From working at McDonalds to playing for Newcastle United, Lomana LuaLua: “God is everything”

Ollie Baines caught up former Newcastle United superstar, Tresor Lomana LuaLua to talk about how the striker went from hating football and working in McDonalds, to playing in the Premier League. 

Lomana, tell us how you first came to be scouted for Colchester United?

I had a cousin, Tresor Kandol who was playing for Luton at the time. I used to help him in football even though I never really enjoyed football at that point; I was more of a gymnast. My school teacher was trying to get a team together and he saw me play and told me that I have a future in football. He was the man who first believed in me and brought me my first ever pair of football boots. He took me to West Ham, Leyton Orient and Luton but they all told me I wasn’t good enough.

I then played in a college game and the referee was actually a scout for Colchester United. There was this one time when I took the ball, ran the length of the pitch and scored. The ref turned to me and said, “I bet you can’t do that again, that was lucky!”. So after kick off, I got the ball, took it round all the defenders and scored again. After the game he gave me a number and said I needed to come for a trial but I wasn’t really interested because of what other clubs had told me before. Despite that, I kept working hard and I met the youth coach, a guy called Micky Cook and he told me to turn up to the training ground at 11am, but I actually turned up at 1pm because in all honesty, I wasn’t that interested. From that moment, he told me that I wasn’t serious enough about becoming a professional and he told me that I’d messed up my chance.

Anyway, during this time, my college were giving out our work experience positions and because I was on trial at the time with Colchester, I was unable to pick my own placement. It turned out I was placed in McDonalds. The first day, they told me to clean a toilet and it was at this point, that I realised that I needed to make a career out of football! I called Micky Cook’s phone every day for about a month and he finally invited me back and gave me a last chance. I then joined the youth side and I never looked back from that point.

You then went on to join Newcastle United, that must have been a massive moment for your career?

It was amazing but you know, I was telling the boys in the Colchester youth team that I would get a big move. I said that I’m going to go and play at a higher level, but I had no idea that it was going to happen that quickly. I didn’t want to play youth team football, I was ready for the first team. I used to play with my Dad who was an ex-professional player, so I was used to playing with older guys. I already knew what I wanted from an early age. When you put your faith in God, there’s no such thing as luck. The Bible says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He was always there for me and I believed in my God given talent.

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In actual fact, I was actually meant to join Tottenham. However, they didn’t offer Colchester as much money as Newcastle United so I ended up there which I don’t regret. I was able to play under Sir Bobby Robson who was one of the greatest ever managers. All of a sudden, I was playing with the likes of Rob Lee and Alan Shearer. I tell you what, there were times when I would be sitting in the canteen at the club and I was just staring at Alan Shearer because I just couldn’t believe I was there. It was almost surreal. Gary Speed was incredible for all the young players, he gave us advice everyday and was a breath of fresh air to all of us.

After Newcastle, you later joined Portsmouth. If you could pick one standout moment there, what would it be and why?

When we beat Southampton! It was under Harry Redknapp who again was such a wonderful manager to work with ,but I was actually injured for that game. I was so desperate to play the whole game, but I did manage to get on for the last twenty minutes.

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Everything about that match was just unbelievable. Before the game, a load of us would pray beforehand; the likes of me, Linvoy Primus and Nwankwo Kanu it was just a brilliant moment to start the day with prayer, play a part in the game and win the match.

What would you say is the best goal you’ve ever scored?

That’s hard! I would say that there’s one that stands out for me though. We were playing Preston, who were top of the league at that time. I had just broken in the first team with Colchester and I carried the ball from my own half and ran through all their team and scored. It was a nice goal, but it was such an important one too because we were fighting against relegation.

Talk us through your world famous back-flip celebration. How did that start?

Growing up in Congo, you either went to school in the morning or the afternoon. I went in the morning and all of my friends would go in the afternoon which meant I would often be alone. We used to have this little monkey in my house and I saw him doing these flips and at that age, I was fearless, so I would copy it! I’d try it on my own or my mums bed and I think I broke many beds in my time!

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Gymnastics in Congo isn’t like it is in England, you don’t have any mats or anything like that. We just have sand, so I tried it there and I just got it. To be fair, it has helped me. It gives me a good leap in the air but more than that, the celebration reflects who I am as a person and who God intended me to be.

Did you have a footballing idol growing up?

The person who made me want to play football and enjoy it was the Brazilian Ronaldo. He was incredible and I really looked up to him as a player.

Do you think having a football orientated family helped you in your game too?

It does help of course. My Dad was a professional player, my brother, Kazenga is a professional and so are my cousins, Tresor Kandol and Yannick Bolasie. So yes, it does help but I also recognise that God gave me a gift for football and I want to play for his glory. God is my everything.


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Best player you’ve ever played against?

As a striker, I can turn around and say that playing against Arsenal’s Tony Adams and Martin Keown was the hardest game I’ve ever played in.

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They had me in their pocket. You can see why they were one of the best defensive partnerships in the Premier League, they were honestly incredible.

Tell us how you became a Christian?

Like I said, I was born in a Christian family. You always hear about the love of God and we grew up in the church which was good as we always had a bit of knowledge about Jesus. For personal reasons, I didn’t see my Mum for 17 years and when I saw her again, I couldn’t believe the change that I had seen in her. That was then I knew that God existed by the way he had transformed my mums life. The best thing is that my mum gave me a student bible and I began to study that. The bible isn’t just a book, it’s more than that, it’s God’s word. So I tried to understand what it was saying to me and now I have two favourite verses, Pslam 23 and Pslam 121 and these verses changed my life completely. I had those verses engraved in my boots.

How hard is it to be a Christian in the world of professional football?

One thing I’ve learned is that people are afraid of sharing their identity. For me, if I believe in something, why should I be afraid or scared of telling people about it? Everybody has their own opinions, I’m not going to bother anyone but if people want to talk about it, I will share my heart with them. I want to share what God has done in my life, I want to go to heaven and be with Jesus.

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I want to tell others about the good news of Jesus and that he died for us. For me, it wasn’t hard because that’s the person I am. It’s easy to tell a girl that I love you so why can’t we tell others that we love Jesus? I think we as Christians should be more open and brave about our faith.

Finally, what do you see yourself doing after your playing days?

I don’t know Ollie. People keep saying to me that I should go into coaching and management, but I’m not sure. I think I want to help others. I want to help the youngsters. I had great people around me when I was younger and I want to share my own experiences and knowledge with the young boys and girls. My heart is about charity, I love helping others, it’s who I am as a person.

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