Interview: "I'm not the Coca-Cola Kid – I'm Colin Kazim-Richards" From Bury to Brazil with football's misunderstood globetrotter
— Corinthians (@Corinthians) January 6, 2017
Popular conjecture will have you believe that it all started with a bottle of pop. When Brighton fan Aaron Berry landed his club £250,000 to ‘win a player’ with Coca-Cola in 2005, the Seagulls used it to buy an 18-year-old from Bury by the name of Colin Kazim-Richards. And so it was that The Coca-Cola Kid was born.
But that’s not even close to telling Kazim-Richards' story. In the grand scheme of things, it’s barely a footnote in his life so far.
“I’m not The Coca-Cola Kid – I’m Colin Kazim-Richards,” the man himself declares. “I don’t like that, because it’s all people say.” He’s talking to FFT from his new home in Curitiba, Brazil – the latest stop on an unpredictable journey that has taken him from east London to international recognition, with plenty of calling points in between.
In a way, the unwanted nametag is indicative of his subsequent career outside of England; a fragmented flashpoint that makes for a cheap headline. Kazim-Richards is distrustful of the media, having been burned before (“In Turkey they have no boundaries or laws,” he grimaces).
He finally lost his cool with one particularly troublesome Dutch journalist, who the forward said had been “trying to make problems” between the 37-cap Turkey international and Michiel Kramer, a rival for a spot in Feyenoord’s first team. That episode helped to bring a premature end to his time in the Netherlands in February 2016 (but more on that later).
It’s an adventure, another new experience, and already one of the best footballing and life decisions I’ve ever made
Kazim-Richards has a reputation for being involved in the odd misdemeanour, but it’s often with provocation – even when he joined Bury as a youngster.
“I was up there on my own,” Kazim-Richards explains, “and funnily enough, I didn’t like people putting bananas on my clothes. That was the joke at the time. I would complain, and then it would turn into fights; once, twice I would complain, but the third time I was just going to start something. I was getting bananas squashed in my clothes and hung on my peg every single day for about four weeks.
“Generally, though, people like to report on football’s controversies to sell papers. I don’t really respond that much to it. How can you expect people not to make mistakes? I’ve also done some pretty incredible stuff that people don’t like to report on.
“I left east London for Bury when I was 15 and that was the most difficult move I ever made. It was a different world, people calling me ‘chicken’ and ‘cock’. The first person who said ‘What’s up cock?’ to me, I wanted to fight. Up there it means a different thing but I didn’t know. I didn’t have anybody to help me like that.”
There are two sides to every story – and as FFT discovers, Kazim-Richards has plenty of those. His latest exciting chapter is taking place in Brazil at Coritiba, after eight whirlwind years in Turkey (Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Bursaspor) were interspersed with spells in France (Toulouse), Greece (Olympiakos) and the Netherlands (Feyenoord), followed by a four-month stint at Celtic. As many months into his Brazilian adventure, it’s so far, so good.
“It’s an adventure, another new experience, and already one of the best footballing and life decisions I’ve ever made,” he tells FFT. “In Brazil they judge players on their footballing ability first. I think we have a problem with that in the UK. Ever since I was young, my life has been about playing football, so to come here and be able to do that is very liberating.”
Started on the streets
Over the past two years he has sunk more than £100,000 into his own local football academy
Leyton is very important to Kazim-Richards. It’s where it all began, on the streets that were his early training ground. But things could’ve turned out very differently. While his parents and football helped to give him a focus away from trouble, others never had that chance.
Over the past two years he has sunk more than £100,000 into his own local football academy (“We just beat the North London Academy 9-0,” he says with a grin), in the hope of giving kids whose families can’t afford expensive subscription fees a chance to play.
“You see a lot of mixed-raced kids now, but back then it wasn’t the norm,” he says. “I was born in the ’80s. My dad was 18; my mum, 17. My dad was black-Caribbean and my mum was Turkish-Muslim. My dad grew up fighting skinheads. He can tell stories about having to fight six or seven of them in a pub because he was with my mum, which wasn’t accepted.
“That stuff got instilled into me: be happy with who you are and remember where you’re from. I wouldn’t have it any other way because it put things in me that can’t be taught unless you grow up in a place like that. If I didn’t have my parents’ backing, it’d be easy for the streets to win. My friend just got out of jail after eight years. My other friend is in there for life.”
Life is precious
Three of his cousins were later snatched from him, in tragic – and unlinked – circumstances
While Kazim-Richards is eternally grateful for his parents’ support, nothing could shelter him from several harrowing experiences in his life before he left E17 for Bury at the age of 15. When he was three, he lost his infant brother Rodney to Edwards’ syndrome – “the first memory I have from when I was young… some things just never go away”.
Staggeringly, three of his cousins were later snatched from him, in tragic – and unlinked – circumstances.
“They were my best friends,” Kazim-Richards recalls. “My birthday is August 26; two of their birthdays were on September 4 and 7. So we were in different [school] years despite being born only two weeks apart – but we were still with each other every single day.
“One died from a heart attack while playing football. Another had a brain haemorrhage in the bath. My other cousin – Andros Townsend’s brother, Kurtis – died in a car crash. He would have become a footballer, too, believe me.“
When you’ve been through things like what Kazim-Richards has, crossing the fiery divide from Fenerbahce to Galatasaray – “For a while I was hated by both sets of fans,” he says – doesn’t seem so scary.
I'm not a shy person and I’ll always try to communicate with someone whether they talk Arabic, Serbian or whatever
Coritiba are Kazim-Richards’ 12th club, and his eighth away from England. Since leaving Sheffield United for Fenerbahce in 2007, he has returned to the nation of his birth only once for football, taking part in a difficult 2012/13 season on loan at Blackburn in which Rovers went through three permanent managers and finished 17th in the Championship. So there’s no desire to return anytime soon.
Brazil is his fourth destination since leaving Galatasaray permanently in 2013, but the 30-year-old seems more at home than ever before. But why on Earth does he move around so much?
“A lot of the media like to portray that I’ve been pushed away but let’s just get it straight – every move I’ve made in my career, I’ve done it myself,” Kazim-Richards admits. “But I admit when I was younger that I don’t think I appreciated playing for massive clubs like Fenerbahce. I’ve made some bad decisions, and you just have to stand up and be counted.
“There was a time I didn’t get called up for Turkey for a while because Fatih Terim (his former Galatasaray manager) had said so many times, ‘Don’t go to Olympiakos [on loan], I need you’. I couldn’t tell you to this day why I did, though. I got there and it just… wasn’t good. I called him to say I wanted to come back, but he basically told me ‘You had your cake, now eat it’. He was so influential in my career and gave me my first call-up to the national team, and so I think he took it personally which I understand. That was a bad decision, and one I’ve got to live with.”
Adapting, then, is made all the more difficult – but what's his approach? “I don’t really have a comfort zone, and that helps,” Kazim-Richards says. “I’m not a shy person and I’ll always try to communicate with someone whether they talk Arabic, Serbian or whatever. I’ll try to get my point across. I’m a joker, but when it’s game time I’m serious, and I understand that not everyone is like me; they have comfort zones.
“I have done it so many times that it just becomes the norm. To be honest, I don’t go back to England much. All my family is there but I fly them out to see me. My mum is here now, and my dad went back five days ago. My brother will come out here in December.
“Sometimes I go back to England and get caught up in stuff that I shouldn’t – not things I’m doing myself, but stuff that’s going on with people I know. In Brazil you play from February to December, and in between then I’ve got that time to spend with my family. They are my priority, and they come first.”
Next page: “I went to buy a dog in Turkey... in the back the guy had lions, tigers and chimpanzees. He wanted €22,000 for a lion!”