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Ken Sema: Watford midfielder on becoming a role model for people who stutter


The evening of Monday February 20 was just a normal day at Ken Sema’s Watford office.

The midfielder had just scored two goals in a player-of-the-match performance as the Hornets beat West Brom 3-2 at Vicarage Road and, as he had many times before, he was close to moving past the cameras. .

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Highlights from the Sky Bet Championship game between Watford and West Bromwich Albion.

However, this time was different as Sema, who has stuttered since the age of six, went viral after being praised by the footballing world and beyond for his courageous post-match interview.

“It was a bit strange, I’m not going to lie,” he said Sky Sports News in an exclusive interview. “Obviously I had a good game, I was player of the game, I scored two goals and the team won. Everything was fine and those were happy days.

“All of a sudden I did an interview, which was normal because I’ve been here for five years and I’ve done 10 to 15 interviews with cameras and everything, but that was different, and that has just exploded.”

Sema, who joined Watford from Ostersunds in July 2018, has certainly felt the love of football and the world as he was praised for having the confidence to speak in a post-match interview, which has now been viewed 40 million times.

He said: “At first I was just thinking how come? I did a normal interview after I won the game and now I hear things like, what guy, a role model, an inspiration and a hero.

“I didn’t see it because I didn’t feel like it. It was just a normal thing for me.”

He added: “There was so much love. There was so much happiness and joy. I was touched emotionally because I didn’t force anything. I didn’t say anything because of it, it was just normal.

“But I’m happy and grateful for all the kind messages.”

Sema’s stutter developed when he was at school in Sweden. He got professional help in the form of speech therapy growing up, but incredibly, it didn’t prove to be very helpful for him as he always spoke perfectly when he was there.

“I started having a stutter when I was six years old. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know why. I had just come home from school one day and I started talking a little differently.

“At first it was just a fun thing I tried when I was six years old. I don’t know, but it stuck with me. When I was a little older, 10 or 11, I felt like that was me now and I speak a little differently.

“My family always said it was not a problem. I tried to speak with a speech therapy teacher but every time I went I never had a stutter. They were like ‘why am I ‘was there and did I really need it?’ They thought I spoke perfectly well.”

Since his early days in Sweden, Sema enjoyed a successful football career which took him to England where he made over 100 appearances for Watford.

The 29-year-old also competed in the Olympics for Sweden and made 14 appearances for their national team.

Has his stutter ever had an impact on his football? Sema insists his football was never affected, even referring to his Watford initiation song.

Sema represented Sweden 17 times
Sema represented Sweden 17 times

“It never happened to me,” Sema said.

“I thought coming overseas to England it would be weird or strange to have a stutter but the fact is nobody really cared. No one asked me because I was always me, trying to talk to everyone and trying to be involved.

“I never felt anyone thinking about why I spoke like that or wanting to ask me what my deal was. I’ve had great teammates and coaches who have been calm about it. They asked me how. I felt about it.

“When you’re new to a team and you have to sing an initiation song, I don’t mind. I can do that. I did Stand by Me, which is a go-to song for me. I don’t mind not standing in front of a crowd, saying my name and where I’m from and singing.

“Maybe it’s because I love doing it and I’m not afraid of it. These interviews, spotlights and cameras, it’s okay because it’s obviously my job and it’s in the public eye.

“You’re a footballer, everyone knows you and that’s normal for me I guess. However, I know a lot of people will struggle and have challenges in front of the crowd, but it’s about trying to ‘have self-confidence and stay calm.’

Stuttering Ken Sema went viral after his gutsy post-match interview after scoring twice in Watford's 3-2 win over West Brom.
Sema, who stutters, went viral after his gutsy post-match interview after scoring twice in Watford’s 3-2 win over West Brom

When asked if his stutter ever bothered him when he was younger, he added: “I never saw it as a problem for me.

“I’m an outspoken guy, I like to talk, I like to laugh and make jokes, I dance, I sing and everything. I’ve never seen that as a problem like I can’t speak in public, or I can’ I don’t go in front of a crowd because I’m shy, I’m not that kind of guy.

“But obviously when I was younger it was a bit different. At school you don’t know how your friends and classmates are going to react, but it’s more about how you see yourself. than how people around you see you because it feels like no one really cares how you talk or how you look.

“As soon as you’re happy enough to be you, that’s all that matters.”

Looking back, what would Sema’s message be to her 10-year-old self?

“If I was young and saw myself now, I’d think ‘wow’. I’d think he’s like me and if he can do it, I can do it. It’s not like you can’t not become a footballer because you have a stutter.

“It’s not a problem. If I can do it, then he can do it too. You don’t have to stop your dreams. It’s free to dream. Just try to be you because it’s your superpower.

“As a human being, you always think the worst, while others around you, your friends and family, don’t really care if you sometimes speak with a stutter. It doesn’t affect people around you. YOU.”

And finally, with Sema still many years ahead of him in football, has the reaction to his interview potentially changed what comes after football?

Whatever happens next, Sema is very keen to build on the positive impact of his “normal” interview.

He said: “Everything that happened could actually be for something more. It’s bigger than me.

“But if I can help in any way, even if it’s the smallest thing, I will do it every time.”

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