In the reception area of Bukayo Saka’s old school, brightly-coloured pennants representing the competing nations in Euro 2020 have not yet been taken down. And last week, the 450 pupils at Edward Betham Church of England primary had one final euro-related task to complete. “We’ve been making a card to send to Bukayo,” said school head Caroline Chamberlain.
“A4 size with 15 sheets – one for each class. They’ve written to say how much he has inspired them and what a wonderful example he is setting. So many of our pupils have shared their disgust with us at the abuse England footballers had. They cannot understand the behaviour.”
England’s newest football hero maintains close links with the school on the outskirts of west London. Saka has previously donated a signed Arsenal shirt, which takes pride of place on the school’s “achievement wall”. A letter he sent to thank former teachers has been proudly framed. And for a school which actively promotes a Christian ethos, it would be hard to think of a better role model.
Like Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, his England teammates, Saka wears his faith on his sleeve. Until he moved with his family two years ago, to be closer to Arsenal’s training facilities, he attended the Pentecostal Kingsborough Centre in Uxbridge. On winning the young London player of the year award this year, he tweeted “God’s Work”, making clear where he believed the credit for his starring performances truly lay.
“I love the way Bukayo speaks with such passion about his beliefs”, says Chamberlain, a churchgoing Anglican. “In days gone by you wouldn’t hear so much about people being practising Christians or practising Muslims. It seemed that famous people in particular didn’t really talk about their faith. I remember Alastair Campbell’s ‘we don’t do God’.”
Read it all.