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by Atiba Harris

Football⚽️ can change lives. I was born on the 9th January, 1985 to a Nevisian mother and a Kittitian father. We lived in a tiny wooden shack with a wooden floor in Upper Monkey Hill, St.Peter’s, St.Kitts. Being new to the area and unemployed, my mother decided to (sell tray), she became a street vendor to help assist with our family’s needs. My father on the other hand was a sugarcane worker who worked the sugarcane fields for long hours to provide.

In 1989, during the calm of Hurricane Hugo, we moved to Parray’s Village, St.Peter’s, St.Kitts to a bigger wooden structure but this time, we had a concrete floor with 2 bedrooms and a living room with a detached kitchen made of galvanized sheets, detached shower and latrine. My 2 older sisters and I shared one of the rooms while my parents and my baby brother shared the other. Life wasn’t easy for us and my mother had to borrow or (trust things) as we say then pay back people at times to survive. While I’m at it now, I want to say thank you to every single person who played a role in my upbringing.

Growing up, football brought joy to us from playing in the yard that we cleaned with a coconut broom to roaming the streets barefoot and playing small goal in any available space. Some of us had bata slappers lol that we used to make the goals but any big stone, block, shirt or anything were used. I’ve played primary & high school football. I’ve played all around St.Kitts & Nevis in many community leagues that we call bush leagues and learned a lot along the way. I’ve represented my country at every level from under 13 level at the age of 11 all the way up to senior level. I’ve been dropped from a few squads but worked harder and smarter to ensure selection after..

My journey to the professional scene wasn’t any easier. After the primary school finals in 1996 when our school Deane Glasford Primary School defeated Tucker Clarke Primary School to win the primary school championship led by our teacher Mr Vere Harris, my parents and I were approached by Mr Raphael Liburd after the game at Warner Park about the possibilities of playing in England. Fast forward to summer of 1999, my father and I journeyed to England on the advise from Mr Liburd and I was able to undergo a number of trials and even watched my 1st professional football match in a stadium at Loftus Road when QPR hosted Wolverhampton in London. They wanted me to stay, however, my father wanted me to finish high school in St.Kitts which I’m thankful.

A few years later after I graduated high school, I was afforded another opportunity to go to England on football trial. Myself, along with 2 other players were sent to England by the SKNFA under the Peter Jenkins admin in 2002. The 3 of us trained with Huddersfield then I went on to Newcastle United where a lot changed for me. Now, here I am, as a teenager from St.Kitts & Nevis sharing the same training pitch as top professionals like Alan Shearer etc and Sir Bobby Robson (RIP) dubbing me the next Patrick Viera. Can you imagine how I felt at the time? This was surreal, however, reality kicked in because I wasn’t able to receive a work permit so back to SKN, I go. Later that year, the SKNFA again sent me to OGC Nice in France on trial. This one wasn’t as organized but the experience was great so back to SKN again. In the summer of 2003 the big break came when I was awarded my first professional contract at the age of 18 when I signed with Cadiz CF in Spain. Everything felt perfect, living my dream fresh out of high school and doing what I love then reality kicked in as my experience there was filled with many ups and down. On one hand it was great being a professional player but on the other hand, I learned quickly that I wasn’t prepared to face the reality of things. Becoming a professional footballer was great but I had to deal with racism on a daily basis all why trying to adapt to a culture and new language at 18. Imagine a youngster from a tiny Caribbean nation being thrown in the deep end in Europe and forced to figure things out. I had many sleepless nights from the daily stress but I survived and when the opportunity came to go back to England, I took it but I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen next. I got a serious quadricep injury while training at a club in England and because I wasn’t under contract with them, they didn’t provide treatment but luckily for me, I had relatives in England and stayed with my cousins in Leeds. I want to thank Lincoln and Heather Richards and family for taking care of me while I was basically left to figure things out as the agent didn’t pick up his phone again *sigh*… So imagine being in England injured, staying with a hard working family who sacrificed their room to make me comfortable and funds running low. Man, I would always appreciate Lincoln and Heather Richards for being so accommodating. Anyways, so my mother again pulled some strings and got a flight for me to come back home where I felt like a disappointment and lacked motivation but then I picked myself up with the help of my mother, sister, Lenny Lake and a few others and started from scratch again. I played in the 2nd part of the 2004-2005 SKNFA Premier Division with St.Peters FC and then I left for St.Croix, USVI and played with Chelsea FC coached by Carlton Freeman all while cutting grass, doing construction and hustling. Huge thank you to Jahba, Mumba and his mother Helena for accommodating me during my time there. You’re greatly appreciated. I would also like to thank the USVI Soccer Association and Chelsea FC of the USVI for assisting me financially. While participating in the USVI League, I made contact with a number of agents and one of them responded and next thing you know, I bought a plane ticket from St.Croix to NYC then I was off to Salt Lake City, Utah on trial at Real Salt Lake. The first day they wanted me and a few months later in February 2006, I officially became the first Kittitian & Nevisian to sign a professional contract in Major League Soccer then the journey continued. So when you hear me say #frombarefoottocleatsonmyfeet it really is that way and always remember, IF I CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT TOO. Football changed my life so why can’t it change yours too so I want every boy and girl in St.Kitts & Nevis and elsewhere to keep on believing in yourself⚽️❤️🇰🇳🙌🏾

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