Book Review: The Lost Boys—Inside Football's Slave Trade by Ed Hawkins

January 21, 2016

Bloomsbury, £18.99

For more than a decade, Fifa, football’s governing body, has been embroiled in a scandal that has damaged the sport and seen Sepp Blatter, its President, and Michel Platini, the head of European football, suspended from footballing activity for eight years. Now Fifa has a new challenge and it comes in the form of underage boys, mainly from Africa and with dreams of playing for Europe’s top clubs, being smuggled into southern Europe by “unscrupulous agents and grasping scouts.”

Told that he was going to be the next African football star, “Jay-Jay” was trafficked from Guinea at the age of 17. His family disowned him after he was sexually abused by an “agent.” In London, his misery continued until he was left on the streets.

But The Lost Boys: Inside Football’s Slave Trade is not just a harrowing tale of exploitation for financial gains. Ed Hawkins, an investigative journalist, also exposes the corruption of officials that he alleges are willing to forge documents and shows that the rules regarding the international trade of players are rarely enforced. That said, perhaps the biggest surprise is Hawkins’s realisation that in some cases the boys were not interested in returning home when their dreams collapsed—they were enjoying Europe and the freedoms and luxuries that accompany it.

Though that may be the case for some, it does not apply to all. The greed and desire of fake agents and scouts to get a share of the international trade of players (£155m in 2014) is not going to slow down. It is just one more problem for Blatter’s successor to tackle when he is elected in February. Fifa can no longer brush its problems under the carpet and evade questions on difficult topics. But whether it is willing to accept some level of responsibility and act is another matter.