of Clemensnas. “If they love soccer they can come here and practise with Perpetua, who is a great soccer player – so that’s the purpose of the whole thing, to help in the immigration of these guys.” The enthusiasm of the youngsters, many of whom travelled alone from Afghanistan, is plain to see as they get stuck in to their drills – under the watchful eye of their illustrious trainer. It is far from clear if the boys are aware of the stature and achievements of the player who is putting them through their paces. But if they can’t list Nkwocha’s titles and trophies, they certainly recognise her qualities. “She’s a good coach, we’re all happy,” Habibullah told the BBC – before excitedly outlining plans for a team being put together once the group has settled in.