Alhaji Gero was again among the goals as his Swedish club Ostersunds FK stayed top of the Europa League group after a 2-2 draw with Athletic Bilbao of Spain last night.
But it was not all good and rosy for the big Nigeria striker, who has recounted a tough beginning in Kano and how he could not afford to keep his sick younger brother alive.
Here is his story –
Alhaji Gero’s football career began in the streets of Kano in Nigeria.
The clubs in the city were constantly looking for talent in the streets. The fast and big boy Alhaji Gero was one who stood out and one day accompanied a club representative to show up in a team.
“It was put together with the children they thought would be good. The neighborhoods met each other and when you turned out to be good at these matches you could be contacted by a bigger club who wanted to take you further. I was 11 years old when I came to a club who were keen to sign me, says Gero.
But it turned out there was a problem.
“Yes, we had to play with football boots. It was difficult initially to play soccer with shoes. It was much more beautiful without them. Our feet were probably hardened from all the games on the streets,” recalls Gero, laughing.
He continued to develop to end up in Nigeria’s U20 team and did well in the World Cup qualifier with four goals. When it was time for the playoff, he became sick and was only in a match from the start.
One day his agent asked him if he would be willing to leave his homeland and try his luck in northern Europe.
“I would get the chance in a Swedish team and the agent thought I would take the chance. I myself did not know much about Sweden, but he described it as a nice country with nice people and where there are not racists,” said Alhaji Gero.
At the age of 19 he came to Växjö for games in Öster. He came to the team at the end of the All-Sweden season and then the team was in the bottom of the series and eventually were relegated.
The race then continued in the Superettan straight down into Division 1.
The contract was 3.5 years, but Gero had the right to leave if the team were relegated. Gero went on to Denmark with Viborg.
There he did not feel comfortable and he did not have much playing time.
When Östersund called on Gero, it was quite easy to decide.
“When my agent said that Östersund were interested in me, I was happy. I had thought about ÖFK since I faced them with Öster. They play the most enjoyable football in Sweden and I would love to be part of the team. The move was simple and after the first conversation with (coach) Graham Potter, I began to long for Östersund,” says Alhaji Gero.
Now after a season in Jämtland, Gero has not regretted a single second.
“Every morning when I wake up, I pray and thank God for giving me this opportunity to play football at this level. I’m in fantastic company with amazing people around me. Everyone supports each other and we hug and joke,” says Gero, laughing.
However, he still has a little problem when the weather gets a little colder.
“Yes, I really do not like the chill, so it can be a bit tough. I have been offered to go fishing in the ice. But that sounds cold and I do not know if I would dare,” he says, laughing.
For Gero, the family means a lot and he sends home money every month.
“Yes, they need the money more than I do. Here in Sweden there is no struggle to get food. Here I can eat beef, chicken or what I feel anytime. That’s not so back home in Nigeria. I also send money to friends, but also to the hospital in the area where I come from,” he revealed.
It’s important to send money to the hospital for Alhaji Gero after what happened to his little brother Bello, who suffered from heart problems and had difficulty breathing.
“He had to get oxygen very often to breathe properly. But oxygen costs money and my family did not have much money, “said Alhaji Gero.
His eyes are filled with tears and it becomes more difficult to talk. But he does not want to stop this interview. He wants to talk about his little brother.
“It’s been seven years now. I remember it so well. We were in the hospital with him. But at last we tell the hospital that we do not have money to pay for the oxygen. They sent him home and I remember my mother crying. We tried to come together, but it did not work.”
Alhaji Gero fights against the tears when he talks again.
“I cannot forget how my little brother looked when he did not get enough air. I remember his eyes.”
When Alhaji’s little brother was sick, he was away training.
“I called home and wanted to talk to my brother. But every time I called, my mother said he was sleeping. I asked her to tell him he should call me when he was awake. He never rang. When I got home, I learned that he had died while I was in camp,” he recounted.
“I cry a lot when I think of him. He would have been 15 years old now.”
Alhaji Gero shakes his head.
“If he had been sick a few years later, I could afford to pay for his oxygen so that he could live.
“I think so much about this.”
By Patrick Sjoo