Cross The Line spoke to Ex-West Ham prodigy, Nathan Mavila about how God flipped his world view and is working powerfully through his football career.
At what point growing up, did you decide that you wanted to be a pro footballer?
“As soon as I could walk really, it was always the dream to make it at the highest level that I possibly could. So I have always wanted to play football, no doubt about it. My first club was Afewee Urban, a Sunday league club around my area and then I went on to play district. After that I joined the London county team and then I got picked up by Wycombe Wanderers down in League Two. I played for them from the age of twelve to sixteen but then their academy folded so we all had to find a club, luckily I had a few clubs who were willing to take me on. I actually went to trial at Chelsea but didn’t get in and then went to West Ham. Luckily enough I got in and that was that.”
You got your big break when West Ham snapped you up, how did that come about?
“The person who was looking after me at the time had a very good connection with the club so I was brought down a few times. From there they saw me play and train after which they gave me a scholarship from sixteen to eighteen. Then at eighteen I got a professional contract and it’s really the beginning of everything that I will go on and do.”
What did you learn from playing with West Ham’s development squad?
“The standard is very different, it is a lot quicker and you have got to think more. It is a tricky one because over-aged players can come and play which meant I was against Michael Carrick in one game. I have gone up against very good players and you see that they are on a different level, it reminds me that I want to get where they are.”
You were named on the first team bench in a Europa League tie last year. How much did you enjoy the experience?
“Definitely, it was a weird one because we’d just finished training in London and I walked in to hear that there was a list of a few boys that would travel up with the squad. I was just curious and then when I saw my name I was shocked, it was a great experience and just unreal. The game actually meant something, when you play under twenty one’s football you get about one hundred to two hundred fans but here there was about ten to twelve thousand. It is a lot, fans that are so passionate that I couldn’t hear myself talking to the guy next to me.”
Who’s the best player that you’ve played against?
“I played against Duncan Watmore at Sunderland, he was quality and gave me a hard time when I was playing at left back. I also played against Brendan Galloway and for me he was top drawer, he was very good and tough to get past.”
In your eyes what’s the best thing about being a pro footballer?
“The best thing is definitely playing for points, I went out on loan to Aldershot and I was unfortunate to not play any games during the month but the experience was amazing. I was around the first team players every day, on game day you have the fans screaming your name and just the thrill of playing every week. It means something, it was very good.”
Nathan tell us a bit about how you came to know God?
“I always knew about God. I grew up in family where I had to go to church every Sunday, I was at church but I was not in church if you know what I mean. You can be in church but you won’t be attentive and you are in your own world, until I started playing football at around ten. I then got away with it on a Sunday because I couldn’t go to church until about thirteen or fourteen. This was when we started playing on Saturdays and this meant I had to go to church, still not really attentive or active. I was quite luke warm and by the time I was sixteen I had a lot of friends and the sort of people that didn’t contribute towards my destiny. My destiny is obviously to be a professional footballer and to serve God. So the life I led didn’t really match up with my future. Now when I was with those same friends, one of my good friends was stabbed and died in a fight that we went to. On that day it really changed my thoughts and renewed my mind, thoughts like is this the life I really want to lead?
God really spoke to me that day that if I don’t get my life straight then it is only going one way. After that I had to speak to my mum and she told me to go and speak to her pastor because he would pray for me, so I went, he prayed for me and I gave my life to Christ that day. Even after this I was still a bit luke warm, in my own comfort zone and I was cruising until I hit the kerb. Interestingly it was when I started playing the drums at church and was actively serving God that I got my professional contract. I realised then the more you do for God, the more doors that will open for you. I was asked to step up and lead the worship team, alongside the youth and now I minister to them every Thursday.”
Do you see your ability as a gift from God and does this affect how you view football?
“Yes. It doesn’t’ really affect it but sometimes it can be difficult to believe in your own ability when someone else doesn’t believe in you. It is a game of opinions. However at the end of the day you have to realise who gave you this talent, it wasn’t your manager, it was God. I have even done a bit of psychology and you can see how non-believers and believers think, it is crazy to see the difference.”
Have you had any God chats with your team mates?
“It is a bit hard to speak to your team mates about God, especially when you are coming from a place of being luke warm and then suddenly becoming keen. It is hard but you have to fit it in. It is just one of those things, when people see one of my preaches then they can actually see that I take it seriously. Ultimately the thing that people that people are going to believe in is your actions, you have just got to emulate what God shows us in the Bible.”
I surrender all to you, everything I give to you, withholding nothing……..
— Nathan Mavila (@N_Mavila) December 3, 2015
Does God feature in your match day routine?
“Definitely, for example if we have a game at three o’clock or seven then I will always pray in the morning and listen to worship. That’s my routine before training. Just before the match I will pray in the changing room and out on the pitch for assurance.”
Do you feel a responsibility to use your sporting platform to share the gospel message?
“It doesn’t really feel like a pressure to do great things for God. For example I don’t really tell a lot of people that I play football, because your status and who you are can change, but God doesn’t. It is a thing where no matter who or where you are you always need to come to God and call upon him. I have definitely got to use football as a platform to do great things for God”.