September 25 2022 7:37 AM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Alphonso Davies wants to share his story

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(Photo: Unsplash)

For a long time, Alphonso Davies knew only the outline of the story. His parents had given him the bare facts, but little more: that they had fled the bloody civil war engulfing their native Liberia; that he had been born in the refugee camp in Ghana where they sought shelter; and that they had moved to Canada when he was 5.اضافة اعلان

He had been too young not only to understand where he was and what his family was enduring, but also for those years to leave any imprint on him at all. His memory kicks in, he said, at age 6 or so: He remembers starting school in Windsor, Ontario, but nothing before that. His parents, Debeah and Victoria, never volunteered to fill in the gaps.

“They didn’t really explain it,” Davies said. “It’s not something they talked about a lot. They didn’t really want to. It was a dark time in their history. They just wanted us to enjoy our lives in Canada, to be really happy in a safe place, where we could be whatever we wanted to be.”

Davies discovered much of the detail of his own story at the same time as almost everyone else. On the day in 2017 when he was officially granted Canadian citizenship, the Vancouver Whitecaps — the club where he, at 16, made his name — produced a short film, part celebration and part commemoration of his journey.

It was the first time Davies had heard his parents’ firsthand account of the part of their life — and his — that he had never known. They described the decision to flee the violence stalking Liberia. They spoke about the hand-to-mouth realities of existence in Buduburam, a camp on the edge of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, where they found themselves. They talked about the hunger, the poverty, the uncertainty, the fear.

“They said it was like being in a container that you can’t leave, because you don’t know what would happen to you,” he said. “It was hard to find food and water. You don’t know what’s coming the next day. My mum didn’t know how she would feed me, take care of me. She cried. They were struggling, for themselves and for me. I didn’t know any of it until they did that interview.”

Davies was not alone in being touched by his parents’ account. He had always known he was Liberian: The gospel music that Victoria played at 7am every Sunday at their new home in Edmonton, Alberta, gave that away. He had known, too, that he had been a refugee. “It is part of my identity,” he said. “It is part of me.”

But it was only after his parents’ interview that he started to realize the significance of his story. “A lot of people reach out to me on social media to say what it means to them,” he said. “I started doing interviews about it, and I got a lot of feedback. It opens your eyes. It was amazing that people were inspired by it.”

Over the past couple of years, Davies has done all he can to share it. He has given interviews to Gary Lineker and the BBC about his background. Bayern Munich — the club that signed him from the Whitecaps as a 17-year-old and made him a German and European champion before he turned 20 — produced a report from Buduburam on the early years of his life.

Most important, though, in the first few months of his coronavirus-imposed lockdown last year, Davies started to use his fame and his platform to become an advocate for those suffering as his family once had.

For many of the 80 million or so displaced people around the planet, he said, “food and water can be hard to come by.” He continued: “It is not always possible in those conditions to social distance. Access to the vaccine is difficult. People are passing away. I wanted to tell people that they are not alone, that there are people out there who were in their shoes.”

He started to lend his support to the work being done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency that helped organize his family’s resettlement in Canada. This week, the organization will appoint Davies as a goodwill ambassador. He hopes to use the position to raise money to renovate football facilities in refugee camps. He is the first Canadian and the first football player to be afforded the honor.

It is fitting in more ways than one. It is not just the first act of Davies’ story that makes him suitable, but the second, too. In his first few years in Canada, he struggled a little academically, partly because of a language barrier and partly, he will admit, through a lack of inclination.

As a gifted athlete, though, he never found any trouble fitting in. Edmonton is Wayne Gretzky country, but Davies did not take to ice hockey. (His skating has improved in recent years, he said.) Instead, he played a little basketball and emerged as a talented track runner. But football was his first love, his clear gift, the sport he had grown up watching with his father, a keen fan of both Chelsea and, in particular, Didier Drogba.

He was — this is no surprise — the standout player on every team he joined. As such, friends came relatively easily. “Other kids saw I was good at sports, so they wanted to be my friends,” he said. Being picked first on every team is a reasonably sure shortcut to preteen popularity. “Also,” Davies said, with the air of a man keen to underline the point, “I was a cool guy.”