June 15, 2018 6:47 pm

How a program for disadvantaged kids could accidentally launch one of Canada’s greatest sporting successes

WATCH ABOVE: Free Footie founder Tim Adams joined Jennifer Crosby on Global News at Noon to share more about the program and Alphonso Davies' success.

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A Canadian teen captured hearts around the world when he stepped up to the mic in Russia to help seal the deal for a North American bid to host the World Cup in 2026. His journey there unfolded almost by accident.

Alphonso Davies is widely expected to launch a lucrative professional soccer career when he turns 18. But his ascent on the pitch came via a free program for disadvantaged kids.

In front of the world’s media this week, the 17 year old calmly detailed his tumultuous early years.

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“My parents are from Liberia and fled the civil war,” he told the FIFA World Congress. “I was born in Ghana, in a refugee camp. It was a hard life.

“But when I was five years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in and the boys on the football team made me feel at home.”

Now considered one of Canada’s premier players, Davies got his start in Edmonton’s Free Footie program.

“These are just great kids like any other kids that deserve a chance,” says Free Footie founder Tim Adams.

Watch below:  Alphonso Davies, an Edmonton teenager, is making waves in the soccer world.  Julia Wong filed this report in 2016. 

As the name suggests, Free Footie is a no-cost after-school soccer program serving the kids with greatest need.

“[There are] lots of refugees like Alphoso,” Adams says as he describes the program’s participants. “Newcomers, Indigenous kids who just need that extra bit of support that they may not have in their life — lots of single-parent families, kids that just need that extra help.”

Davies is now playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps and while his story seems like a Cinderella tale, Adams says lots of other kids could follow in his footsteps — if only given the chance.

“There are so many kids, you’d be surprised to hear, that have Alphonso’s talent — they really do,” he says.

“I could put dozens of kids in Alphonso’s shoes, but they didn’t have that community and they didn’t have that mental edge. And you don’t get the mental edge without the community.”

Watch below: Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies tells FIFA World Congress of his dream ahead of 2026 World Cup vote

The community aspect Adams speaks of is a major tenet of Free Footie. Because while Davies’ discovery through the program seems like the best kind of happenstance, Adams points out that three major factors had to come together.

He says Davies has raw athletic talent and a mental edge that not all players possess. And he found community support, through sport.

READ MORE: Edmonton likely but not guaranteed to host 2026 World Cup games: ‘There’s more work to do’

Adams is humble when it comes to his program’s role in lifting up the young phenom, saying Free Footie played “the tiniest role.” But he knows the potential to affect change is there, and is large. After about a decade in operation, Free Footie has grown from 20 players and four teams to 2,000 kids playing on 100 teams across Edmonton.

The founder worries about the cost of the game going up, moving closer to the more expensive minor hockey, and sees the upcoming World Cup as an exciting opportunity.

“It’s our time to take the kids that have become part of our country and put them at the forefront rather than on the backburner like we’ve done for so long,” Adams says.

For more information on Free Footie or to sponsor a team, check out FreeFootie.ca.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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