Raheem Sterling: My journey from helping mum clean hotel toilets to playing for England at a World Cup
Raheem Sterling has revealed his incredible journey from helping his mother clean hotel toilets to becoming an England World Cup star.
Writing for The Players’ Tribune website, Sterling has described his move from Jamaica as a five-year-old and his upbringing in London before rejecting Arsenal to start his football career at Queens Park Rangers.
Sterling wrote: “When I was two years old, my father was murdered. That shaped my entire life. Not long after that, my mum made the decision to leave me and my sister in Jamaica and go to England so she could get her degree and give us a better life.
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but my mum was hustling in her own way, trying to make a better life for us. When I was five years old, we moved to London to be with her, and that was kind of a tough time because the culture was very different from what I was used to and we didn’t have much money. My mum always made sure we had what we needed, but let’s just say it wasn’t The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, know what I mean?
“My mum was working as a cleaner at some hotels to make extra money so she could pay for her degree. I’ll never forget waking up at five in the morning before school and helping her clean the toilets at the hotel in Stonebridge. I’d be arguing with my sister, like, ‘No! No! You got the toilets this time. I got the bed sheets’.
“The only good part about it was that my mum would let us pick anything we wanted from the vending machine when we finished. So you know I was going straight for the Bounty bar every time.”
Sterling’s energy on the football pitch can be traced back to his primary school days, when, by his own admission, he struggled to concentrate.
“I was probably driving my mum mental. It wasn’t that I was bad bad, I just didn’t want to listen,” he wrote. “I didn’t want to sit still and hear what the teacher was saying, mate! What are we talking about today - subtraction? Come on. Not having that. I’d be staring at the clock dreaming of break time. Eat a bit of food, then head straight outside. Running about in the mud, pretending I’m Ronaldinho. That’s all I cared about.
“I was so naughty that they kicked me out of primary school. Well, actually, that’s not totally true. Technically, they didn’t kick me out. They just told my mum that I needed to be in an environment with more attention. They put your man in a little classroom with six kids and three teachers! Not joking. There was nowhere to hide.
“The worst part was the bus used to pick us up and drop us off every day. So I’ll never forget, I was riding the bus one day, looking out the window, and I saw all these other girls and boys walking to school on their own, having a laugh. And that really hit me, and I thought, I want to do that. I want to be like everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just quiet. I just didn’t like to listen to anyone but my mum. That was my problem.
“If I really think hard about it, the moment my life changed was when I met a guy named Clive Ellington. He used to mentor the kids in our neighborhood who didn’t have their fathers around. On the weekend, he’d take us on little trips around London and show us a different side of life. Sometimes we’d just go play snooker. Basically, anything that wasn’t our day-to-day. He genuinely cared about us. So one day he sat me down and he said, ‘Raheem, what do you love to do?’
“Simple, simple question, right? But I never really thought about it like that. At that point, I was just playing football in the street, biking around with my friends, being a kid. I said, ‘I love playing football’.
“He said, ‘Well, I got a little Sunday League team. Why don’t you come out and play with us?’ And that was it. That moment changed my life. From that day, it was football, football, football. Obsessed. Totally obsessed.”
Sterling has revealed how Arsenal were one of the first clubs that wanted to sign him, but that his mother had the final say on his first steps towards becoming a Premier League title winner with Manchester City.
“When I was 10 or 11, I was getting scouted by some big clubs in London,” he wrote. “Fulham wanted me. Arsenal wanted me. And when Arsenal want you, of course you’re thinking you gotta go there. Biggest club in London, you know? So I’m running around telling my mates, ‘I’m off to the Arsenal!’
“But my mum is a proper warrior. She knows how to make it in this world. She’s probably the most streetwise person I know. She sat me down one day and she said, ‘Look, I love you. But I don’t feel you should go to Arsenal’. I said, ‘Ehhhh?’
“She said, ‘If you go there, there’s going to be 50 players who are just as good as you. You’ll just be a number. You need to go somewhere where you can work your way up’. She convinced me to go to QPR, and it was probably the best decision I ever made. At QPR, they didn’t let me slip up.
“And you know what’s crazy? I grew up in the shadow of my dream. Literally. I watched the new Wembley stadium go up from my back garden. One day, I walked outside and I saw this massive arch in the sky. It was rising up over the top of the housing estates like a mountain. I used to kick about in this green right by my house, and I could take a shot on goal and then turn round to celebrate and the Wembley arch would literally be right above my head. It was like you were there. I was really like, 'I can play there. I can do it'.”
Sterling defied the doubts of at least one of his teachers to play for England Under-16s, which helped him catch the attention of Liverpool when he was 15 years old.
“Liverpool wanted me, but it was three hours away from home,” wrote Sterling. “And I’ll never forget sitting my mum down and telling her that I wanted to go. I love all my friends from my neighborhood. They’re still my best friends in the world. But at that time, there was a lot of crime and stabbings going on, and I felt like Liverpool was a chance for me to go away and just focus on football.
“My whole mission was to get a proper contract so that my mother and sister didn’t have to stress anymore. The day that I bought my mum a house, that was probably the happiest I’ve ever been.
“If people want to write about my mum’s bathroom in her house, all I have to tell you is that 15 years ago, we were cleaning toilets in Stonebridge and getting breakfast out of the vending machine. If anybody deserves to be happy, it’s my mum. She came to this country with nothing and put herself through school cleaning bathrooms and changing bed sheets, and now she’s the director of a nursing home. And her son plays for England. I’m telling you right now... England is still a place where a naughty boy who comes from nothing can live his dream.”