More than a game

Ish's story: From refugee to Premier League Kicks role model at Newcastle

By Mark Orlovac 13 Feb 2024

After arriving in the UK as an 11-year-old, find out how Ish Bamba is now inspiring others in Newcastle

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In 2006, Ish Bamba arrived in Newcastle as an 11-year-old refugee after his family fled the civil war in the Ivory Coast.

Today, Ish is an inspirational role model for young people in his local area thanks to the Premier League Kicks programme and the Newcastle United Foundation.

He has been rewarded for his journey and the impact on his local community by having a mural painted close to Newcastle United's St James' Park, which has been created to celebrate his impact on the local community.

Ish attended the unveiling of the mural with Newcastle legend Alan Shearer, which celebrates his role as a Community Captain as part of the Premier League's 'More than a game' campaign.

"As an 11-year-old first coming to the UK, I had my good days and bad days," Ish says. "I came to a place where my parents believed I'd be less affected by the war. It was a very tough time of my life.

"I didn't speak much English. It was difficult getting by on a day-to-day basis as I wasn’t able to communicate properly.

"Obviously with time you get to learn the language. You make more and more friends and Newcastle was a welcoming city."

As a keen footballer, Ish joined his school team which he describes as "One of the most joyful things I did in the early days of being here; instantly you have a team around you."

When he was 15 years old, Ish began attending Premier League Kicks sessions after hearing about the programme from his new-found friends at school.

It is a decision that has had a huge impact on his life.

Ish Bamba, Newcastle United Foundation

"I turned up one Friday night and there were quite a few young people my age, just enjoying the game of football," he says. "I was hooked straight away.

"The staff were fantastic, they cared. It was that safe space, that welcoming space, that was so important to me.

"It made me want to come back week-in, week-out."

Ish quickly became an integral part of the programme and was given the opportunity to travel, representing Newcastle United at various tournaments across the country.

"It was such a good experience," he says. "You've got to behave and be a good person; it's important to gain the trust of your coach and your peers as well.

"It gave me friendship, it gave me camaraderie.

Ish Bamba
Newcastle United Foundation project officer

"No matter how tough the start is, it doesn't shape you. It depends on where you want to be in life and the opportunities that come your way."

"You meet new people, you build relationships. Even now, I'm still friends with some of the people I was in PL Kicks with. It's amazing."

This was not the end of Ish's Premier League Kicks journey, however.

With support, guidance and encouragement from Newcastle United Foundation, Ish began volunteering at the PL Kicks session where he was a participant.

"Knowing how I came into the programme and how I benefitted from it, I wanted to have the same impact on future generations," he says.

"When you're a young lad, you can go down a different path in terms of following the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things.

"Being involved in Kicks and travelling to different places gave me a structure. It helped shape my childhood. When I got a bit older, I wanted to do that for others."

That was the start of Ish's coaching career.

Now 28, Ish is still with the Newcastle United Foundation - as a full-time member of staff.

He is a Premier League Kicks community coach, where he brings his knowledge and experiences to help young people make friends and reach their potential.

Ish also plays an important role in delivering specialist sessions for recently arrived refugees, migrants and young people seeking sanctuary.

"For me, Kicks is an environment where young people can turn up, feel safe, create new friendship groups, learn something new and most importantly, have fun," he says.

Ish, Newcastle

"That was what I needed when I joined Kicks.

"When I first came here, I didn't think that I'd be working in coaching, but no-one knows what the future brings.

"No matter how tough the start is, it doesn't shape you. It depends on where you want to be in life and the opportunities that come your way. I'll still have opportunities to take in the future.

"My parents are happy with my journey and I try to make them proud. I feel privileged and I hope I can make a difference. I only can try."

Premier League Kicks uses the power of football and sport to inspire young people to reach their potential, in some of the most high-need areas in England and Wales.

Ish is one of more than half a million people who have benefitted from their involvement in the programme since its launch in 2006.

To date, the Premier League has invested almost £66million in Premier League Kicks through the Premier League Charitable Fund.

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