WTF Happened To... Taribo West?
In the first of a new series looking at athlete's post-sporting lives, we're checking in on a former Nigerian international defender who now tackles the devil and wins possession back for Jesus.
(This story originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.)
In the first of a new series looking at athletes' post-sporting lives, we're checking in on a former Nigerian international defender who now tackles the devil and wins possession back for Jesus.
For the most part, footballers are very dull individuals. It's hardly surprising. Since they learned to walk they have been doing little other than kicking a ball around, or watching other people kick a ball around, or listening to people who used to kick a ball around explaining the subtle nuances of kicking a ball around. Added to that, they've spent the majority of their lives hanging out with other dull footballers, convincing them that being bland and run-of-the-mill is the norm.
Taribo West was always different, however. As a player he wore brightly coloured braids in his hair and turned out at a strange list of clubs; as an ex-footballer he has become a Christian pastor and founded Shelter in The Storm Miracle Ministries of All Nations. Try as you might, you just can't imagine Gary Cahill following the same path.
The San Siro, Stade Abbé-Deschamps, and Pride Park. West was a cult favourite of late '90s and early 2000s football, his status cemented by the aforementioned braids, which often matched the colours of his club. Initially playing in his native Nigeria, West had spells at French side Auxerre and Italian giants Inter Milan. He picked up a Ligue 1 title with the former, and was a UEFA Cup winner at the Nerazzurri.
He next spent a season at Derby County, helping to keep them in the Premier League, then Kaiserslautern in Germany, after which he bounced around between Serbia, Qatar, Plymouth Argyle, Nigeria and Iran. He called time on his club career in 2008.
Internationally, West made 41 appearances for the Super Eagles and was part of the side that won Olympic gold in 1996. He also turned out at two World Cups, in 1998 and 2002. All in all a very tidy career, albeit one dogged by accusations that he wasn't being entirely honest about his age.
Life After The Game
The braids are gone. That's hardy surprising: it might not be considered appropriate for the pastor of Shelter in The Storm Miracle Ministries of All Nations to wear brightly coloured braids while spreading the word of God. And what colour would they be, anyway? What hue best represents an ex-footballer tuned evangelical preacher? This may be too complex a question for even Taribo to answer.
Yes, Taribo West is now preaching the word of God on a full-time basis. It's not exactly come out of the blue – West founded his first ministry in the suburbs of Milan while turning out for Inter, and kept it up when he moved to England. He even convinced Jim Smith to give him Sundays off to return to Italy for preaching business. "We had a gentleman's agreement," the former Derby boss later revealed. Big Jim was happy to indulge Taribo, reasoning that the defender's heroics on the pitch had earned him a degree of freedom off it.
But if we look a little further into the past, it seems that West's path to the ministry was not entirely straightforward. He has stated that before finding God he practiced juju – sometimes considered a form of witchcraft – using a collection of charms and amulets to bring him luck before games.
"In my playing days, when I was ignorant, I used to get some mallams and babalawos (traditional doctors) to make charms for us, which we took to (national) camp," he told Nigerian publication The Punch.
"In some clubs, before every game, the president or leader of the club will give you a lucky charm to play with. They will tell you to put it in your boots or socks and play."
Aside from the obvious impracticalities of playing football with an amulet in your sock, this practice also went down badly with Patience Ikemefuna, a female pastor and acquaintance of West who he sometimes refers to as his sister. Speaking to Jonathan Wilson of the Guardian in 2002, West revealed that a visit from her changed his life.
"I opened the door, and before I had the chance to say I was glad to see her, she said: 'You must be strong to live in a house like this.' She told me the house had a bad aura, and asked what kind of rituals I had been performing. If she hadn't been my sister I would have kicked her out. Like a lot of footballers I was very superstitious, and before every game I would light a candle and hold a magical stone that a friend had brought me back from Israel. My sister said she could feel occult energies, and she said she could see two dogs – one white and one black –fighting it out in my house."
She convinced him that he needed to change. According to Taribo, things then started to get weird, with the drawers in the house opening and shutting of their own accord.
"I thought it might be just the wind, but as that thought entered my head, all the doors began to bang as well. It was like something from a bad film, but I knew it was reality. I experienced a warm feeling inside, and then my sister turned to me and said: 'Taribo, you will be a pastor, too.'"
There is even an account of Taribo's lover being turned into a snake, but given its lack of sources we couldn't include it here as anything but bizarre hearsay.
What we can say is that Ikemefuna's visit prompted West to become a Christian and found his first church. Despite still being active in one of Europe's top leagues – not to mention the wrong side of 40, if you believe some reports – he threw himself into his new vocation and quickly dismissed his juju ways.
Now working in Lagos, West founded his current ministry in 2014, leaving his life as a footballer behind and giving himself fully to God's work. These days he's committed to spreading the gospel in the ghettos, and can be found preaching in Lagos' crowded markets.
"[The gospel] is for the poor, rich and noble," he said last year. "Part of the gift God gave me is to reach out to the downtrodden. It is good if you can reach out to the downtrodden, preach the gospel to them and try to meet some of their needs through humanitarian services. I'm grateful to God for using me to speed the gospel across to these people."
As well as his evangelism, West leads services in Lagos – and he's not beyond using his past career to help support his new one. As you can see from this advert for an event last year, images of braided '90s Taribo still sell.
Former Manchester United youth prospect Phil Mulryne, who went on to make more than 150 appearances for Norwich City, began training for the Catholic priesthood in 2009. A two-year philosophy degree in Rome and a four-year theology degree followed, and he is set to be ordained in 2016. It sounds a little more rigorous than what West went through to get his preaching badges.
Unlikely as it might seem, it's not impossible that we'll see West back in the game at some stage. Though we're certainly not suggesting he'll give up on God to transition into management, he remains vocal about the Nigeria national team, often giving interviews that combine religious themes with a few choice words on the Super Eagles latest performance. Should a position open up for him, he could yet reappear in the game alongside his ministry. Naturally, we would be thrilled to see Pastor West spreading the good word of bone-crunching tackles to a new generation of Nigerian defenders.