Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Elvio van Overbeek: Aged just seven I lost my parents in a civil conflict in Angola but faith, family and football have helped me rebuild my life

 

Home from home: Elvio van Overbeek is enjoying his new life in Belfast
Home from home: Elvio van Overbeek is enjoying his new life in Belfast
Home from home: Elvio van Overbeek is enjoying his new life in Belfast

By Graham Luney

Glentoran winger Elvio van Overbeek recalls his adoption by a Dutch family and his ambitions to one day play for the country of his birth.

Q. You were born in Angola, did you move to Holland at a very young age?

A. I moved when I was seven years old. I was the youngest with three older sisters - Leda, Greta and Liria - and I just wanted to go to school and play football.

I was a typical kid but I moved to Holland with my sisters. My parents are not with us any more so we decided to move.

Q. What made you decide to move to Holland?

A. We moved there for a better life and to enjoy a brighter future. Holland is a nice country but it's easier when you know people.

Q. What happened to your parents?

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A. They died in a civil conflict in Angola. It was a bad time but today there is more peace in the country. There was a lot of conflict around that time and my parents died.

I don't know what happened but I know they died in the conflict. That's the reason why we moved.

Holland was difficult because it's a new country and I didn't speak the language.

Full faith: Elvio van Overbeek and wife Eliana assist with the Victory Youth Group at their church
Full faith: Elvio van Overbeek and wife Eliana assist with the Victory Youth Group at their church

There's a settling in process you have to go through.

I moved around in Holland a bit as well.

Q. Was it difficult to settle in Holland?

A. Really difficult. I had left my friends who I played football with. You don't know anyone and have to make new friends.

It was not easy for me but we started to go to school and I began to play football. It was special to be part of a team.

Q. Did your sisters bring you up after the loss of your parents?

Done deal: Van Overbeek impressed on trial with Glentoran
Done deal: Van Overbeek impressed on trial with Glentoran

A. It was a weird time because I was so young and there was no time to really understand what happened in Angola. We lost our parents and then had to learn a new way of life.

One sister, Leda, is now back in Angola, married with three children; Greta lives in Portugal, also married; and the other sister, Liria, is married and lives in Holland.

So we are all married and very close to one another. We have grown up together and my sisters really became my mum and dad, helping to protect and guide me.

I've been married for two years and my wife Eliana joined me in Belfast. I live quite close to the city centre. It hasn't been that hard a move as Northern Ireland is very similar to the Netherlands.

We are together so that keeps us strong. My wife was born in Holland and her parents are from Cape Verde.

Q. Has football given you comfort in your life?

A. I love playing football, and it's a big passion of mine, but what really keeps me strong is my faith in God. That has helped me in my life.

My sisters, my mum and I went to a church in Angola and, when we moved to Holland, we went to the same church.

I can say that because of my faith I have overcome all the difficult challenges in my life. It has given me strength.

Q. Have you been back to Angola?

A. My sisters had to go back. I was playing football in Holland, but I did go back once and have family there so I probably will return, maybe next summer, and I'll give the kids a Glentoran shirt!

One of my team-mates Luke, who was my best friend, has now become my brother because his family in Holland adopted me. That's how I got the Dutch name Van Overbeek.

They knew my sister had to go back to Angola and they asked me to join them. In Holland, I joined PSV Eindhoven but was unable to play for the first team. I was close a few times but picked up a few injuries at the wrong time.

That was bad luck, but I enjoyed my football and learned a lot. PSV gave me a chance to improve and play so I was not disappointed. I wasn't angry, just unlucky because when I can't play someone else takes their chance.

Q. What top players did you play with?

A. Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum were at the club, and I played with Memphis in the youth team while Wijnaldum wanted to play with the second team to gain fitness. Memphis is the best player I have played with.

Q. Why did you decide to come to Glentoran?

A. I didn't know anything about the game here. In Holland I played well for different clubs but they changed managers and then the players change as well.

I was at Telstar but it was difficult to get into the team, so I wanted to play games and develop as a player.

I was searching for a new club and when you're 25 it's important to play and become a better player. Clubs in the Far East were interested in me but I didn't want to move somewhere just to earn good money. I wanted to stay in Europe and I had a trial at Derry City.

They were on a winter break and I lacked fitness around that time. I then got a trial with the Glens and started to play games but it's difficult when you don't know the players.

They asked me to stay and I improved as my team-mates and I understood each other better. I went back to Holland to discuss it with my wife and the most important reason to come here is the same church I go to is here in Northern Ireland and is called The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

We also have to pick up the language here which is not easy. Sometimes they talk too quickly in the dressing room!

Q. How have you settled at the Glens and in Belfast?

A. I really like Belfast. Everyone has been welcoming and the club has kindly helped me settle. We are happy and I like playing for a big club with amazing supporters.

I want to help them see a winning team and good football. I'd like to play in England or Scotland or as high a level as possible, but I want to become a better footballer at Glentoran and hopefully win trophies.

Q. What do you think of the standard of the game?

A. It's different! It's physical and there are more long balls, less passing on the ground.

I need to get used to that but I can use my speed to help the team. Mick (McDermott) wants us to play good football and I like the training and recovery sessions.

Q. You played for the Netherlands at Under-21 level. Are you disappointed not to get a senior cap?

A. I would have loved that but in Holland there are so many great players. It's very hard to get in the first team and so many good young players are coming through.

The competition for places is very strong. I'd like to play for the national team of Angola but I'd need to sort a few things out. People will look at my surname Van Overbeek and think I was born in Holland, but I have been adopted and my new parents are Patrick and Manon van Overbeek.

My brother is Luke en Mij and I've a sister with my adopted family, Sophie.

The Angola team is getting better with new Portuguese coaches helping out.

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Elvio in his time at De Graafschap

Q. Northern Ireland lost to the Netherlands in the Euro 2020 qualifiers. Do you think the Dutch can win the Euros?

A. Northern Ireland did well against them and can be tough opponents, but Holland are very strong. I think they will win the Euros.

I played for PSV against Frenkie de Jong when he was in Ajax's second team and he was a good player then. Now he's one of the best in Holland.

Q. I'm guessing that the three important things in your life are faith, family and football, is that right?

A. That's right, and in the correct order. Faith means everything to me while my wife and my adopted parents in Holland have given me another life and I'm blessed. Not anyone can do something like that, it was a special thing to do.

Football won't last forever and you need support from your family. I'm married for two years and Eliana is 21. She goes to the matches when she can and always supports me.

In the church, we like to help young people, and maybe in the future I could so some coaching to help wingers. I actually started as a centre-back and went into midfield, then became a striker, then winger.

One of my main goals through the church is to help young people and our youth group is called VYG (Victory Youth Group). I heard that the suicide rates are high and it shocks me to learn young people have suicidal thoughts.

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of young Carrick player Jerry Thompson and my thoughts are with his family and friends.

Mental health is a big issue and I hope more people can find the strength to talk about any struggles they have.

I want to invite other people to know God as well and have a relationship that can change their lives.

It hurts me when young people are suffering. I've been through a lot in my life but God has lifted me and I want to share my life experience with others. The Church has a very active youth group and we will keep reaching out to young people.

Snapshot

Date of birth: January 11, 1994

Place of birth: Buco-Zau, Angola

Previous clubs: PSV Eindhoven, Go Ahead Eagles, De Graafschap, Telstar.

Glentoran record: 22 appearances, 3 goals

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