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Disabled Togo keeper: The forgotten man of football


Go for a drive with Kodjovi Obilale and you could almost be riding with any professional footballer. Almost.

First, see the smart car — a black BMW, in this case.

Second, hear the music booming: it’s R&B, of some description. Third, see the man, dressed fashionably in black – there are sparkly earrings, and what appears to be a fancy watch.

But take a harder look.

There’s a pair of crutches in the passenger seat.

And on the back seat, a large white paper bag from a pharmacy, overflowing with small boxes. Painkillers, and a lot more besides.

Scan even more closely, and the car’s an automatic for a reason. The man driving is using his left foot only. Underneath the smart jeans, the legs are not as muscular as they should be.

He’s a proud man, Kodjovi Obilale — was proud to play for Togo once (even went to a World Cup, though he was never fully professional) — and he’d love to be too proud to beg.

But here’s the deal: he can’t be. Not with a football career that ended before it had really begun.

Not with two bullet wounds sustained in a gun attack.

Not with a probably permanent disability.

Not with a wife and two small kids. Not with an international football community that he suggests has been far, far too quick to forget who he is, and to acknowledge that life really does go on when you stop playing.

So he tells you, one minute, that he’s fine. “Tout se passe bien”, he even says, early on in the interview. (Everything’s going well).

Yet five minutes later, he’s explaining how some nights he can’t sleep, because the pain’s too great, and that he cries sometimes, when he’s on his own, because the flashbacks are so vivid.

So he’s asking for support.

He hasn’t asked us to be there, sitting in a quiet cafe, next to the marina in Lorient, in Brittany — but he knows the message could help.

He outlines, patiently, how football’s world governing body Fifa, and the Togolese and French football federations, have all provided some financial assistance.

He isn’t broke at the moment. The car and the clothes tell you that.

But don’t be fooled. The future doesn’t feel like a land of milk and honey to Kodjovi Obilale.

He’s doing a computer course, and says he’d like to open an African restaurant. But he earned his living as a footballer, for goodness’ sake. And he’s still only 26.

He hasn’t really got a clue what to do or, crucially, what he is capable of doing.

Even without a leg that doesn’t work like it used to, a scar down his abdomen the size of a thick middle finger, and a mind full of unimaginable horrors.

Obilale needs all the help he can get.

A lot of good people nearby are doing what they can. But he needs to feel like he hasn’t been forgotten by the wider world.

The football family, as I believe they like to call it, needs to live up to its name.

After all, it could have so easily have been Emmanuel Adebayor.

All that separates the Manchester City star’s life from his disabled friend’s is where both chose to sit, on a bus, a year ago as they made their way to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

Can those who run football honestly say they would have behaved in the same manner, if Adebayor had been cut down? (To our discredit, we, in the media, certainly would not.)

Kodjovi Obilale is a mighty strong character. If he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.

When he was lying on the floor of that ill-fated team bus, he wasn’t scared of dying, he told me.

But he’s a young man, with a young family, who’s battling a disability, and a dream that’s been horribly shattered. He’s a little bit scared of living right now.
— BBC Sport

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