Thousands of people enjoyed Vancouver FC’s inaugural home match with laughs, cheers, and smiles. But there was one smile that was bigger than anyone else’s; VFC defender Ibrahim Bakare’s. The Englishman couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that the day he turned 21, he would play a historic match to a sellout crowd in Canada or be recognized as the Performance of the Match.
Yet, even when those dreams came true on Sunday evening, they were nothing compared to having his mother and sister present in the crowd after traveling over 7,400 kilometres from London, England. “Seeing my mom on the sideline and seeing her happy; there’s no feeling in the world that can beat putting a smile on your mother’s face,” said Ibrahim. “I hope everyone can come some[how] have that feeling of just making people that they love proud.”
This was just the second professional match that Modinat Bakare had attended in person to cheer on her son since football has not always been a safe environment for the Bakare family. In the UK, it is a familiar notion that football matches tend to elicit acts of violence and crimes, particularly against anyone on opposing teams. Ibrahim was not immune to such instances, being attacked and robbed before one of his matches back in the UK.
Modinat would question, “Why did [Ibrahim] choose this career?” but after that attack, the realities of what it meant to be a professional footballer became frightfully clear. “You don’t want to lose your son or your beloved one to any team just because he went to play,” said Modinat.
Fortunately, “Ibra” wasn’t seriously injured or deterred by the attack and continued developing at esteemed football clubs in the UK, such as Morecambe and Cardiff City. He always had the support of his mother and family and was only ever a few hours away from home.
However, that changed in 2023 when Ibrahim took a leap of faith and told his family he was going to continue his career in Vancouver, Canada. “We don’t know anything about Canada. When [Ibrahim] said that we were a bit confused,” recalls Ibrahim’s sister, Mariam Bakare. Modinat quickly gasped when Ibrahim told the family, but with a mother’s resolve to support her son she responded, “ There’s nothing I can do if that is your choice. God will be with you”.
Through the 21-year journey, Modinat has wanted nothing but the best for her son, a sentiment that can be shared with mothers everywhere. Although terrifying to let go, a mother’s love will always be present wherever their children end up.
At Vancouver FC, Ibrahim has found a familial love that, although it can never replace his mother’s or family’s, has been an important element to him being far away from home. “I have been blessed to be here and play football with fans like these, with players like these, with staff that really care about me,” said the 21-year-old. “It’s not often in football, you see people that actually care about you.”
That special bond with teammates, fans and the mainland has been extra motivation for Ibrahim to continue working hard and honouring the sacrifices of his family. Ibrahim’s phenomenal performance on Sunday, which allowed VFC to finish with a 1-1 draw while playing one man down for the majority of the match, was the epitome of what his and his family’s efforts had created.
“Every single emotion that I had, every single struggle that I went through, all the journeys, the happy times and the bad times, I would go through it all again just to have that moment that I had on Sunday with the fans, with the team, with my mom. It was all worth it and it felt like it all paid off,” recalled Ibrahim about Sunday’s match.
And this is just the beginning for Ibrahim and Vancouver FC. The defender has embraced the opportunity to make history with the knowledge that what he and his teammates do now, will shape the football landscape in Canada. “Hopefully with time we get more and more people here and people will actually see what we’re building and it’s not just the team, it’s not just the football club, it’s actually something special,” stated Ibrahim.
“We have got all of the mainland communities on our shirt and it shows that we represent each one of them,” continued Ibrahim. “This is something that’ll be around for the world to see and hopefully, more people will be able to share that experience with us.” Until the world can see what VFC has to offer, Ibrahim is just happy to know that he is making his mother proud.
VFC’s inaugural home opener will go down in history for many reasons, but to the Bakare’s, the smiles, laughs, and family support is a core memory that they’ll share forever.
Vancouver FC is excited to invite our community to Mother’s Appreciation Night on Saturday, May 13th against Atlético Ottawa. Thank you for inspiring and supporting the future generations of footballers. Kick-off is at 6:30 p.m. PDT and tickets can be purchased here.