My name is Comfort Etim, and I was born in Nigeria. My mum was a soldier and my dad worked for a bank. My mother progressed in her career to becoming the first female football coach in Nigeria which explains my passion for sport and my love of football.
From a young age my mum would take me to football training and coach me to become one of the best players. I played for a local team in my home country for a year and became part of the Community Action through Sport, which was a project the British Council ran in Nigeria at the time.
My mother was approached by a football scout in Nigeria who thought I was very talented and felt I could do very well playing professional abroad. The plan was to travel to London first and then on to the United States. This was a dream for my mother because this also meant I would have the opportunity of a scholarship where I could also continue my education alongside my love of football.
I remember my mother selling everything she had to ensure the trip was made possible for me, however once I reached London all my dreams were shattered. I was hosted by a lady who then told me she could not house me anymore and the scout was nowhere to be seen. I was on my own, homeless, in a strange country and having to beg for a £1. I became destitute and pretty much that was how my ordeal started. Initially, I wouldn’t have linked my case to trafficking, but knowing what I know now it was. There were times I was pretty much close to being suicidal, you know, not once, not twice.
Back home, my mum was unable to pay for anything as she funded my trip abroad, she could not afford to fly me back home – so I was stuck, having to try and survive and build some kind of life. I could not even call home unless it was via a friend’s phone to a call centre who would then arrange for my mother to visit at a set time so I could talk to her.
My mum was so excited at the prospect of my future knowing that I could have provided a better life for our family. I had no choice but to seek asylum in the UK. I was just a victim of some not very nice people who just ruined everything for me.
Luckily, I had a few numbers written down of distant friends of the family who offered to put me up. I literally begged them not to tell my mother what I was going through. I was so scared to talk to anyone as I was given strict instructions not to speak to anybody, not to tell anybody who I was. There was always this fear of telling my story or asking for help as I was scared, I was going to get in to trouble. It was only much later than I realise I was trafficked.
One of the contacts I had, told me his brother had just relocated to the UK and gave me his number to ring him for help which I did. He picked me from the street. I eventually made some friends, one being a player for Tottenham Ladies at the time, she told me about the trials, and I went and made the team. That was how I was able to play for Tottenham Ladies and after a year I found out I was expecting my first child and the only way I could go from thereon was to seek asylum because there was no way I could survive with a child back home. Nobody could connect me to football. I kept my identity hidden from everyone. I never spoke about myself, and I think that’s why I can’t stop talking now because I was muted for many years. I didn’t link my story to football or anything. I was just a regular girl who seek asylum in the UK based on the fact I had nothing to return to.
The asylum journey is not for the faint hearted. It is a long process and very mentally draining. It can literally take you from 100 to zero. Life took a different tone whilst I was seeking asylum in the UK, I had to go through a lot of obstacles. I was refused my claim, went through appeal still was refused. After years of not given up I was eventually granted discretionary leave to remain.
My work at Refugee Women Connect is so important to me. We are a charity organisation based in Liverpool. We provide support for women who are seeking asylum, refugees and survivors trafficking and we provide support for them across Merseyside.
During this process I was supported by an organisation called MRANG, who are now known as Refugee Women Connect. They helped me with food, clothes, support, and information about the asylum system. Once I had my status, I got a job as a Support Worker but I’ve always wanted to do something to support women going through the asylum system, I wanted to go back and give something back because during the time I was seeking asylum, I understood the gaps and I didn’t want other women to go through the same, so gaps of information, lack of peer support, understanding of their asylum system, you know, giving the right information to the women. I wanted to do something in line of that and I was privileged that the end to my story enabled me to help others. Refugee Women Connect has allow my grow in my career, from an Outreach Worker to Advocacy and Policy Officer and now a Director for the organisation and the Founder of Comfort Angels C.I.C Football Club and this is because we believe that it is so important that women with lived experiences have a lead role in these organisations as we know where the change really needs to be made and the support that is needed.
My work at Refugee Women Connect is so important to me. We are a charity organisation based in Liverpool. We provide support for women who are seeking asylum, refugees and survivors trafficking and we provide support for them across Merseyside. We also have a drop in space where women can come and interact with other women, have coffee, have lunch, and get information that they need. We also visit contingency hotels and initial accommodation as we understand that not all the women might want to come out to our drop-ins for various reasons.
Aside from my work at Refugee Women Connect, I rediscovered my love of football by founding Comforts Angels. Comforts Angels is a football team where we use football as an initiative to empower women, promote integration and improve both physical and mental well-being for women seeking sanctuary and women from the community. This outreach is yet another way I can engage my community, create support for each other, integrate the women, stay fit and provide space for conversations. The team feel away in 2019 and it was another contact that encouraged me to contact Liverpool County FA to continue my dream of our very special football team. I told them I wanted to use football to empower women. I can use football as a language, which is a universal language that has no barriers to bring women together to create a space where is just friendly, empowering, promoting mental good mental health, wellbeing, anything that you could promote that is positive, that takes the minds of those women away from this asylum, daunting journey that they’re going through. The name of the club is not akin with my name, it is about the comfort of the community and the fact these women are all angels. Thanks to Amnesty Football Welcomes we can fund our training space and reimburse bus pass cost for the women who needs it to attend our weekly training.
Comfort Angels has promoted integration amongst the women, especially the ones seeking sanctuary in the UK, where they’ve made friends with women from the community,
it’s so beautiful and we are so inclusive, all women are welcome from 16 to 100 years. There are occasions where the women are dispersed to other parts of the UK, this is sad as they must start all over again, however they will always have a family with Comfort Angels.
Our group, which currently has 30 members and meet every Friday at from 5:30 to 6:30 to play football and interact. We have had several wins and proud of our women. 11 of them have completed the FA player course which prepare them if they decide to go into Football Coaching like Ellie one of our students who is now the club Coach and two of our women doing their Level 1 coaching course.
We play tournaments every fortnight with the Liverpool County FA, which is called She Inspires, and that tournament is very inclusive. It was set up by the Liverpool County FA and we get to participate every year. Last year we won the Fair Play Award, which was amazing. We are also off to Scotland soon to play in the Street Cup tournament for the second year running.
I would love to expand Comfort Angels into other parts of the UK. We already have requests to start a team in Manchester. If I was to win this award, I know it would give me a platform to improve in the work I am already doing in supporting women seeking sanctuary in the UK.