Former African footballer of the year, Perpetua Nkwocha now coaching a team of migrants in Sweden
Nigerian football star Perpetual Nkwocha knows what it’s
like to find yourself many miles from home, making a new
life, BBC reports.
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.
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.
Perpetua, who is a great soccer player – so that’s the
purpose of the whole thing, to help in the immigration of
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, even if at the start some
were apparently surprised to be coached by a woman. Now
there are no such doubts.
“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.
Migration is as controversial an issue in Sweden as it is
elsewhere across Europe – but the local authorities in
Skelleftea, who support the Clemensnas project, are
adamant that they need people to come to the town, and
make their life there
“We have a problem with people moving away – down into
the big towns in the south,” local councillor Daniel Adin told
“For many of our smaller towns and villages, they see this
as a way to keep the countryside alive.”
And he is a keen supporter of using the football scheme to
try to bring the new arrivals into society.
“We have seen that sport is a really simple way of creating
these meetings between people, because you don’t have to
know the language – you can meet and have a natural way
of communicating and meeting.”
Nwocha says she enjoys her life in Skelleftea, people are
friendly – it is just the cold that is difficult.
“You cannot get used to this weather. There is no fashion in
winter,” she says, adding that layers are imperative.
She has a busy life, attending classes to improve her
Swedish – as well as the teenage-coaching project. Her
main role will be to lead Clemensnas to success once the
season gets going again in May. But the so-called “Football
for All” scheme is close to her heart – and she is putting just
as much effort into that at the moment.
“I feel so great being with these lovely children here. I feel
like I’m home, you know – just like when I train my boys
back home in Nigeria – I feel the same way here.”