Mamadou Sakho tells how he once lived, begged on streets

Footballer Mamadou Sakho (pictured) has been on a remarkable journey from being homeless, begging on the streets of Paris as a child, to the Premier League and World Cup glory with France.

Now 28, the Crystal Palace star draws on his experiences to drive his club’s campaign to help homeless people in South London.

He said: “It’s important to give back. That isn’t only about money, it’s about time, about sharing experiences.”

In Croydon, near Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park ground, dozens of people sleep rough.

When temperatures fall below freezing the club opens its lounge to homeless people and the Selhurst Park Sainsbury’s donates food.

The club also supports the Crisis Skylight centre in Croydon, and has invited England’s Homeless World Cup team to their training ground.

As well as making a generous donation, Sakho, who is married with two children, has visited Crisis Skylight with team-mate Christian Benteke.

Former Liverpool defender Sakho, who has established his own foundation and is building an orphanage in Africa, said: “I think it is great that this centre takes care of people by giving them a place to take a shower, and a place that gives them hope.

“The people here deserve this kind of day, and we want to give them a smile, give them power and show them that this world needs them.”

Benteke, said: “Footballers earn good money, what you do with that money is the most important thing.

“If you can change people’s life by just five or 10 per cent, it’s a massive extra for them. I remember how grateful I am today and how hard it is for other people.”

An estimated 1,100 people slept rough in the five boroughs around Crystal Palace in 2018, and more than 600 people visited the centre.

It offers showers, laundry facilities and training for jobs as well as trying to find people long-term housing. It is a place of hope for a lot of visitors.

Late on Monday afternoon, with temperatures falling and rain outside, the reception area was full of people.

One person the centre has helped was a Palace fan who bought a season ticket two months before being forced on to the streets last May.

Even while he was homeless, he was going to the Crystal Palace home games.

Now he has voluntary work and a ­one-bedroom home in Croydon.

Agencies.

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