Making mum proud
WHEN you’ve lost two years of your career to injury and missed out on playing in the Premier League, it would hit most players hard. But if anyone can put that into its proper perspective it’s Brentford defender Moses Odubajo. He suffered the death of his beloved mother Esther from malaria when he was just 13 years old.
The tragic way it happened only added to his grief. His mum had travelled to Ghana to help out on a health roadshow.
She was sure she had immunity to malaria because she had grown up in Nigeria, but it wasn’t the case. When she was diagnosed with malaria and grew weak, she decided she wanted to get treated in African rather than in the UK.
She travelled to Uganda to see a doctor who had been recommended, but, sadly, she never returned.
“As kids, we (Moses and his brothers Tom and Idris) didn’t know the extent of what she had, we just thought she’d come down with a heavy flu which could be treated in Africa. That wasn’t the case.
“It was tough. When she didn’t come back, I was in a state of shock for several months. That’s how I dealt with it but my brothers cried and let it all out.”
That happened back in September 2006 and almost a decade later his story started to make news at the same time as his football career was gathering pace.
Charity Malaria No More UK heard about it and got in touch.
“I thought that if there was something I could do to help so that a family didn’t have to go through what me and my brothers went through, then I’m all for it,” he said.
“As the years have gone on, I’ve ended
up becoming a special ambassador for them.
“The statistics that you read about the disease are crazy. A child dies every two minutes in Africa, which is mad when you think about it. Just £1 could save someone’s life.”
At Brentford’s game against Bristol City in October, there were collections for Malaria No More UK, another sign of the impact Odubajo is having in raising awareness and funds to fight the deadly disease.
It’s a far cry from the days when he, not surprisingly, lost interest in football following the death of his mother. Later, grief turned into motivation to become a professional footballer and a better person.
The Greenwich-born right-back came through the ranks at Leyton Orient and established himself in the first team after spells on loan with St Albans, Sutton United and Bishop’s Stortford.
He shone in the 2013-14 season for the O’s as they reached the League One play-off final. He even scored a beauty in the final, but the O’s lost on penalties to Rotherham.
Nonetheless, he stepped up a division to join Brentford that summer, reportedly for a club record £1m. He prospered at the higher level, switching from rightwing to right-back along the way.
Again, however, there was playoff pain for Odubajo as the Bees lost to Middlesbrough in the semi-finals.
After just one season at Griffin Park, he moved to fellow Championship outfit Hull City for £3.5m. This time, there was to be play-off joy as the Tigers beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at Wembley.
Odubajo was set to fulfil a dream and play in the Premier League. But then disaster struck – he dislocated his kneecap in a pre-season friendly against Grimsby and then later suffered a fracture to the same kneecap.
It cost him two seasons. This summer, Odubajo returned to Brentford and he played his first senior match in more than two years when the Bees lost 3-1 at Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in late September.
His early life experiences have no doubt played a part in giving him that extra bit of resilience that others might not have.
“When footballers get hit with longterm injuries, it causes depression and a lot of things,” he said. “Football becomes your life, you sleep and drink football. If someone takes that one thing away from you, you think what do I do now, I feel useless.
“When I sat down with the surgeon who said it was going to be 12 months or something, it was a kick in the teeth, but, you know what, I thought there are more strings to my bow, this isn’t the end, there will be a comeback.
“Aside from my rehab, I watched a lot of series on Netflix, I took up another language, Spanish, which I’m still learning. It took my mind away from football.
“When I got back playing, it was more like relief - the dark cloud has lifted. It was a big sigh of relief.
“I’m not where I want to be physically
but I’ve just got to be thankful that after such a long spell out, I’m back playing.
“I just want to play as many games as possible this season – to show everyone that I’m fit and I can still do what I did before.”
That Premier League ambition is still intact. And, at 25, he still has time on his side to make it happen.
Perhaps it will be with Brentford, who have come on leaps and bounds over the last decade or so and plan to move into a plush new 17,250-seater stadium at Lionel Road, less than a mile away from Griffin Park, for the start of the 2020-21 season.
“My dream as a kid was to get to the Premier League,” said the former England U20 man. “I got there but didn’t get the chance to play.
“This time around it would be great and the club deserves to be up in the Premier League. There’s potential for this club to go all the way.
“We’re going in the right direction, the ambition is big, the new stadium speaks for itself. I actually live across the road from it!
“There’s a lot of talent in this team. People used to think it was little old Brentford, but now teams are coming to Griffin Park thinking let’s just defend. It’s a credit to the boys. There is something special here.”
After all he’s been through, no-one would begrudge him a Premier League chance.
Back in the big time: Brentford’s Moses Odubajo on the ball in the Carabao Cup tie at Arsenal
Big moment: Odubajo celebrates scoring for Leyton Orient in the League One play-off final in 2014
Glory day: Hull’s Moses Odubajo, centre, celebrates play-off final victory with Steve Bruce and Andrew Robertson in 2016
Pain game: Odubajo limps off at the start of his injury agony