It’s not every day that Non-League footballers share the turf with Ballon d’Or winners. Last Saturday, the unthinkable happened when Brazilian footballing icon Kaka teamed up Reach Out FC as part of Adidas’ Rent a Pred campaign to take on Hackney Wick in a six-a-side game in South London.
As many would have expected, Kaka’s side ended up on the right side of a 4-2 result with the former Real Madrid and AC Milan midfielder scoring and assisting twice. However, what made the headlines was that he was taught an old-school footballing lesson when Jamal Farid, one of Wick’s longest-serving players, nutmegged him.
Farid has turned into an internet sensation following his trickery against one of the game’s most celebrated ex-pros. As a full-back who enjoys getting the ball past his opponent, he was in awe of his own ability as he left the Brazilian holding his face in shame.
“I don’t know what was going on in my head at the time; I was just excited. It wasn’t a fluke for sure. I felt someone closing me down and decided to change the stride of the ball and to my amusement, it was none other than Kaka,” he said.
The 24-year-old, who is on a semi-professional contract at Hampton Wick, does not get paid to play or train and has to bear all the costs that come with being a non-league footballer.
Not one to forego the sport he’s played since the day he learned to stand up on his own two feet, Farid does a night shift in one of London’s warehouses to earn a living. He finishes before sunrise and often heads straight to the training pitch instead of going home to catch up on his rest.
Such is his love for football.
Thus, the fact that he not only played with a footballing legend but also managed to get the better of him. He spoke about the 37-year-old’s humility and expressed joy at meeting one of his footballing idols in person.
“It was the best moment of my life. He’s someone I’ve idolised while growing up,” said the full-back.
“We didn’t really get to speak much with him after the game but I’ll never forget sharing the pitch with him.”
After being released by Celtic as a teenager, Farid struggled to find an English League club to offer him a professional contract. He then decided to be close to his family and friends. Having spent his childhood in Hackney, joining Hackney Wick was a no-brainer for him.
For someone who enjoys training five days a week, Farid also has one eye on the future. Due to no money coming in from his playing career, he wants to stay with the sport but also earn enough to support himself.
So, he’s decided to follow the path of a number of ex-pros and is turning to coaching.
“I’ll be looking to get my coaching badges soon. I enjoy playing and I’ve got to be realistic about it. I’m 24 now and I enjoy coaching,” added Farid.
“It’s not easy making it as a professional footballer with the number of talented players around so I’m hoping as a coach I can make a difference and do my family and Hackney Wick proud.”
However, the regrets of not making it as a professional footballer still run through his mind. Non-league has served as a good escape for him, but until five years ago, he had envisaged his future to be rosier than it is today.
He still remains optimistic about the future of Non-League football and despite his struggles, he encourages more players to play for their local clubs.
“The Non-League game is a great way to get your foot in the door. Playing for a club you’ve grown up next to is a different feeling altogether and I encourage more people to do it.
“We’ve got some talented Sunday-league teams, YouTube teams, ethnic teams. It’s a great mix and is what makes the football scene so unique.”
Hackney Wick is a club built on the foundations of keeping youngsters off the streets and create awareness to stop people from succumbing to criminal temptations. Founder Bobby Kasanga was drawn into trouble by the lure of his elder brother but since starting the club in 2015, he’s represented the core principles of the beautiful game.
And this is what resonates with Farid. He believes in everything the club stands for, is on board with all their community activities and is of the opinion that they’ve made Hackney borough one of London’s friendliest footballing regions.
“It’s a very homely place to come and have a kick about,” he said.
“We’ve launched sports fitness and leadership programmes, launched campaigns against knife crime and have organised a number of social events in the community.
“It’s how we keep the spark going.”