–West Brom and Super Eagles star speaks on life before stardom.
Having left home at 16 to pursue football against his mum’s wishes, Brown Ideye is thankful he can smile now. So much so he is able to give a highly animated impression of her watching him play for West Bromwich Albion.
Squinting to study an imaginary television back home in Nigeria, his arms flap wildly. ‘Don’t kick him!’ he shouts, mimicking his mother Teresa’s voice. ‘Ref can’t you see!’ he jabs his fingers.
‘Each time West Brom play my mother is wearing my shirt, sitting down in front of the telly, and she is like this,’ Ideye laughs.
It is quite some turnaround given she banned him from playing the game as a 14-year-old through fears he would get caught up with criminal gangs on the streets of Lagos.
After his father Joel died, she even sent him to her sister’s remote village eight hours away to keep him from football and, as she saw it, trouble.
A decade later Ideye, 26, is West Brom’s £10million record buy and, after initial difficulties, beginning to make good on his price tag.
He faces Aston Villa in the FA Cup quarter-final today, looking for revenge on the local rivals who triumphed in a dramatic Premier League match on Tuesday night.
He scored two goals in the last round to do more than any in the 4-0 destruction of West Ham United, and is allowing himself dreams of Wembley.
A May date at the grand stadium might present the chance for his mum to support her son in person for the first time. ‘In summer it’s possible, right now it’s cold for her,’ he says. ‘I want us to get to the final. If we do then I can arrange it.’
Had she got her way all those years ago, however, Ideye would not be a Premier League player. ‘It’s hard growing up in Lagos,’ he says. ‘There is always a story to tell in a city like that. My friends were involved in crazy stuff. They were bad boys of the area. I was picked up once by the police.
‘My mum stopped me going out with them. She was upset. Each time I told her I wanted to play football she would say, “No you’re going to be with your friends.”
Ideye was sent to live with his aunt but eventually ran away to train with his old coach and finally told his mum he wanted to make a 200-mile trip to Bayelsa State to play regularly. ‘She didn’t accept. That’s how I left. I went to Bayelsa State then Ocean Boys. Then bam, bam, bam.’
The bams are Neuchatel Xamax in Switzerland, Sochaux in France, and Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine, where he scored 33 goals in 74 games and earned most of his 24 Nigeria caps.
Once he had signed professional forms, Ideye patched up his relationship with his mum. Tears flowed. ‘When I got the contract in Switzerland I went back home, sat with my family and had breakfast, dinner, lunch, everyone happy.
‘Afterwards she called me into her room and said, “I’m sorry about everything, your dad is late and I am the only person who can guide you. I looked at what your friends were doing and believed if I left you that is how you’d become.” I said, “I get that.” She started crying. She could not believe she tried to stop me becoming what she is enjoying today.’
Having looked well short of his pedigree in the opening months of the season and on the verge of a cut-price deal on deadline day to Qatar side Al-Gharafa, a glorious spell of four goals in six days (three games) followed.
Cultivating an understanding alongside Saido Berahino and with guidance from Tony Pulis, Ideye looks to have found his feet in England. ‘I took a lot of time to adapt,’ he admits. ‘I was overwhelmed that I am the record signing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. People are not patient.
‘The game doesn’t turn out the way I want, I become frustrated, I keep on pushing when I am supposed to calm down. Things were going so fast.
‘As for the social media, you can’t expect everyone to like you. They will say what they want. I don’t see what can shake me given what has happened before.
‘It’s inspiration. They are pushing me to my success. I like people criticising me.
‘That one week turned out to be something I dreamt. I felt this day would come. Getting back to the Brown Ideye people know.
‘One day the people who are saying, “He’s no good” are the same people who will say, “Don’t let him go.”
He hopes to be running in celebration at Villa Park, performing the somersault tumble that marked his last goal. ‘I always did that when I was a child,’ he says. ‘When you’re excited you find yourself doing things you don’t plan. The fans love it so I will keep on doing it.’