Northampton Town: Football to the rescue for Burundi boy Saido

Northampton Town V Gillingham
Northampton Town V Gillingham

SAIDO BERAHINO scored two goals on Saturday, was the best player on the pitch and on Thursday heads to Brighton for England youth international duty.

The boy from war-torn Burundi, it is fair to say, has come a long way.

And – at risk of getting over-dramatic – it could be said that football has helped save Berahino’s life, or at the very least substantially improved it.

Burundi is only emerging from a 12-year civil war between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.

Berahino was, in his own words ‘just a kid playing street football’ in a country where more than half the population live below the poverty line.

But around a decade ago he arrived in England as an asylum seeker and it was football that helped ease what must have been an enormously difficult passage into British life.

“I’m from a little country in Africa called Burundi and I came over from there by myself to join my mum when I was about 10 or 11,” said Berahino, who is in the national under-19 squad to face Denmark at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium on Thursday night.

“A lot of things happened back at home and being in this country has given me a better platform in life.

“It was a huge culture shock because I couldn’t speak a word of English and I had to adapt very quickly.

“Playing football made it easier for me to settle in and learn the language and I’m lucky I had the talent to get where I am.”

Berahino has represented England at under-17 and under-18 level and he admits his ultimate aim is to wear the Three Lions in a full international.

He is aware, though, that he has already achieved so much on such an emotional journey, a fact he acknowledges to himself on a daily basis.

“I’ve come really far and I’m thankful for every moment,” said the softly-spoken teenager.

“The school helped me a lot as well I had my own teacher and they helped me with all of my work here.”

The goals Berahino scored on Saturday were not the goals league two players score, at least not with any regularity.

The first saw him flip the ball past a centre-back and beat him for pace with such ease that it appeared as though the defender’s feet were nailed to the pitch.

“I picked my corner as soon as I went past him,” he explained.

“I just picked my corner early and I made sure I put it there.”

The second was even better. Michael Jacobs rolled the ball into the box from a set play and Berahino smacked it first time with such ferociousness that the ball almost had a vapour trail on it as it passed Ross Flitney in the Gills goal.

“We have been working that one for a while,” Berahino revealed after the game. “And it finally worked. I just put my foot through it.”

Attention – for Berahino and the Cobblers – now turns to the FA Cup first-round tie at Luton Town, where the team will face a stern examination against an in-form non-league side bidding for a scalp.

The Hatters are favourites going into the tie and, with better average attendances than the Cobblers, are unlikely to be named as the underdogs by too many people.

“It doesn’t really matter if it is FA Cup or league, we just want to win,” said Berahino.

“Let’s hope we win that game, and we kick on from there and take the form in to the league.

“I think the boys are really confident after Saturday’s performance, and we need to take it on to the Luton game and win that.”