Luqman Kassim: ‘I’d been at JD Sport a week when the Finland call came’

Luqman Kassim playing for JaPs in Finland. Photo: Kristiina Mattila
Luqman Kassim playing for JaPs in Finland. Photo: Kristiina Mattila

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Footballers plying their trade abroad is nothing new, but have you heard about the one about the Slough youngster pushing for promotion to the top tier of Finland football?

Luqman Kassim was 19 when he got the call to head over to the Scandinavian country on an adventure that has seen him play for three clubs in the Finnish Football League, earn a Second Division winners medal and score 80 goals across the Third and Fourth Divisions for Norrvalla FF.

Currently coming to the end of the 2022 season, Kassim’s side Järvenpää Palloseura (JaPs) look well set to finish in the top half of the table before the Second Division is split in two, with the winners earning automatic promotion to the Finnish Premier Division – something he achieved in 2021 with VPS.

Kassim revealed that his move to Finland back in 2019 came a bit out of the blue: “I’d just started at JD Sports,” he told the Football in Berkshire website.

“I got a call from my uncle who was with an agent I was talking to the previous year. I had been with Aaron Steadman at Maidenhead United in the Under 23 and was set to move across with him to Ascot United.

“The agent asked me what he could do for me, and said he had an opportunity to go to Finland. At that time I didn’t even know where Finland was.”

Luqman Kassim was full of praise for former team mate Ian Davies. Photo: Rob Mack / Shooting Stars.

Making his first steps into Senior Men’s football, Kassim had taken a job at JD Sports in Slough when the call came and had a tough decision to make: “When the call came I thought it might be a club in Manchester or maybe Scotland something like that. And he said Finland.

“The hardest thing was breaking the news to my mum. She’s my biggest supporter but she wanted to make sure I followed the education route. Football is a big risk but I had to try this and she supported me, but I was really worried she would say no! Stay at JD but she supported me.”

“And it was great for my development, different to Slough which I think has the best 5-aside players in the country but I have really developed. It was the first time I was away but at Norrvalla, my first club, where he was based there were no distractions. It was a village. There was a petrol station and two Supermarkets and that was about it, it allowed me to devote myself to football. There was me and another lad, we shared a flat and we just trained like professionals would. We were in Division 4 but I had a training schedule and no distractions.

Listen to the full interview with Luqman Kassim on the Berkshire Football Stories podcast here:

Following his time with Norrvalla, Kassim was picked up by Vaasan Palloseura (VPS) for the 2021 Finnish season, going on to win promotion to the Veikkausliiga (Finland’s top division). Kassim explained contracts were usually just for a year in Finland and he opted to move on to newly promoted JaPs for 2022, the club are in with a chance of giving the forward back-to-back Second Division promotions.

Luqman has been a great inspiration for our players, I think and hope that they have learned a lot from him and can now benefit even more this season. Since then, Luqman has been more than just a player in Norrvalla; he has attended junior trainings, football school and been a referee at junior matches and more. Sure we will miss him but I am sure someone else in today’s squad will take a step forward.

Magnus Backlund, Norrvalla captain on Luqman’s departure to VPS

During the various Covid breaks, Kassim came back to England and did finally pull on the yellow and blue of Ascot United, playing alongside Harry Laflin and Jonny Denton. He added: “I really loved playing with JD, that guy just used to swing the ball back to me! I was sharper, I developed and I went back to Finland that season and I scored 41 goals in the fifth tier.

“I was playing with Ian Davies, I tell you, how is this guy scoring so many goals, I just used to ask him so many questions and watch him. His understanding to be in the right place, when to take the shot, he scored so many rebounds and I am here doing a 150 step overs and I’m going nowhere. But Ian was racking numbers and I learned so much from him.”

Looking forward, playing for JaPs, Kassim is comfortable with the club’s game plan which sees quick balls to the forwards and it’s served the team well following promotion last season.

Luqman Kassim playing for JaPs in Finland. Photo: Kristiina Mattila

For now for Kassim, the aim is the Finnish top flight: “The aim is top-flight full-time football in Finland. That’s one step away for me. The exposure here because the level we’re at is much higher, if I can hit top-flight I’ll be playing teams preparing for European Qualifiers and really testing myself. I am loving the experience.

“I want to play back in England one day and see how far I can get, but right now I want to be a top-flight football player.”

The full podcast with Luqman Kassim is available on all good podcast platforms from Friday. Search Berkshire Football Stories or click here.

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