On December 3rd 2007, an 18-year-old Elliot Omozusi made a rare start for Fulham. His previous appearances didn’t match the same pressure he faced that day, as he walked out in front of a 75,000 capacity crowd at Old Trafford to take on Premier League champions Manchester United.
A double from Cristiano Ronaldo gave United a 2-0 victory but Fulham still battled in brave fashion. Omozusi, in particular, earned praise for his disciplined performance.
Since that very day, a lot has changed in the right-back’s career, as well as his life.
Despite his impressive display in Manchester, Omozusi spent a lot of time on the bench for Fulham afterwards. He completed loan spells at Norwich City and Charlton Athletic to gain first-team experience although those stints away weren’t enough to help him make a breakthrough once he returned to West London.
League One club Leyton Orient, based in East London where the former England youth international grew up, decided to take advantage of his desire to play regular football.
He officially joined the O’s on June 2nd 2010, and after just half a season, was named the club’s player of the year.
But Omozusi’s biggest change undoubtedly came on November 17th 2011. The player, then 22, found out he would not play again for two-and-a-half years. There wasn’t a serious injury holding him back, but instead, a shameful prison sentence.
On a night out in Liverpool in May 2010, Omozusi lined up with two friends to enter a club. While doing so, they spotted somebody from London who had some unfinished business with them.
Omozusi and his friends chased down their target, an 18-year-old male, who repeatedly yelled, “They’re going to kill me” before police intervened and arrested the trio.
The target had helped police identify those responsible for Agnes Sina-Inakoju’s murder in Hackney, East London. The 18-year-old was fatally shot in a takeaway after being caught in between a gun battle involving rival gangs.
But what did the death of an unfortunate young lady have to do with Omozusi? After all, he was a humble and sensible lad living his dream. Well, that’s how it appeared before police began researching the player’s personal life.
Despite playing in front of thousands up and down the country on weekends, Omozusi was affiliated with one of London’s most notorious gangs, the London Fields Boys, who were responsible for Sina-Inakoju’s murder.
Omozusi’s actions against his victim in Liverpool were deemed attempted revenge in court and resulted in Leyton Orient terminating his contract.
While inside for two-and-a-half years, Omozusi reflected on his life. Not only had he lost years of his footballing career, but he had also lost friends who had ended up in prison like him or even in the grave. Nonetheless, prison was a turning point in Omozusi’s life as he opted to follow a more positive path once his release date came.
“The whole episode sent me down to earth with a bump,” he told the Daily Star. “I knew prison was not the place for me.”
Leyton Orient were convinced their former player’s intentions to change his life were legitimate and offered him a new contract in January 2013.
Despite some fans regarding the move as a gamble, Omozusi was grateful for his second chance and managed to stay away from bad company.
Since his return, he has become a vital part of Orient’s side as they chase promotion to the Championship for next season.
However, the now 25-year-old didn’t completely let go of his past. In fact, he decided to use it as an experience to help young people. He often visits schools and youth clubs in East London to inspire the new generation to fulfil their potential and stay away from a life of crime.
“It was important for me to try and make a difference and help people,” Omozusi added. “We have been doing a lot of estate-based work in schools and youth clubs. Growing up in the place that I did, a lot of youngsters can relate to that.”
Following his redemption, Omozusi was nominated for the PFA Player of the Community Award due to his work off the pitch since his conviction.
Therefore, if we continue to hear Elliot Omozusi’s name again in the future, we can be confident it will be for the right reasons.