Chelsea icon John Obi Mikel funds Nigeria’s amputee World Cup team and says ‘I didn’t think twice’
CRUTCHES clatter along the pavement of John Obi Mikel’s back garden as four footballers step onto the patio.
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This is not a reunion of injured pros but a meet-up between Chelsea’s former midfielder and a contingent of amputee players.
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Chelsea icon John Obi Mikel invited amputee footballers to his Surrey home[/caption]
They are here for a project Mikel has developed a passion for.
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It is six weeks since Nigeria’s amputee team, nicknamed the ‘Special Eagles’, reached out to the two-time Premier League winner for help.
Nigeria were due to miss the Amputee World Cup last month after failing to raise the necessary funds to go to Mexico.
Ghana’s highly-rated team was unable to go to Mexico while England only reached the required £70,000 amount due to a late donation from the Premier League.
Nathan Fisher, left, Michael Ishiguzo, second right, and Roger Whitehouse told Mikel their stories[/caption]
Michael Ishiguzo plays for Arsenal Amputee FC[/caption]
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Mikel, currently playing for Tianjin TEDA in China, stepped in for Nigeria by helping with financial support.
For the first time in four tournaments, Nigeria went to the World Cup.
“When I had the choice to help the amputee team I didn’t think twice,” Mikel, 31, told SunSport.
Mikel helped finance the Nigerian Amputee team last month[/caption]
“I have friends there from when I was little so I did what I had to do to make sure they got to Mexico and achieved their dreams.”
Mikel grew up down the road from an athletics stadium in the Nigerian city of Jos, where he and his brothers would occasionally play with the amputee team.
Mikel said: “I knew how those guys would spend their days playing football and then having to go to the streets to beg for money.
“They have to survive. Sometimes we would chip in or my mum would make food for them, so I know the amputee players’ struggle.
Nigeria had not attended three prior tournaments due to a lack of funding[/caption]
Mikel recalled how his mother would make food for the Nigerian amputee players[/caption]
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“I knew other countries were having similar issues as well and when I heard about the Nigerian team I thought we need to raise awareness.”
Today, he greets amputee players Nathan Fisher, Roger Whitehouse and Michael Ishiguzo at his Surrey home following the conclusion of the Chinese Super League season.
Mikel’s work is not done, though.
Now he wants to shine a light on the effort of these players.
“The reason why we are talking about this here today is the hope that it will bring awareness to the struggle amputee athletes go through, and the hope for increased support,” he says.
Nathan Fisher, Roger Whitehouse and Michael Ishiguzo play for amputee teams across England[/caption]
Ishiguzo, a fellow Nigerian who plays for Arsenal Amputee FC, was a striker for the now defunct Stationary Stores of Lagos and Eagle Cement of Port Harcourt.
“I know about this team,” Mikel says.
“I used to be a ball boy in Jos so every time they came to play I was there.”
Ishiguzo says his right leg didn’t receive the proper treatment when it was “snapped in two” during a training session.
“By the time I got to hospital the doctors said there was nothing they could do,” he says.
“When I got out I had nothing to do. I would watch my old teammates train and got angry so picked up my crutches to show them how it’s done. I basically never stopped playing.”
Peterborough United’s Fisher, currently doing GCSEs, is joining up with England’s U23 amputee team next year.
The 16-year-old took up the sport in February after playing on his stump for years.
Fisher was born with fibula hemimelia, a one-in-a-billion deficiency where the fetus develops with only one bone in the lower leg.
His parents took the decision to amputate at nine months.
“It’s better than normal football,” the Cambridge-based midfielder tells Mikel.
Portsmouth centre-back Whitehouse, who has represented England, was born with one leg significantly shorter than the other.
Mikel spoke to SunSport’s Tom Roddy about his passion for amputee football[/caption]
The full-time salesman used to play in goal wearing a prosthetic leg before discovering amputee football three years ago.
“With amputee football you have to play for pride,” Whitehouse says.
Whitehouse represented England at the European Championships in Turkey last year.
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He said: “The money we actually raise doesn’t scratch the surface of what it costs.
“I didn’t go to Mexico this year but I went to Turkey for the Euros and we had to raise £1,500 per person.
“It sounds like a lot for a 13-man squad but then you’ve got all the equipment and travel arrangements.
“That’s why it meant so much to see John help the Nigeria team. That’s just an awesome thing to see.”
Other African nations weren’t so fortunate.
Ishiguzo was a professional footballer before his injury[/caption]
Whitehouse recalls: “We played against Ghana before the World Cup and they were unreal.
“There was this guy upfront who beat me every time. I even tried to take him out once and couldn’t get close.
“They were supposed to go to the World Cup but they couldn’t go because they didn’t have the funding.”
For Mikel, who was used to Chelsea’s state-of-the-art facilities at the club’s Cobham training base, this comes as a surprise.
He says: “It’s amazing. It just shows the passion these guys have for the game to be paying out of their own pocket.
“They play from the heart and that’s why they need our support.”