Feature

Bukayo Saka | In my own words

Saka

I was standing on the pitch at Old Trafford before the game – it was just my second-ever start in the Premier League – and it finally hit me: I'm in the Arsenal first team.

I had been here 10 years earlier with my dad, sitting in the away end with the Newcastle fans. My dad has always been a big football fan, he supported Newcastle because he loved Alan Shearer. I hadn't been to many stadiums at all, so it was a big moment for me, as an eight-year-old, to go to a game. But now here I was as a player.

Being down on the pitch, looking up at the fans in the stands, it really hit me. I realised what was starting to happen.

Auba and Saka

To be honest it all really started a long time before that. From the age of three or four I would be playing football at home in the garden with my dad, and my older brother, Yomi.

It was always like that. After school we would eat and then it was straight into the garden to play football. We would play for hours. My dad and brother would want to go back inside but I never let them. We kept playing until I won. I'm serious, you can ask them! As long as they were winning, I wouldn't let them back inside.

When I got a bit older I would also play on the green outside our house. I loved being outside. I was never one for movies or anything, but I do admit to liking cartoons as a kid - especially Spongebob Squarepants. I loved that!

I grew up in Greenford, west London with my mum, dad and Yomi. We've always been close and we've always been sporty. My brother played as a defender for Watford until he was about 14.

Weekends in our house were always about football. My dad would usually take me to Arsenal – I joined when I was about seven – and my mum would take my brother to Watford. I spent a lot of time being taken to and from football in my dad's car. I remember there were a lot of roadworks round Hale End, sometimes it took us an hour and a half. But it was all worth it. I loved it.

I just enjoyed playing, but I don't think I ever really thought I was going to make it to the first team until I actually signed my first professional contract when I turned 17.

You go through the youth teams, year by year, and you see all these great players around you - some of them could be the best in the year - and slowly they are all let go, to other clubs or even stopping completely.

So you could never be sure that you would make it, but what I said to myself is that I would always give my best in every single session. I always wanted to learn to get better, I always watched a lot of football to see how I could improve. But we had a big group at Hale End, and even though we had so many quality players, the coaches would always say, 'Look around the dressing room, only maybe one or possibly two of you will make it to the first team one day.' We would look at each other and wonder who it would be. I was always determined for it to be me, and so I wanted to do whatever it took to achieve that.

I got impatient at times. When I was really young I had a lot of growing pains, and it was really frustrating. I had problems with my heels and my knees, but that happens when you grow up. At the time though you don't have the patience, I just wanted to play all the time. I kept asking how long it would be until I was playing without pain. But looking back I know it wasn't so hard. I know other people have been through much worse.

Saka

My mum and dad always encouraged me. They never stopped me from playing football, they just wanted to see a balance and that I was also interested in my education.

I actually got quite good grades, so they were pleased on that side. I got four A*s and three As in my GCSEs, so I did quite well at school. My favourite lesson was obviously PE, but I also liked business studies a lot, I got an A* in that. 

I was lucky enough to travel a lot when I was younger as well. Every year my mum and dad would take us away. We went to Nigeria of course, where my mum and dad are both from, we went to Dubai, and to America a few times because my cousins live there. I remember going to Chicago and LA, and a few other places too.

I still live with my parents, but we've moved away from Greenford now, closer to the training ground, and my brother has moved to Reading to go to university. We are still really close though, he was one of the first to text me after the FA Cup game at Bournemouth when I was man of the match. My mum text me too, telling me how proud she was. My dad will always tell me what I could have done better, even when I've played well, and my cousins and uncles support me too. I know they pray for me, and always ask how I'm getting on. 

Bukayo Saka

My first-team debut last year was in Ukraine, so that wasn't an easy one to get to for them, but two weeks later my family were all there when I started my first game at the Emirates. It was a few months after my 17th birthday, against Qarabag in the Europa League, and I was told I would be starting the day before the game. I couldn't sleep at all! My dad told me he was that same.

They came to the game to support me and I remember seeing how happy they looked afterwards. I framed my shirt from that game – it's on the wall at home.

I will never forget that day. I actually had a big chance to score in that game too, but the way I see it is I learnt from that, and now I want to keep on learning.

 

 

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