An insightful interview was had this month on Brazilian Nivaldo leaving war-torn Ukraine to playing in English non league.
Meet 35 year old Nivaldo Rodrigues Ferreira, he most recently played as a forward for Bootle, on loan from Radcliffe, but his journey to England is quite the story.
He began his career back in 2012, playing on trial for FC Ufa reserve team and a year later in July 2013, he joined Sibir Novosibirsk, making his debut for them in the Russian Football League against FC Ufa.
Between 2014 and 2022, he also had spells at the likes of Luch-Energiya Vladivostok, Yenisey Krasnoyarsk and Yenisey, Gomel, Dinamo Brest, Lokomotiv Tashkent, Gudja United, Belshina Bobruisk, Isloch Minsk Raion and SC Chaika.
But in 2022, he had positive pre-season as a trialist of Northern Premier League outfit Radcliffe, joining the club from Ukrainian second division side SC Chaika.
He’s played in six different countries all over the world, including Russia, Belarus, and his native, Brazil, while also winning the Belarusian Cup, a Belarusian Super Cup, and also made a number of appearance in the Europa League and the Asian Champions League.
But his life changed forever when he had to re-build his life in England, leaving war-torn Ukraine, and now finds himself in the 7th tier of English football.
A few weeks ago, I was scrolling for a lower league striker on Football Manager when the name Nivaldo popped up.
It soon became clear that this wasn’t your average player in England’s eighth tier, so I tracked him down for a chat.
I’m really glad I did. https://t.co/lZ1kcUYzU8
— Jack Kenmare (@jackkenmare_) November 12, 2023
In a recent interview with SPORTbible, he opened up on the differences between his life here and home country Brazil: “I’ve trained every single day for most of my life. Growing up in Brazil, I wasn’t blessed with talent, so I needed to work hard to become a professional. When I got to play in the Europa League, it was a special moment after everything I’d been through. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, I can tell my kids that I played in one of Europe’s biggest competitions’. I’m very blessed to say that.”
His attention turns to leaving Ukraine, and moving to England: “Two or three weeks before the war started, I remember my wife saying, ‘I think it’s best that we move away.’ I played it down because nobody believed it would happen.
“Every time she [Anna] proposed the idea of leaving, I would say, ‘Where would we go? We have three kids who are settled in school and I play football here.’ It was a difficult situation. Our lives were in Ukraine. Everything was there.”
On the 24th of February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, meaning residents from Kyiv and neighouring areas had to flee and make the journey to safety.
“I can remember the war starting like it was yesterday,” he recalled, hearing bombs, knowing that was the time to leave their home. “It was around 4 o’clock in the morning and the first bomb went off. My wife sat up and screamed, ‘C’mon wake up! The war has started!’ I said, ‘No way’ but as I walked to the window, the second bomb dropped… boom.”
“We packed whatever we could into two bags, got our passports and tried to leave town as fast as we could,” Anna says. “Luckily, we had a full tank of fuel and my father gave us an extra two gallons. We were told that Russian troops were getting into Ukraine. We had to act quickly.”
Nivaldo rushed to the car with his wife and three young children, and six months after moving to Kyiv Oblast – which is a province around the capital city – they had no choice to cut short their time, leaving behind the family home and possessions.
“As I was driving, I remember being so scared for my family,” Nivaldo said. “There’s only so much you can do behind the wheel. You don’t have time to think about other options. My mission was to just get out of there.”
“I remember it being so busy,” on making their way towards the border. “Everywhere was crazy. We could hear explosions on our way to the border and at one stage, there was a long line of tanks flanked by soldiers. It’s the kind of stuff you only see in movies and here I was, in my car, seeing it happen in front of my eyes.”
They learned a day after leaving their home, the UN refugee agency stated over 50,000 people left Ukraine as Russian forces moved in on Kyiv. In the same week, at least 352 civilians, as well as 14 children, had been killed since the invasion began, and another 1,684 people left wounded.
“The youngest didn’t really understand what was happening, to be honest, but my oldest son, Alexander, who is 11 years old, was very upset,” he says. “I played in Russia for five years and we have a lot of friends there. He didn’t understand when the country invaded.”
Nivaldo spend three straight days driving, got to main border crossing of Medyka in south-eastern Poland, which took 15 hours as they tried to find their way around roads with military officers.
He and his family slept in their car for a further two nights queueing up at the Polish checkpoint in with it freezing out and there being a lack of food.
“We were told to switch off all the lights, including our phones, to avoid detection.”
However, they were just glad to be out of Ukraine, and others helped them, with Anna saying she took her children on a brief walk about, with an older resident from a nearby villages bringing out hot soup and rice for them to eat and keep walk.
“That was the first time in three days that they’d eaten normal food,” Nivaldo said. “From that moment on, things looked more positive.”
After getting into Poland, they went to a hotel, soon left the country for Brazil with family based in Pernambuco, but know they needed to find somewhere else to call home, to settle down.
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He said: “I wanted my kids to grow up in a country where they could flourish and be safe. Brazil is a good but there’s a lot of corruption. We spoke about potentially moving to America but I suggested England as we both had friends here. We spoke to them and they recommended it. We got the papers together and moved.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are enduring life in the UK with thanks to the Ukraine Family Scheme.
Nivaldo and his family made the journey over after two months in Brazil, it was a family with a farm in Nantwich that took them in.
“When I moved to England, I didn’t want to play football anymore,” Nivaldo said. “It didn’t even enter my thought process. I just wanted to take care of my family but my friends kept on saying, ‘C’mon let’s try and find a club for you’. So they sent my CV to Radcliffe.”
Speaking on signing a permanent deal for Radcliffe, Nivaldo said: “I’m very happy, this move is very good for me and my family because of our situation. After we moved away from Ukraine, we had the opportunity to start again and that’s something that the club offered me.
“When I spoke to Bobby on the phone I instantly wanted to come here, we have some good players in the squad and we’re ready for the season to start.”
Speaking on Nivaldo joining the club, Chairman Paul Hilton said: “When the opportunity to speak to Nivaldo arose we were keen to see whether there was anything we could do to help him, and his family in their transition to the UK.
Hearing his story was inspirational and from the heights of the Europa League, to packing his life and family into a car overnight and driving for the border as the bombs began to fall in Kiev is an experience that I don’t think many people can truly ever understand, but the humility and dedication to his family is there for all to see. We’ve been proud to help him and his family settle in and now clearance is through we are all looking forward to the season and Nivaldo building his new life in the UK.
As people will have seen through pre-season, Nivaldo is a great player and is another excellent addition to the squad. His experiences at the top level of the game will be important as we look to have a positive season, and lets be honest – every football fan loves a bit of Brazilian flair!
Joga Bonito Nivaldo!”
The player said to SPORTbible in his recent interview with them: “They both knew my situation but at the time, I was living quite far away, so they gave me a car so I could drive to training and matches. That was a really big help.”
He made nine appearances for the club in the early stages of the 2022/23 season, scored his first goal, a 87th-minute winner against FC United of Manchester, with family watching on.
🥁 Our August Goal of the Month…
🇧🇷 Nivaldo’s late winner against FC United is our Goal of the Month!
🙌 A swift passing build-up which was expertly finished off by the Brazilian to grab all three points in the dying moments!
— Radcliffe FC (@radcliffeboro) September 6, 2022
“I didn’t expect how physical it would be,” he said, then talked about a red card incident. “I was nowhere near the ball and they’d beat me up. It was constant. I remember saying, ‘C’mon guys. What is your problem? Let’s just play football. Just improve yourself. Why do you need to do this?’
“I soon realised that If I didn’t do the same, they’d kill me.”
He wanted more game time, so moved to Bootle in October.
“You’ve got to remember, I came here to look after my family,” he said when looking back at his career spent in Belarus and Ukraine to what he’s doing today.
“I don’t play football for money anymore. I play to enjoy. I met some guys recently and they invited me to play a game of Sunday League… is that what it’s called? I needed to play some games, so I went and scored a hat trick for Bury Street. The level wasn’t the same but I really enjoyed it.”
He scored five times in his shirt stint for Bootle, “loving” his time there, and was a fan favourite.
obrigado por tudo nivaldo você sempre será amado e fará falta no dodge kop 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/4kdunoUwu5
— BOOTLE ULTRAS🇧🇷 (@bootle_ultras) December 6, 2022
Nivaldo played under Steve McNulty at Bootle, then went back to Radcliffe, where they then when separate ways, he went on trial at Welsh Premier League side Bala Town, played in a friendly against Wrexham, but then got injured which stopped any move from happening.
He kept fit in training with City of Liverpool FC but these days is still looking for a new club at the time of speaking.
He, his wife and children have found a place in Wilmslow to call home. “We definitely feel safer,” Anna said. “That is the most important thing.”
Nivaldo adds: “We’ve been here for 18 months and life is comfortable. The kids are enjoying school and I’m studying to become a football coach. I’m doing a Level One course at the moment and eventually, I would like to open my own football academy.
“Most importantly though, my family is safe.”
What a story, what experiences they went through. But it’s just great to see them happy, safe and well, as they continue to hear what’s going on in Ukraine.