After facing a frightening deportation back to war-torn Sierra Leone, Watford’s Al Bangura has been issued with a work permit and can stay in England after all.
Late last year, the Hornets midfielder was sensationally told to leave the UK after four years and with 16 Premier League appearances last season.
Bangura had fled the inter-ethnic violence of Sierra Leone as a 14 year-old after witch doctors murdered his father and threatened his life, and then was almost forced into child prostitution in both France and England by an older man who Dominoqq granted him passage from Africa.
Happily, he escaped from his potential enslaver, claimed asylum in England, made it as a professional footballer age 17 and became a father, before the shocking announcement this winter that he had to return to his homeland.
“It’s not the end of my career if I go back,” Bangura had warned. “It’s the end of my life.”
“It’s horrible news for all of us,” Watford captain Jay DeMerit told Soccerphile about the deportation threat, before yesterday’s announcement.
“For this thing to happen is extremely unfortunate and we don’t really understand why. Maybe they are trying to make an example of him. As teammates we will do anything we can to help.”
In a heart-warming show of support, Watford’s players and fans wore t-shirts in opposition to his extradition and happily yesterday the UK govt. announced he had indeed been granted a permit and could stay.
Bangura’s initial appeal against deportation failed, after which local MPs and Home Office minister Liam Byrne were involved as the case was given national publicity.
“We thought he had a great appeal,” said DeMerit, “and with a son having been born here and all that comes with living and working in the UK, we can’t get our heads around it. We thought he had everything going for him. We are all concerned for him as he might end up having to return to dangerous circumstances. I hope we can get it all turned around.”
Happily it was, and yesterday’s six-man panel in Sheffield made the only common-sense decision available, to issue Bangura with a work permit, which the player’s lawyers hope can soon be turned into permanent residency.
“We’re all very happy, but most of all we are delighted for Al and his family,” said Watford chairman Graham Simpson.
Korean Exodus To England Set To Continue
For some time now, England’s Premier League has been regarded as football’s Promised Land for those in the K-league and the exodus westwards shows little sign of letting up during January’s transfer window – the last opportunity for clubs to buy and sell players until the end of the season.
At the end of 2007, all four English Taeguk Warriors were active in the league –finally. On the day after Christmas, bumper holiday crowds witnessed the unusual sight of the entire quartet clocking up minutes on the pitch – Park Ji-sung returned from a nine-month injury lay-off for Manchester United, Lee Dong-guk tried to score his first goal for Middlesbrough, Seol Ki-hyeon made a rare start for Fulham and Lee Young-pyo completed another 90 minutes in Tottenham’s colours.
The fluctuating fortunes of Korea’s fantastic four haven’t deterred eager compatriots from trying to join them in the world’s richest league. Cho Jae-jin looks likely to make it a famous five. The Little Emperor has long desired to move from Japan to England. After three successful years with Shimizu S-Pulse, the muscular striker is a free agent and England-bound.
Cho jae-jin in familiar pose
The process hasn’t been entirely smooth. Cho’s agent told reporters that four English clubs had expressed serious interest. Newcastle United was top of Cho’s list but after the Korean media had declared that the deal was done, the troubled Tyneside team told the English press that: “The club has had discussions with the player and his representatives, but has decided not to proceed any further.”
Cho moved from the north-east to the south coast and started talking to Portsmouth at the end of last week. The 26 year-old could provide valuable cover for the club which will lose a number of players in January to the African Nations’ Cup.
Seongnam’s Kim Do-heon could also be on his way to the Premier League to join Derby County or West Bromich Albion of the championship. The championship is England’s second tier but WBA is in with a great chance of winning promotion to the Premier League in time for the start of next season. The club’s coach Tony Mowbray is still unsure whether he will sign the midfielder but at least he is getting first hand experience of dealing with Korean agents.
“The agent is trying to get across that Kim is a big star in Korea,” Mowbray told his local newspaper. “There are thousands of people at his wedding, it’s front page news over there so he’s sent me the pictures to make sure I’m aware of it.
“What they don’t always do is work out the time difference very well…I was trying to deal with somebody who is living in Korea and phoning me at strange times.”
Strange times indeed and it is not just senior international player that have been heading west to show what they can do. Captain of the Under-17 team, Yoon Bitgaram had a trial with Premier League club Blackburn Rovers and could become part of the team’s youth program. This will involve a stint in Belgium with Blackburn’s ‘feeder club’ Cercle Brugge.
And all that’s within the first week of the window and while nobody has squeezed through just yet, it is only a matter of time. It will be a busy month.