Liverpool's Dejan Lovren has talked of his upbringing as a refugee in Germany in an emotional documentary. The Croatian and his family fled the war in Bosnia and ended up in Munich before again being forced to move on.
The 27-year-old grew up in Kraljeva Sutjeska, a village just outside Zenica, and, in a frank 20 minute interview with in-house club TV station LFC TV, explains how a happy childhood was transformed in an instant.
"It just changed through the night," he says. "War between everyone, three different cultures. People just changed. I just remember the sirens went on. I was so scared because I was thinking 'bombs'.
"I remember my mum took me and we went to the basement, I don’t know how long we’d been sitting there, I think it was until the sirens went off. Afterwards, I remember mum, my uncle, my uncle’s wife, we took the car and then we were driving to Germany. We left everything – the house, the little shop with the food they had, they left it. They took one bag and ‘let’s go to Germany’.”
Germany becomes a second home
In total, there were eleven members of the defender's family who took the 17-hour journey through numerous checkpoints before settling in his Grandfather's small wooden house in Munich.
Lovren almost breaks down as he discusses some of the atrocities that took place in the country of his birth at that time – including the fatal public stabbing of his uncle's brother. But he also speaks about his luck in having a family member that worked in a country that was so open to accepting refugees from the three-year-long civil war in the early nineties that claimed more than 100,000 lives.
"My mum said Germany is our second home and it's also true for me. Germany gave us their open hands. I don't know which [other] country would have done that at that time, to welcome refugees from Bosnia."
Escaping through football
It was in Munich that the former Southampton and Dinamo Zagreb man found a love of football and of the local team.
"I had so many idols at that time so I went to the training ground of Bayern Munich at 6 or 7 years old and took some pictures with the superstars at that time – Bixente Lizazrazu, Lothar Matthaus. It was my hometown. Because of that I love Germany."
But Lovren says his family's existence in Germany was always fragile. Every six months his parents had to apply for permission to stay in the country and, a few years after the war ended, it was refused and the family upped sticks again to Croatia while the region was still unstable.
Again football proved something of a savior for Lovren. He was initially picked on at school for his German accent and inability to speak and write Croatian "properly" but his ability on the field won him respect and built his confidence.
Still, life was tough. From running a successful shop in their home village, Lovren's mum and dad took low-paying jobs at Walmart and as a house painter.
Giving refugees a chance
The experience contrasts sharply with that of Lovren's own children and he speaks of the difficulties he faces in teaching them the value of money as a wealthy footballer. But he also discusses the importance of educating them and the wider population about the issues faced by refugees, particularly in the current political climate.
“When I see what’s happening today [with refugees] I just remember my thing, my family and how people don’t want you in their country. I understand people want to protect themselves, but people don’t have homes. It’s not their fault; they’re fighting for their lives just to save their kids. They want a secure place for their kids and their futures. I went through all this and I know what some families are going through. Give them a chance, give them a chance. You can see who the good people are and who are not.”
The full documentary is available on liverpoolfc.com