Alex Iwobi: Everton star on a mission to bring football to everyone

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Alex Iwobi played the full 90 minutes as Everton lost to Aston Villa on Saturday

Many could be forgiven for wanting the day off after a searing 90 minutes in the heatwave that hit England at the weekend.

Yet less than 24 hours after Everton’s Premier League defeat to Aston Villa, Alex Iwobi landed in Northern Ireland.

Nigeria international Iwobi has come to Belfast to join forces with Ethnic Minority Sports Organization Northern Ireland (EMSONI), through his own charity Project 17.

EMSONI is a community-based multi-sport organization for the development of ethnic minority sport in Northern Ireland, with the aim of diversifying the face of sport and integrating ethnic minorities and local communities.

Founder Adekanmi Abayomi, an asylum seeker from Nigeria who won BBC Sport NI’s Unsung Hero Award 2020founded the Northern Ireland Confederations Cup – a football tournament bringing together teams from various ethnic groups and communities across the country.

It was not a relaxing day off, with several stops and encounters with fans, volunteers and the Lord Mayor of Belfast, but Iwobi said he had a ‘great time’ during his short stay in Belfast .

“It takes me back to my childhood. I was playing with different cultures, different backgrounds when I was playing all over London and Essex,” Iwobi said at Midgley Park for the NI Confederations Cup semi-final between Nigeria and Ghana.

“I want everyone to have the same, if not more, opportunity than I did when I was a kid. In football you can experience many life situations and it brings everyone together.

“I’m here to support and give back to the community. I’m always here to try to show up and support as much as I can.”

I want everyone to have the same chance – Everton’s Iwobi

It was a short but busy day in Belfast for Iwobi. The first stop was at the ESMONI offices for a press conference before the entourage traveled to Belfast City Hall to discuss the project with the Lord Mayor, Tina Black, and the IFA President. , Conrad Kirkwood.

The 26-year-old was enjoying everything from people and photo ops to the architecture of City Hall in the heart of Belfast, with a big smile on his face every step of the way.

From there followed a trip to Ulidia Playing Fields, where the NI Confederations Cup final will take place, before its final stop at Midgley Park, in the shadow of Windsor Park – home of Northern Ireland and the Irish champions of Premiership Linfield – to watch the NI Confederations Cup Semi-Final before returning to Merseyside for training on Monday morning.

Iwobi, who was born in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, before moving to England, added that when he heard about EMSONI’s work in Northern Ireland, he felt compelled to try to support their cause.

“When this opportunity presented itself, there was no doubt that we wanted to exploit it,” he added.

“To see what they’ve done in the past, I want it to grow and elevate. To come here and see it for myself and witness it is crazy.

“They [EMSONI] had 15 communities involved and now they have 20 this year. I even met the mayor of Belfast, so having opportunities like that is amazing.

“With football there is an opportunity for everyone. I am like everyone else, I am human at the end of the day.

“Growing up I only had the support of Arsenal and my family. I’m grateful for what I had, but things like EMSONI didn’t exist in my area and can only help people to the future.”

Iwobi “a success”

Abayomi said he and his team had been working for nine months to bring Iwobi to Belfast, and the stars aligned when the Confederations Cup semi-finals lined up on a day off for the Everton midfielder .

“We are so happy with his passion,” he said.

“It’s amazing to see a promising young man who has done well using his platform to inspire young people and bring communities together.

“Alex brings a lot to this project and a lot to Northern Ireland. He’s done well and it’s been a success. We can use him as a good role model to show what people can do for themselves. .”

Nigerian Adekanmi wins BBC Sport NI’s Unsung Hero Award

Abayomi added that it “speaks a lot” that Iwobi was ready to travel to Belfast between Everton’s game at Villa Park on Saturday and before returning to training with Frank Lampard on Monday morning.

“It’s amazing. You can see it’s organic and natural for him,” he added.

“It shows that he is genuinely interested in giving back to society. I would implore other internationals of his status to emulate something like that.

“That’s what they need, these guys need someone to identify with. Alex does it and is proud of it.

“I’m proud of EMSONI and the volunteers who made this possible. I still struggle with this being a reality, I’m glad he’s in Belfast for the first time and loves the atmosphere. We can’t thank him enough.”

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