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Black History Month: Sol Bamba

22 October 2021

The 2021/22 season has been a turning point for Sol Bamba more than most. The Middlesbrough defender started against Coventry City in September for the first time since his cancer diagnosis.

The centre-back was given the nod by manager Neil Warnock just 10 minutes before kick-off, replacing Paddy McNair who picked up a knock in the pre-match warm-ups.

And despite Boro falling to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues, the game meant so much more to Bamba.

“It was very emotional,” he recalled. “It wasn’t planned because Paddy got injured in the warm-up and it wasn’t the result we wanted, but on a personal level, it was very important for me to get that first 90 minutes. After what I went through, it was massive for me and my family.

“I always said I wanted to come back and I wanted to do one more season. At this level, in the back of my mind, I always had hope and I worked hard to make sure that was the case. I have to say, I’m fortunate. If it wasn’t for the gaffer, I wouldn’t be here. I asked him to do me a favour to come and let me train. Obviously, I did enough for him to think I could do a job.”

A career that has spanned nine different Clubs and five different countries, well-travelled is an understatement to Sol Bamba.

“I like to say I’ve got no regrets. What’s important in everything you do is give everything you’ve got and have no regrets.

“I’ve been fortunate enough play in all of those different countries for different teams. I learned a lot through all those years with different managers. I moved to Scotland which was my first time playing abroad and learning the language. That’s where I made my professional career because at Paris Saint-Germain, I hadn’t played many games.”

The 36-year-old has plied his trade in his native France - where he came through the ranks with the Ligue 1 giants - Scotland, Turkey, Italy, and England, in the EFL.

“Leicester were a fantastic Club looking after me,” he explained. “I spent just under two years there. Leeds was a great Club with great history. I’m probably their number one fan now watching them all the time!

“I went to Turkey just to have a different experience and Italy was a different culture and a different game. As a defender, it’s important to play in the Serie A; you learn a lot.”

The Middlesbrough man was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in December 2020 and, after undergoing chemotherapy, revealed he was cancer-free in May 2021. Three months later, he inked a contract with the Teesside team, reuniting with former boss Warnock at the Riverside Stadium.

Boro currently sit 10th in the Sky Bet Championship standings with Bamba and Warnock both preparing to return to their old stomping ground this weekend when they pay a visit to Cardiff City.

The defender has fond memories of the Bluebirds’ 2017/18 campaign, when Bamba achieved his life-long ambition of reaching the Premier League in his first full season with Cardiff.

“Growing up and watching the Premier League back in ’92 with Cantona and all those French lads at Arsenal, I was watching it with my dad, and I always dreamed of playing there one day," he said.

And Bamba, along with close friend and gaffer Warnock, are targeting the Play-Offs this season.

“We love it. We talk about doing it one more time before we retire maybe! It would be very nice but it’s a long way to go, but that’s the aim at the end.

“We’ve got a good team and we’ve started picking up a couple of results now. The Championship is so unpredictable and so difficult so we’re not going to get carried away and it’s a long season, but hopefully we can be there or thereabouts. We want to be top six, minimum.”

It’s important for him to reflect on such achievements during Black History Month 2021, with Bamba, who was born in France and represented the Ivory Coast on the international stage, having embraced various cultures throughout his career.

He added: “I think it’s important to talk about it because everyone’s got history. Our history is related to our people talked about so people can understand why we there are black people all around the world.”

Throughout Black History Month, the EFL is celebrating current and former players and managers that have had an impact on the game by telling their stories in a series hosted by radio and television presenter Nick Bright.

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