When he was five, Hamza Choudhury’s mother Rafia decided to take her “energetic” son to football coaching to let off steam – and it has proved to be an inspired decision.
Choudhury, the boy of Bangladesh-Grenadian heritage from Leicestershire, is 17 years later now an established Premier League star with top-four chasing Leicester City.
Two aspects of his childhood are still evident today: a talent for playing football, as witnessed by his all-action midfield performances; and a dislike of going to the barbers, evidenced by his trademark afro hairdo.
“I used to hate getting my hair cut, my mum used to force me to get it cut when I was younger. I’ve just let it grow,” he says while sitting at Leicester’s training ground.
One other thing his mum made him do all those years ago has proved infinitely more successful.
“She took me to a football open day at Loughborough University. She took me to really just try to burn some energy off, because I think I was quite an energetic kid,” he says.
“She’s quite open to new and different ideas. That was the first time I could play and that was it.”
Two years later, Choudhury went to watch Leicester City at home for the first time. The excited seven-year-old, and his uncle Faruque, were gripped.
Little did he know then that one day he would be out there in a Foxes shirt. “It’s a dream,” he says.
Hamza’s humbling experiences
Choudhury describes his childhood household as “loud”. His cousins would come over to play in the park and on video games, while on the table there were always some of his favourite dishes: curry, rice, samosas and hot sweet tea.
For part of the school holidays the Choudhurys would visit his mother’s family in Bangladesh. The trips would leave a lasting impression on the midfielder, who is fluent in Bengali. The sight of this young boy with an afro, however, would cause a minor ripple in his family’s Sylhet village.
“A few of my childhood memories are of Bangladesh. Being there, just being able to do what you want,” he says.
“You see kids walking around at 10 o’clock at night, not a care in the world… freedom and completely safe.
“People were definitely surprised that I could speak Bengali. I had a little afro when I was a kid, so all the kids used to find me quite interesting and run around after me. We used to go there every other year while we were growing up for two to three weeks – it was nice. Very special.
“It’s my heritage and my culture, so it’s nice. It’s really nice going back. I think it also humbles you as a kid and it shows you different parts of the world because when you grow up in England you can live in a bit of a bubble.
“To go there opens your eyes to see what kinds of struggles people actually go through, so it is humbling.”
Choudhury enjoyed studying history and maths at school. However, he readily accepts that, in the main, school got in the way of playing football.
While some of his teachers were sympathetic to his passion, others were “telling you that you need a back-up plan, and they were right”.
Faith, family and football
Islam is also central to Choudhury’s life. He attended after-school classes on his faith. Football, however, would never be too far behind.
“Me and my little sister used to go and learn after school on a Tuesday and Thursday, learning to read the Quran,” he says.
“You feel like it’s taking up your time as a child. But I’m so glad that my parents put me through it because otherwise you’re not educated in something essential. So I’m definitely glad I did it. But at the time, all you want to do is go out and play.
“I recite the Ayat Al-Kursi (Quranic verse entitled ‘The Throne’) before I come out of the changing room and other little duas (prayers) my mom told me to do.”
Growing up in a multicultural city like Leicester, Choudhury says he had a “nice” path to top-flight football. Nothing much has fazed him, but he does recall a match away from the city when he received racist abuse.
“There were some racism there from the parents,” he recalls. “People make you feel uncomfortable. I told the coach and he went over and spoke to the parents and sorted it out.
“We reported it to the FA. My mum is such a strong woman, she taught me how to deal with different situations.”
Hoping to inspire others
Choudhury is one of just two footballers of south Asian heritage currently playing in the Premier League, along with Aston Villa’s Neil Taylor.
His rise will have been noted in the British-Asian community, particularly among its football supporters. The midfielder is happy for their support and hopes other youngsters will follow his path. Despite knowing there are not many Asian players in the English leagues, he does nevertheless see signs of encouragement.
“There were two at West Brom, the Nabi brothers, (Adil and Samir). Yan Dhanda was at Liverpool as well and Easah Suliman at Villa. I speak to Yan now and then, we keep in touch and text.”
It was in 2017 that all the sacrifices his mum, his step-dad Murshid and his uncle Faruque had made – all the journeys during rush hour so Choudhury could train – paid off as then-manager Craig Shakespeare gave him his debut off the bench in an EFL Cup tie.
Eye-catching performances last season, including in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City and a 3-0 win over Arsenal, cemented Choudhury’s place, and this season under Brendan Rodgers he has featured in every Premier League match.
Away from the pitch, Choudhury and his partner Olivia have had their first child, Aniyah, who is now 13 months old. He loves being a dad and the family enjoy spending time together in the Peak District or just riding bicycles around London.
Choudhury’s talents could soon also extend to playing the piano, as he plans to take lessons to improve his “basic” level.
Fellow Foxes stars Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes came through Leicester’s academy alongside the midfielder, and Choudhury says it is a great feeling to have them on the journey too.
“It’s a rarity now for so many of us to come through. It’s credit to the club and how we’ve been brought up so it makes you feel right at home and it makes you enjoy it,” he says.
If he carries on in his current form, Choudhury could be in the frame for a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s senior England squad.
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Were that to happen, he would be the first player of south Asian descent to feature for the Three Lions.
“To play for England is my biggest dream, to represent the senior team. I have thought about it but not as in I deserve to be there yet. I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot more games to play to be able to prove I can play for England. It’d be an honour.
“I definitely don’t want to just settle down and think this is me set. It’s about working hard and challenging myself in different ways so I still feel like hopefully there’s a long way to go and a lot more I can improve.”
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