As a seven-year-old boy, Mustapha Bundu was handed his first ever pair of football boots from his father, making him ‘feel like a king’.
Fast forward 11 years and his goals have led Hartpury to be crowned national champions after their English Schools’ Football Association (ESFA) Boys Colleges Trophy triumph over Myerscough College.
And the Sierra Leone talent is looking to follow in the footsteps of fellow West African footballers Abdul Majeed Waris and David Accam, who both achieved national acclaim at the college before embarking on their respective paths to a professional career.
Bundu, who scored a brace in the 4-3 ESFA final win, said: “It was amazing to win the cup and something I will always be proud of. Hopefully I can use this to keep pushing on in the future.”
His goalscoring exploits for Hartpury will come as no surprise to those who know him back in Sierra Leone. Born in the capital of Freetown, Bundu was never without a football growing up.
“My dad is a football coach and he got me into the sport straight away. I was always out playing football with my friends or I was watching my brother play,” he said.
When his family moved away from Freetown due to his father’s work commitments, Bundu joined a local football team, continuing to develop his skills.
In 2010, Bundu attended trials for the Craig Bellamy Foundation - a charity founded by the ex-Premier League player that offers underprivileged children in Sierra Leone the chance to reach their true potential through football and education.
The striker made an instant impression and made it through the final cut to join the first football academy set up in the country. However, this meant leaving his family home and moving to the residential academy.
He said: “The academy was eight hours away from my home but my parents and I knew it was an amazing opportunity.
“We would train at 7am for an hour almost every day and then have some breakfast before going to lessons. We’d train again in the evenings before dinner and then have time to study and relax in the night. I would be there for three months and then have two weeks to spend time with my family.”
In the summer of 2011, a 14-year-old Bundu was invited to travel to the UK and train with Welsh side Cardiff City and their Under-15s squad. He followed this up over the next two years with summer spells at Premier League outfits Liverpool and Manchester City.
Despite scholarship offers from America, Bundu remained at the academy, and America’s loss turned out to be Hartpury’s gain.
Bundu said: “Some of the Foundation staff members visited Hartpury and they came back and said that I needed to go there as it is a great pathway to professional football but more importantly a place to get a really good education.
“I could have waited another year to travel Europe and get trials at professional clubs but I asked my parents what they thought and they said I should take the opportunity to come to Hartpury.”
He arrived at Hartpury in September 2014 at a time when the Ebola outbreak was widespread across Africa, meaning he was separated from his family for an extended period due to quarantine rules.
“My family were absolutely fine but it was such a sad time as some people in my country were really struggling. It’s good to know that the worst is past now,” he added.
“I speak to my parents and my old coach once or twice a week. My mum likes to check that I’m doing my homework!”
Bundu has set the college football scene in the UK alight with electrifying performances throughout this season and spearheaded Hartpury’s charge to ESFA cup glory; scoring an incredible 18 goals in just six games in that competition.
He also played a starring role in securing Hartpury’s berth in the English Colleges Football Association (ECFA) National Championships play-off final, where the college agonisingly lost on penalties to Football Academy of Bisham at Notts County’s Meadow Lane in May despite Bundu scoring a fantastic hat-trick.
He said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far. One of the reasons I chose to come here was because I could also get an education while I’m here. That is important to me.
“The whole team have been great and I am lucky to be a part of a really good squad. We are always helping each other to become better players.”
His form did not go unnoticed and the forward has represented the England Schools Under-18s squad this year, alongside Hartpury teammate Lewis Fogg. The call-up was exactly what Bundu had dreamed of after a chance meeting with a former Hartpury star almost five years ago.
“When I first joined the Foundation, we travelled to the Right to Dream (RtD) Academy in Ghana as our facilities weren’t ready. I saw [Abdul Majeed] Waris and I saw his picture of him in an England kit. He told me about England Schools and I set myself a goal of making the squad when I came to Hartpury,” he explained.
With one goal already achieved, the 18-year-old is now looking to realise his next dream.
He said: “I always go out to do my best when I play football and hopefully somebody will spot me. I’ve always wanted to be a professional player and I am so happy to be at a place that is helping me try to reach that goal.
“If I don’t make it in football then I would love to be a coach, like my dad. Giving back is one of the most important things in my life and if I get the chance to do that as a coach then I would do it.”
Paul Tassell, Hartpury’s junior football programme manager, said: “Mustapha has had an unbelievable year and it is very exciting to have a player with so much potential in our ranks. Our aim now is to help him develop and progress to fulfil that potential he is capable of.
“He has settled in really well and has been an invaluable member of the squad. If he continues to put in the hard work, I am confident that he will get to where he wants to be. He is unplayable at times and is a joy to coach. We will do everything we can to help him.”