How football saved Michail Antonio
For Michail Antonio, football was not just a chance at making a living playing a sport he loved.
For Michail Antonio, football was the solution. The answer to avoiding gangs, and violence.
“I actually grew up in Earlsfield,” Antonio said. “It wasn’t a very bad place. It’s not like back in the days where I can say the Bronx, but I’m saying there were loads of gangs.
“I can remember once, I went home to my brother and I said: ‘these gangs are asking me to join.’ I was thinking about it.
“My brother said: “You know people in two, three or four different gangs, why would you join up with one?” Gangs back then always fought each other. It wasn’t long after that I said: “I’m not going to join a gang.” I just kept on concentrating on my football in school.”
I said: “I’m not going to join a gang.” I just kept on concentrating on my football in school
The 28-year-old was never in doubt where life would take him. Antonio knew he would spend his career playing football.
It was never a question of not making it. Antonio was confident, he was certain, he would be a professional footballer.
He continued: “I used to play football basically seven days a week. Football basically was my life growing up. That’s all I did.
“When I was younger, if you asked me what am I going to do when I’m older, the first thing I would have said is: ‘I’m going to be a footballer.’
“People might say: ‘what happens if you don’t make it?’ I would say: ‘I’m not going to not make it. I’m actually going to be a footballer, I’m good enough to be a footballer. So, I will be.’’
Losing a close friend to gang culture made Antonio the man he is today. It is something the Hammers forward will never forget.
When a gang in his area split, it resulted in a death. It shaped him into the Michail Antonio West Ham fans see every week.
“A gang split, and ended up fighting each other, and one of my friends ended up dying. Eugene dying changed me as a person. It was heart-breaking.
“Someone dying was the next step. It changed be because it made me realise that life is short and I went from a short-tempered person to the person I am now, hardly ever get angry, chilled, I’m down to earth.”