In case you missed our featured interview with Offrande Zanzala in the Bradford City matchday programme, read it here.
Offrande Zanzala says he has every reason to play with a big smile on his face – and admits his background makes him appreciate more than most his life as a footballer.
Striker Zanzala went through so much in the early years of his life and admitted he and his family were lucky to come through it alive.
So he relishes every minute of being at Accrington Stanley – and goals help!
“I was born in Congo and I lived there for about two years,” said Zanzala, 21.
“Then the civil war broke out in 1999– the Second Republic of the Congo Civil War – and there was a lot of disaster in terms of scenes which I have witnessed, a lot of deaths, in a variety of ages and families.
“I was only two but things like that live with you – there were things I could never forget. I can remember it because of the things which I saw at a young age, it was very frightening to witness that.
“I lived in a city, Brazzaville, with my mum and my three older brothers at the time and grandparents and aunties and so on.
“When the civil war broke out, I was two and all of a sudden we all had to flee.
“We went into the jungle and we had to stay in the jungle because the rebels at the time were just killing anyone.
“We spent a couple of months in the jungle, we lived in huts, people died around us through what they ate or drank. It was uncomfortable but you did what you had to do to survive.
“Luckily by God's grace we all stayed alive, there was loads of madness and you could have died any second, we were shot at and every day we were fighting for our lives but it was great my family were all together and survived.”
All this time, Zanzala's dad was trying to get his family to Austria, where he was working as a journalist.
“My dad was in Austria trying to get us over. He had moved to Austria earlier and had been trying to get us over as he knew that living in Congo we were always under threat of a civil war and he wanted a better life for us than living in fear all the time.
“He struggled to contact us when we were in the jungle and that time was hard, not knowing if my dad was ok and he didn't know if we were alive.”
Eventually contact was made and, at the age of three, Zanzala moved to Austria with his three brothers and his sister came along soon after.
“It was quite difficult in Austria, we experienced hardship because of our background, it wasn't ideal, and it was hard for myself to play football as I wasn't accepted in many teams.
“We lived there until I was eight, I went to school, developed a different culture and lifestyle and I could speak German at the time, although I have forgot it now!”
Zanzala, who qualifies for Congo, Austria and England, moved to England when he was eight.
“It was hard for my parents to get good jobs to pay off the incomes in Austria so they moved to give us the best chance in education.
“That's when I started playing football. I played for my primary school, played in local leagues and I got a picked up by Derby County when I was 12. I loved it there, they gave me a chance to establish myself and show what I can do.
“Then obviously I moved on loan to Accrington before a permanent move this season and it's been season has been great. I am just grateful to be scoring goals and doing well.”
He admits that despite everything he has been through, it's hard to dislodge that smile.
“My background, it's something that I'm proud of. I am proud of what I have achieved so far but I know it's not the end goal, I haven't achieved anything yet, there is so much more to come.
“I always play with a smile, it's a blessing, a lot of kids would chop off their arm to be in this situation.
“But for me, I do not to take it for granted and l always remember where I have come from.
“I see being a footballer as something I love doing, I am lucky to do it.
“I don't see it as a job, I play with a smile, I am happy just to play football, it's not a hard life, I have experienced worse things than football.
“Saying that, I am disappointed when we lose but I can put it in perspective.
“This is a great opportunity for me. I remember my past and remember to play with a big smile on my face.”