Bukayo Saka: The 'quietly confident' straight A student destined for greatness

By John Mercury July 10, 2024

At 22 years old, with a nation’s eyes on you, it’s not easy keeping your cool.

But on Saturday night, in the Euro 2024 quarter-final against Switzerland, Bukayo Saka did just that.

First came the equaliser.

Then, in a dreaded penalty shootout, he scored, helping send England into the semis and in that moment banishing the demons of three years ago when he and two other black players missed their spot kicks in the Euros final.

It ended hopes of glory over Italy and prompted a brutal racist backlash.

Troy Townsend
Image:
Troy Townsend

“His mental capacity to almost push that aside and show people ‘actually, I’m one of the best footballers that there is around’ has been off the scale,” said ex-player and anti-discrimination educator Troy Townsend.

“He scored an unbelievable goal. He was England’s best player on the day.

“All of that just goes to show the mentality of this young man and the way that he’s dealt with a really negative, horrible situation.”

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But at Edward Betham C Of E Primary School in Greenford they’re not surprised.

“He comes from a great family and got a great set-up around him,” said his old football coach Leigh Curtin.

“There was a lot of outpouring of support for him, that showed you can get up and go again and he’s proven that.

“Just watching him put that penalty away on Saturday‚Ķ to exorcise the ghost of three years ago was amazing.”

Leigh Curtin and Beverly Curzon
Image:
Leigh Curtin and Beverly Curzon

In 36 years at the school, teaching assistant and welfare officer Beverly Curzon has seen hundreds come and go.

And as unofficial scout for the school’s football team and chief kit washer, she remembers Bukayo well.

“His dad always told him that you work hard at school because you never know how your football career will turn out. And he did work hard,” she said.

“He was a top student, not just in football, but in all subjects.”

Leigh agrees.

“He wasn’t obnoxious, wasn’t loud but you could see [he was] very quietly determined so if we were playing football and he needed to get a grip of a game, he would do it. He’d be like ‘give me the ball’. But be very humble with it.”

In fact, Bukayo was a straight A student, a committed Christian and an all-rounder who still holds the long jump record at his secondary school.

He came back to his primary recently, shaking hands with every single pupil and designing and providing a home and away kit for the team.

After the racist abuse, a mural of the player was painted on a wall in the playground.

“I’m always proud of him,” said Beverly. “He deserves everything he has achieved.”

After Saturday’s match, Saka spoke of how he kept his cool and believed in himself.

And as England take on the Netherlands in the semis, the nation will be hoping the young star can harness that belief once more.

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