From Tanzania to Teesside: Hassan’s inspirational journey with Middlesbrough FC Foundation

From Tanzania to Teesside. Not the most obvious route for a someone just short of their teenage years. But that was the route taken at the start of a new chapter in the life of Hassan Mtambo.

He was 12 when he and his family left Zanzibar and made Middlesbrough their home.

It is often said that football is a universal language. It certainly helped Hassan settle and quickly make friends.

It led to his first association with Middlesbrough FC Foundation; the first steps on an inspirational journey.

Seeing a group of young people playing on some land near his Acklam home, he asked if he could join in. He was quickly accepted and introduced to a Foundation session.

That session became an integral part of Hassan’s teenage years. It helped him socially and athletically. He explains; “If I hadn’t started there I probably would have been up to mischief. Growing up, there were two different groups. One would get up to mischief, the other just wanted to play football and be part of a group that enjoyed playing football.

“We were happy, we played football and would go home fed.” It had sown the seed.

Hassan moved on to college and that progression gradually saw him outgrow his participation, but the separation wasn’t a lengthy one.

When his college studies came to an end, Hassan applied for a job with MFC Foundation and was awarded an apprenticeship.

He remembers thinking, “I started here as a kid and now I’m working here. That was a strange feeling, to complete that cycle. It was, wow, I’m now helping people like someone helped me.”

And that, for Hassan, is what it’s about. It’s never been about any financial reward, it’s about helping people and making a difference. He qualified as a PT  during his college years and acknowledges he could earn a higher salary. However his ethos is simple and heartwarming. “If I can make one person happy in my sessions, make life better for them, that’s the reward I need.”

It’s much more than football for him now. His personal and motivational skills, his interaction with others, became clear and he started to work on other programmes. Among them, Football Welcomes, Kitchen Therapy, Match Fit, and PL Primary Stars.

His former mentor and now line manager Paul South recalls: “When he was young, he liked going to the gym. He liked training. I quickly learned that one part of sport he likes is to educate others, to manage them, to be a mentor for them.

“When he first joined the foundation as an apprentice, he thought I would be working with schoolchildren, in schools, helping them. He soon found there was much more to his role, and I think Match Fit (formerly Fit Boro) is probably his favourite.

“I have never had a second thought about asking him to cover sessions on different programmes. Feedback from schools and participants is always encouraging.”

The Football Welcomes programme saw Hassan work with different people, different cultures, different skin colours and different languages. Football again has proved a common language. Participants from 17 different countries act as though they’ve been lifelong friends under his guidance.

His work in schools has helped not only teachers and schoolchildren, but the Foundation as a whole.

So what does the future hold for a man on a mission? “I’m studying to be a nutritionist,” Hassan reveals. “It’s so I can help the people who are struggling with their nutrition. I’m looking to develop something on an app so we can reach a lot more.

“We’re taking our programmes to places they they’ve never been, like the Central Mosque in Middlesbrough. It’s different, it’s a challenge outside your comfort zone. But people have responded in a good way. I’m working in places that are not my culture and with people who have a different background. But you have to learn.

“For me, I’m just doing small things, but sometimes it makes a big difference. Maybe it’s a gift.”