Eastender Sanmi Odelusi counts his blessings at Bolton Wanderers
YOUNG Wanderers striker Sanmi Odelusi admits he is living the dream as a professional footballer.
Growing up in inner city East London, the 20-year-old’s path could have gone in an entirely different direction had sport not been his outlet.
Odelusi says he was lucky in that his peer group were all focused on football from a very early age.
And that gave him the drive and ambition to make it all the way in the sport.
He took that first step when he spent time in the academies at both Reading and Queens Park Rangers as a teenager before moving north to Wanderers as a 16-year-old.
Now, he has made his senior debut for the Whites and scored his first two goals on his first start against Shrewsbury in the Capital One Cup this season.
But the Eastender knows there are others not as fortunate in their teenage years who take an alternative path that leads them into gang culture.
That is why he believes in the value of football clubs working closely in the community to offer youngsters a chance to get involved with football to get them off the streets.
Odelusi told The Bolton News: “Any scheme that can get kids playing football and off the streets is important.
“Being young myself, I believe it is the best way forward to keep kids out of trouble.
“As a youngster growing up in London, I always saw football as a sport to enjoy and take my mind of everything else and any other distractions.
“Any spare time I had as a youngster I spent playing football.
“I was all right because most of my friends at the time were also into football.
“That was my group I hung around with – we all wanted to try and be footballers and so I was lucky in that respect.
“I had a local Sunday League team when I was a youngster in London and got involved in that and it set me on the right path.
“But without football it may have been different like it is for so many other kids growing up in inner city London.”
The value of such schemes, particularly in big towns and cities, was highlighted this week when hard-working football coach June Kelly received a Pride of Britain award for her commitment to offering football sessions to youngsters down the road from Bolton in Cheetham Hill, north Manchester.
The 43-year-old coach voluntarily set up and runs the thriving Abraham Moss Warriors junior team in one of the country’s most deprived areas, using football to steer youngsters from different backgrounds and cultures away from gangs, drugs and crime.
Odelusi praises the work of those initiatives and those run by professionals clubs that offer similar sessions to the less advantaged youngsters.
And this week he got to see first-hand one of the projects run by the Bolton Wanderers Community Trust, making a personal appearance at the junior disability football classes run weekly by the Trust at Smithills Leisure Centre.
He enjoyed putting something back and says it is great to see the reaction of the kids when a first-team player shows up, something he missed out on as a youngster.
Odelusi said: “I didn’t have the privilege to see footballers close up.
“I am from East London and my local club was West Ham but there was not the opportunity to see footballers first-hand like here.
“I didn’t really get to see players like Frank Lampard in his days at the club at courses like the one I went to.
“If I get asked to do something like this again, of course I would because i know how good it is for the kids to inspire them.
“I am not a well-known player but the kids still appreciate it and it puts a smile on my face as well.”
He may not consider himself to be well-known as a Wanderers player but he has already made his mark at first-team level with that brace on his full debut.
And he is only too happy to pass on advice and talk about his experiences with youngsters when given the opportunity as part of the club’s work in the community.
Odelusi added: “As a young footballer, I will tell anyone that you have to work hard if you want to strive to be a footballer.
“I did and it worked out for me and I have got my rewards playing for a club like Bolton Wanderers.
“You have to remain focused and practice whenever you can because practice makes perfect.
“And if there is a chance to play football, either at a local team or sessions put on like the ones we have talked about, then kids should get involved like I did.
“You have to remember it is about taking part and enjoying football as well.”