I dropped out of uni and now I’m a football star in Bulgaria
They call him the ‘Black Doctor-Footballer’
Wannabe doctor CJ Burke quit Brighton University after realising he wanted to do medicine.
Now, the 21-year-old is a medic at a Bulgarian uni, and is signing for a top flight football team who are in the Europa League this season.
After a torrid start, which included accidentally creating an university-wide ebola scare, CJ’s footballing ability, combined with the colour of his skin, helped him achieve cult status in Stara Zagora, the sixth-largest city in Bulgaria.
CJ knew drastic action had to be taken when he realised that studying Biomedical Sciences wasn’t going to make him a doctor, and Bulgaria’s astonishingly low fees and relaxed acceptance criteria led CJ to consider it as the obvious alternative.
Now CJ, from London, is a medic at Trakia University in Bulgaria, where “it’s much cheaper and easier to get in.”
“I also save a lot of money by doing it over there. I’m not going to be starting my career with loads of debt.”
He faced an overwhelming arrival. “We were greeted by a fanfare – the mayor of the town personally showed us around and there were paparazzi documenting our every move for the first week – it was bizarre. I was in all the local papers.”
“People stared at me because I’m mixed race. They’d follow me to see where I was going.”
However, as one of the first twenty-seven international students in Stara Zagora, life wasn’t all easy at first, and the living conditions weren’t as he’d been expecting.
“Our halls weren’t ready when we arrived, so they put us in a horrible building – it was squalid.
“The beds felt like they were designed to dislocate my spine, and there were cockroaches everywhere.”
CJ and the other students (24 of the 27 whom, like him, are ethnic minorities) were welcomed by shocking racist messages in the town.
“Swastikas had been spray painted everywhere and someone had graffitied ‘we don’t need you’ on the wall of our halls’ entrance.
“A lot of people were terrified. Someone left after the first day.”
Things went from bad to worse when a simple misunderstanding created a major Ebola scare.
“I tried to say I was ill in Bulgarian (‘Bolen’) but they thought I was telling them I had ebola. They put my friend and I in quarantine.
“It was the worst four days of my life. The food was vile.”
However, CJ quickly learned to love life in Bulgaria. He was moved into a swanky new apartment complex (at the cost of only £35 a month) and the reaction that CJ has received from Bulgarians has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They’re nice people. No one has anything bad to say to us. I’ve met people twice and they’ve invited me round for dinner and to watch the football. You don’t get that in London.
In a heavy blow to UKIP, CJ also delighted at the opportunities that migration gave him.
“I love Bulgarian culture and I’m learning the language – I’m so glad we have the EU to give us these amazing opportunities.”
CJ’s story became even more fascinating after training with the town’s football team, PFC Beroe Stara Zagora, who played in the Europa League this season and currently sit 5th in the top Bulgarian division.
“I was scouted by my university PE teacher, who used to play football in the U.S.
“He told me to come along to a few training sessions – I did well and now I’m negotiating a contract with them. I should sign in January.
“Now I’m a bit of a cult figure… everyone asks if they can be my agent. My taxi driver idolises me.”
Since he’s started football, CJ has become local celebrity.
“People know me as the ‘Black Doctor-Footballer’. They come up to me and take photos.
“They also touch my hair – most of them haven’t seen many black people before.
“100 Kila, the biggest hip-hop star in Bulgaria, invited me to his table in a club and poured me a Grey Goose. That was cool.”
His celebrity status is also a hit with the ladies.
“I’m swarmed by girls. They can’t speak much English so they just say ‘do you want to come back make sex with me’.
“I tell them I’ve got a girlfriend waiting for me at home. I make a great wingman though.”
But CJ’s fame hasn’t gone to his head.
“Although I’m famous, I’m still the same CJ. I still drive a Vauxhall Corsa.”