Earnshaw plans trip to Mufulira home

SHAWBy Chris Wathan -WALES might not be going to the World Cup – but at least there’s one Welshman definitely on his way to Africa next summer.

But it’ll be a world away from the glitz and the glamour of the biggest stage in the game.

Because while South Africa opens its doors for the 2010 tournament, Robert Earnshaw is determined to open some eyes by making an emotional trip to the country of his birth.

When the 28-year-old struts his stuff in front of thousands of fans for Nottingham Forest and Wales, it’s a long way from the Zambian town of Mufulira the pint-sized striker was brought up in.

But it’s been almost two decades since the former Cardiff City star has been back to the impoverished mining community he was born into before leaving to start a new life in South Wales.

Now Earnie’s ready to return after admitting the upbringing made him the man he is today.

Speaking about the childhood that stands in stark contrast to the multi-million pound football environment he now finds himself, Earnshaw told Wales on Sunday: “I think there’s a lot of stories of me growing up that people just wouldn’t have thought about.

“A lot of people have only seen me playing football and perhaps don’t know my background.

“But Zambia’s still close to my heart. I have a big family still over there but I’ve never been back. I was nine when I left and I’ve not seen some of my family since.

“But my grandmother managed to come over and visit recently and that got me thinking. The stories she told about what it’s like over there brought the memories back and made me think about a few things.”

These include just how fortunate he has been – and not simply in terms of a football career that has seen him bag more than 100 league goals and chalk up £12.65m in transfer fees between the Premier League and the Championship.

Because Earnshaw admits the real luck comes with just having an opportunity to make something of his life after seeing first hand the problems some African countries like Zambia suffer from.

In particular there are the issues with AIDs, where one in five adults are infected with HIV and the poverty that means more than half of the population are estimated to live on around £1.50 a day.

“I remember parts being in real poverty,” he recalled of his time spent in his home village in the copperbelt province, where he spoke three languages – English, Chichewa and the native Zambian tongue of Bemba. “I was lucky not be directly in it, but a lot of my friends were. But I’d still be going around bare-footed playing football, that kind of thing.

“It’s crazy to think that was me when, now, here I am, 28 years of age, playing for a club like Nottingham Forest and playing for Wales.

“And you never know what could have happened to me had I not moved away. I was one of the lucky ones to have a good family to support me.

“Everyone feels sorry for themselves now and again but the reality is that so many of us are luckier than we realise.

“Perhaps that’s one of the reasons you see me smile so much because when it’s easy to get upset or frustrated about the small things, like not being in the team or whatever, when you break it all down I know what luck really is.

“When you hear some of the moans and groans some footballers have then think back to the problems people have growing up in Zambia it puts it all into perspective.

“That’s why I try to enjoy every second of the opportunities I have in front of me because I know where I’ve come from.”

Earnshaw’s life in the UK was born out of tragedy, miner father David dying from typhoid fever, leaving mum Rita into the decision to move her son to Wales, along with brother David and sisters Sharon, Joanne and Diane.

Spotted by Cardiff City scouts after impressing with local junior sides, Earnshaw was soon on the path to football fame and fortune.

But he has never forgotten where it all started – and now he’s planning to use his position to try and help others in Africa.

Having set up his own website – www.robertearsnhaw.com – Earnie has begun plans to actively support charity work in Africa and Zambia and is hoping to return to Zambia to see what difference he can make.

“There are so many issues there, like water and disease. What you see on the news is real, like the problems with HIV, food, clothes, day to day stuff that we take for granted or don’t even think about,” he said. “I want to try and do what I can to help.

“And that’s part of the idea behind my website. It has been set up for a few different things, but the most important is for me to try and support a charity or do something to help them myself.

“It’s early stages yet but it’s something I really want to do and I really want to go back and see what I might be able to do.

“If it’s giving away clothes, footballs, if I can do something then that would be amazing.

“I know I was lucky to have support around me to give me a chance so if there’s anything I can do to support others then I can be proud.

“There’s a lot of problems for many kids living there and I was lucky enough to be able to do what I have done. If something I can do can help just one more to achieve something then that would be fantastic.

“I’m not just talking about football, but if they can achieve something in their life, live a better life, then that would be amazing.”

Earnshaw says he is now hoping to arrange his trip to his homeland in between Championship commitments with Forest and international duty with Wales, the country he has called home since the early upheaval in his life.

But, as extraordinary as his tale has been so far, with his record-breaking scoring streaks and trademark somersault celebrations (left), Earnie is convinced there’s a few more chapters on the football field to come on top of his hoped-for African adventure.

Determined to push for a Premier return under Billy Davies at ambitious Forest, the ex-West Brom, Norwich and Derby man still believes there will be a success story to be had with Wales following the foundations laid by John Toshack.

And although he and the rest of John Toshack’s side missed out on Africa with next year’s World Cup, Earnshaw said: “The future is good for us and I definitely want to be part of it.

“I’ve been through some tough times with being out of the picture at Derby and with injuries, but I’ve come through it.

“And I think I’m better for it. I definitely think I’ve improved over the past four years and that I can still get better because I’m only now moving into my prime.

“I really feel the old spark is back and the best is yet to come.”

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