Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Brentford’s Moses Odubajo on the loss of his mother to Malaria and the dark cloud of long-term injury

Posted on 24 October 2018 by Connor Woolley

Corned beef for dinner. Coats on indoors. Inability to pay for heating or electricity. Stark realities Moses Odubajo faced at just 12 years old.

When his mother tragically passed away, at just 45-years-old, Odubajo and his two elder brothers were left to fend for themselves.

Living in a council flat in Downham, South London, they never informed the authorities about their mother’s death through fear of being separated in care.

Odubajo recalls when his mum, a healthcare worker, came back from a business trip to Ghana. She had, unknowingly, contracted Malaria.

“As kids we didn’t know, or understand, what the disease she contracted was,” he explained.

“We just thought she’d come down with a heavy flu. That wasn’t the case.”

After diagnosis in the UK Odubajo’s mum decided to seek treatment in Uganda. She never came home.

“It was tough. She always used to travel, doing health roadshows, when she didn’t come back I went into a state of shock for several months,” said Odubajo.

“I was in a state of shock for several months.”

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Odubajo, now 25, is an ambassador for Malaria No More UK. A charity dedicated to eradicating Malaria worldwide.

Brentford are fully supportive of Odubajo’s charity work. Saturday’s home game against Bristol City saw fans and staff raise money for the charity.

“The club has been involved in a lot of good things that have been happening recently,” Odubajo said.

“Peter Gilham does a lot for charity. He asked the players if there are any charities we support. I wrote down Malaria No More UK.”

“The statistics that I read are crazy. A kid dies every 2 minutes in Africa. Malaria isn’t something you just see on TV, though, it happens here in the UK.”

“It happens to normal people too. Not just the poor. My mum was proof of that.”

“Just one pound can save someone’s life. It’s mad when you think about it.”

Take a look on the Malaria No More website, or search the term ‘Malaria’ on Google, you will find many different stories from all over the world.

Although – according to the World Health Organisation – 90% of Malaria cases are reported in Africa, there were a staggering 216 million cases across 91 countries in 2016.

Although, initially, the death of his mother severely affected him he says he wouldn’t change his circumstances.

After his mum died he became closer to his two brothers Idris and Tom. The latter is also a footballer who plays for Sutton United.

“The situation with my mum has brought me to where I am now. I can’t change that and wouldn’t change that for the world now,” he said.

“A lot of my friends say it’s weird how close we are as brothers. To me, it’s just normal, both my brothers are my best friends.

“My mum has a legacy. I think that helps us. The things she instilled in us, back then, is what we use now. It’s our motivation.”

Idris was very much a father figure to Odubajo. He was the one out making money. This, unfortunately, led him to commit a crime.

“Idris spent two years in prison,” Odubajo said.

“Although he was behind bars, he was still a big influence, he wrote to me and Tom and pushed us to be better and to train harder.”

He speaks with the same kind of admiration about his other brother.

“When I see Tom, my middle brother, doing well and scoring [for Sutton] it motivates me,” said Odubajo.

It has been a tough couple of years personally for Odubajo. In 2016, at Hull City, he dislocated his knee cap and suffered ligament damage.

Where some footballers would begin to lose motivation Odubajo just wanted to get on with it. His experiences during his youth as played a big part in his mental fortitude.

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“It feels almost bad to say it. But I feel it’s [his mothers passing] been a blessing in disguise,” he said.

“When footballers get hit with long-term injuries it sometimes causes depression.

“Football becomes your life. When someone takes that one thing away from you, it’s like ‘what do I do now?’

“When I was in that situation it felt like a kick in the teeth. Then I thought ‘this isn’t the end. I’m going to make a big comeback.”

Odubajo returned to Griffin Park on a free transfer this summer. It has been a long, slow, process of recovery but he is slowly getting more games.

He started against Leeds and came on as a second-half substitute in the 1-0 defeat to Bristol City last weekend.

“I feel like I’ve just made my first team debut as a youngster,” he explained.

“The clouds kind of lifted – the dark one I’ve had for almost two years – to get rid of it was a big relief.

“I’m still not where I want to be physically. But, I’ve just got to be thankful, after such a long spell out I’m back playing. It’s going to take time.”

When asked about the possibility of making the step back up to the Premier League (where he was when at Hull) Odubajo is measured in his approach.

“If I could go to the Premier League now it wouldn’t change a thing. It’s about getting physically ready and mentally right. I will cross that bridge when it comes,” said Odubajo.

You can visit Malaria No More UK’s website HERE.

Featured photograph/Malaria No More UK