A former Blackpool footballer has revealed he was trafficked for sex after arriving in the United Kingdom as a child.
Al Bangura, 27, who played for Blackpool nine times in the 2009-10 season under Ian Holloway, was 14 when his parents told him to become the leader of the secret society his late father had headed in Sierra Leone, but he refused.
“I said I didn’t think this was something I wanted to get involved with. I want to play football and I’m going to school so I don’t want to do that,” he said.
He travelled to neighbouring Guinea where he met a French man, who pretended to be his friend and promised to help him fulfil his dream.
“I didn’t know he had another different intention - to get me into the sex trade,” Bangura said.
The pair travelled to France and on to the UK. Once there, the man left him alone in a building.
“All of a sudden I saw two or three guys come around me, trying to rape me and make me do stuff,” he said.
“Because I was young and I was small, I just started screaming.
“They probably thought I knew what I was there for - obviously I know what I came over here for, I was here to play football.
“I was just crying and proper screaming and I tried to make my way out - I was cold, I was crying, I was shaking, I didn’t know what to do, I was all over the place.
“I made my way outside.
“I didn’t know where to start, I thought it was the end of my life.”
He requested help from a Nigerian man, who told him to go to the Home Office and claim asylum.
Because he was 16, he was later given a two-year right to stay.
Bangura said: “I started meeting people, started playing football and I got the opportunity to join Watford when I was 16 and things just started building up for me.”
It is estimated that 15,000 teenage footballers are moved out of 10 West African countries every year - many of them under-age.
The figures come from non-governmental organisation Foot Solidaire, which helps send boys back to Africa after they have been tricked by unscrupulous agents into leaving the continent.
The National Crime Agency says its most recent figures from 2014 show a total of 2,340 potential victims of trafficking were referred from 96 countries - of these 29 per cent were minors.
Bangura made his Seasiders’ debut in August 2009, in the 4–1 victory over Premier League side Wigan Athletic in the second round of the League Cup.
His league debut came two days later when he was an 80th-minute substitute in a 3–0 home win over Coventry City.
In September 2009 he signed a one-year contract with an option for a further year with the Seasiders.
After three substitute appearances his first league start came in a 3–0 win at home over Sheffield United in October.
He was released at the end of the season as Blackpool famously secured promotion to the Premier League at Wembley against Cardiff.