The stubborn mate that turned Charles M’Mombwa into a professional footballer

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“I’ll take care of it. I don’t care if it’s fees or whatever. We need to see how far you can go.”

Charles M’Mombwa’s story starts far away from both Australia and any visions of a professional footballing future. But when a special mate first saw him play, they made sure he was noticed.

M’Mombwa’s journey is fascinating from its very beginning.

His birth in the roadless, waterless, powerless town of Baraka in the eastern reaches of the Congo preceded two years in Tanzania and a migration to Zimbabwe, all before he’d turned six.

Propelling forward from the back of one’s mind paintings of the greatest African footballers playing in the streets or on dusty fields. Learning to dance delicately with the ball so as to not cut their bare feet on the unforgiving ground.

M’Mombwa, however, had one unexpected difference.

“A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I never really had the football dream. I never thought, ‘I want to be a professional footballer one day.’ Not until much later,” he said.

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A youth without eyes on a footballing career didn’t mean a youth without football. M’Mombwa’s father, an ex-professional himself, picked up coaching roles to provide for his family, his sons wrapping themselves in their father’s work and in his passion.

“I was always exposed to it because of my dad, and I just liked to play as much as possible,” M’Mombwa said.

“I was still so young so the older boys wouldn’t always let me play. My older brother would be playing and I’d be watching. I’d help out with whatever I could or sometimes they’d chuck me in goal. I just loved to be involved and loved participating.

“When we moved to Australia it was like a different world for us. A lot of different opportunities. A different life.”

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The M’Mombwa family moved to Australia after roughly a decade in Zimbabwe, with priorities to attend to and hurdles to jump before any footballing pathways were to open up.

“My dad is really big on academics. He really wanted us to do very well in school and stuff like that. So, it wasn’t until around 16-17 where I thought, okay, maybe this could be my path,” he said.

M’Mombwa enjoyed his football and still carried his love for playing with his friends as he entered his final years of high school. The bizarre and rapid rise of his sporting journey is not at all lost on him as he recalled how it unfolded.

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“I remember I was in Year 11, and one of my brother’s mates who I knew had come to watch me play maybe once or twice,” he said.

“After the game he came up to me and said, ‘Nah, you can’t be playing here. I’ll take care of it. I don’t care if it’s fees or whatever. We need to see how far you can go.’

“He organised a little meeting with my family and some other friends, and he looked for trials for me, wherever they were he’d take me. I appreciate him so much for what he did for me.”

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At 16, M’Mombwa signed for Dulwich Hill in the National Premier League, a year later he moved to play for Mount Druitt, before he was picked up by Central Coast Mariners as a 19-year-old. He’d go on to make his FFA Cup and A-League Men’s debut for the club, before a change of coach in 2019 sent M’Mombwa abroad to search for further footballing opportunities.

When asked if that persistent friend was still present in his endeavours, M’Mombwa confirmed he comes when he can and is now considered family.

After his departure from the Mariners, M’Mombwa was put in contact with a cluster of second-division Belgium sides, and even with Salford City in Greater Manchester. All of his trials were said to have gone well, but difficulties obtaining a work visa forced a return to Australia.

“I came back and probably only four weeks later Macarthur got in contact and I signed with them. It was crazy,” he said.

M’Mombwa would go on to appear in over half of Macarthur’s games last season including a first A-League Men start – 30 minutes into which he scored his first professional goal.

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“I never thought I’d have ended up with 14 games last season to be honest,” he said.

“It was such a huge achievement and I just want to build on that and keep improving. That’s the plan.”

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

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Tom Macraehttp://medium.com/@macraetomr23
Communications undergrad at Western Sydney University covering Macarthur FC in the 2021/22 season. Newcastle United. Jack Grealish fangirl.

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