Demba Ba’s career path has been more interesting than many, so ahead of our Game for Equality with Everton on Saturday the official Chelsea website caught up with the game’s ambassador to discuss his early days in football and what his faith has taught him on and off the pitch…
For the young, aspiring footballer, ending your teenage years at a semi-professional club in the fourth tier of the country in which you grew up might make you doubt yourself, or question whether this was, in fact, the appropriate vocation for you. With world-class youth systems and extraordinary scouting networks now no longer the exception, just what chance does a 20-year-old plying his trade in non-league football have of making a significant impression higher up the footballing pyramid?
These were not thoughts that crossed Demba Ba’s mind, and his story – from lowly Rouen in France to a top-four club in England – is all the more impressive for it.
‘I had no doubts I wanted to be a footballer because that was the only option,’ he explains, thoughtfully. ‘Some people have many options but for me football was my only option, so I gave everything.
‘It was not a sacrifice leaving the house when I was young and travelling around Europe to find a club. It was the only way to get to where I am today, and I am proud of that. I just kept believing in myself, doing my thing and here I am.’
Ba’s desire to be offered a contract which would make him the professional he had long dreamed of becoming took him to trials all over the continent. One expedition, embarked upon by Ba and two other aspiring footballers, brought him through the Channel Tunnel to England. The year was 2005.
‘Three of us came over looking for glory or success. It was an adventure. Some of the trials were planned like the ones I had at Barnsley and Swansea, while the one at Watford just happened like that. Unfortunately the guys I was with didn’t really make it, but I came back to France with an experience. I had learned a lot of things that helped me at the beginning of my career.
‘I know why I was there, and the objective was to finish in a club like Chelsea. If I didn’t make it I would have had to just go home, and what could I have done? Everything was made for these days, and now I am happy and proud.’
The 28-year-old is the ambassador for our inaugural Game for Equality on Saturday, bringing together football and important campaigns and organisations to highlight work promoting equality within the sport and the community. Ba, whose Muslim faith is recognised in his goal celebrations, underlines his passion on the subject.
‘My faith and my religion teach me that everyone is equal, black or white, man or woman. We are all human beings. I wouldn’t fight with my brother, and I don’t know why we fight because this person is white or black or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist. This is too much. I won’t judge someone just from seeing them.
‘It’s important the club get involved in this work. When the kids that are a fan of the club – and Chelsea have a lot of fans all around the world – see the club is involved in this sort of thing, it’s going to make them think. In football you see a lot of good things and you see a lot of bad things so you should try to forgive people for what they do to you and to other people.’
The visit of Everton on Saturday is an opportunity for the club to promote the great work undertaken by a number of organisations against discrimination, including our own Building Bridges. This promotes equality in our club, our stadium and our communities, working alongside schools and other groups to celebrate our diversity,
Ba and the other members of the squad are playing their part in this, and there is also a job to be done by the team on the pitch this weekend when they kick off against the side currently sixth in the league table.
‘We lost the last game in the FA Cup and we don’t want to lose two in a row. That would be bad,’ says Ba, who despite limited playing time of late is keeping himself strong physically and mentally to be ready if called upon.
‘We are just going to do everything on Saturday because it’s important to get back to winning ways, it’s important for the title race and it’s important for our confidence.’
By Rupert Cane