Comfort Etim is a former professional footballer who played both in her homeland of Nigeria and the UK.
As a young girl growing up in Africa, she broke gender barriers and traditions to fulfil her dream of being a professional football player and coach.
Comfort, who now works alongside the club’s official charity, LFC Foundation, and Amnesty International, uses her skills, knowledge and training to engage and support other vulnerable females through football in Liverpool.
“Football has always been in my family and I grew up loving the game,” she said. “My mum played too and was the first female coach in Nigeria, which is amazing. She was a huge inspiration to me growing up and taught me so much about the game.
“She believed in me and encouraged me to establish a career in football. She knew that it had the potential to bring me opportunities and pull me out of poverty.”
However, playing football wasn’t always easy for Comfort.
“I faced lots of challenges growing up in Nigeria and particularly as a young female football player. The African tradition is that women don’t play sports, which is what I had to fight against.
“My community and many others were very, very poor and this level of poverty meant that there was also very little in the way of kit and equipment. I had no kit or boots to play in, so I used to play barefoot.”
After years of practice and passion, at the age of 16 Comfort left home to play for a division two team in Nigeria. Again, she faced challenges in her new career.
“Funding was scarce, and I was often not paid my salary on time and had no money for food,” she said. “This meant training on an empty stomach, which was not good for me or my game.”
In 2002, an opportunity came from the British Council. “They had a community action through sports (CATS) programme, which targeted poor communities in Nigeria. Through this I had the opportunity to travel to the UK and train as a football coach and achieve my Level 1 coaching badge. My visit to the UK had a huge effect on me. When I returned to Nigeria, I knew I wanted to better my life and my family’s by returning to the UK to pursue my dream.”
Not long after this, it seemed that Comfort’s dream had come true.
“Whilst in Nigeria I met a man who posed as a scout and he brought me over to the UK but he turned out to be a fraud and it landed me in a one of the most frightening and challenging times in my life, when I was held against my will for several months.
“Through my resilience and following support from a friend, I was able to get safe and back on my feet. It’s hard to believe looking back that this happened when I was just 17 years old. After a while I started training and playing football again in Peckham, London and it was here that I was informed of a trial for Tottenham Hotspur’s women’s team.”
Comfort was successful and secured a place in the Spurs women’s side, and it was at this point when she decided to seek asylum to enable her to remain in the UK. And her footballing journey did not end there as she moved to live in Liverpool in 2008.
“After falling in love and starting a family, I moved to Liverpool. I missed playing football and wanted to start up again,” she recalled.
“This is something that I was able to do thanks to the Liverpool County FA, LFC Foundation and Amnesty International. Through their ‘Football Welcomes’ programme, which is specifically targeted at welcoming those with a refugee background, I was able to pursue football again.”
Comfort now heads up a female refugee team – Amnesty Ladies – with 23 women of different nationalities taking part. The sessions run in Toxteth and are something that she is so proud of.
“I am just so thankful to be still playing football, which is something that I am so passionate about and love playing, whilst helping so many other women like myself to get together, communicate, support each other and play football.”