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Ken Sema: Watford midfielder on becoming a role model for people with a stammer

Watford's Ken Sema to Sky Sports News: "It's not an issue. You don't have to stop your dreams. It's free to dream. Just try to be you because it is your superpower. If I can help in any way, even if it is the smallest thing, I will do it every time."

Ken Sema
Image: In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News, Watford's Ken Sema discusses the interview that went viral and becoming a role model for people living with a stammer

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

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 just as he'd done many times before, he was about to go in front of the cameras.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Watford and West Bromwich Albion.

However, this time it was different as Sema, who has had a stammer since the age of six, went viral after being praised by the football world and beyond for his brave post-match interview.

"It felt a bit strange, I am not going to lie," he told Sky Sports News in an exclusive interview. "Obviously, I had a good game, was player of the match, scored two goals and the team won. Everything was nice and it was happy days.

"All of a sudden, I did an interview, which was a normal thing to do because I've been here five years and I've done 10 to 15 interviews with cameras and everything, but this felt different, and it just blew up."

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

He said: "In the beginning, I was just thinking how come? I did a normal interview after winning the game and now I'm hearing things like, what a guy, a role model, inspirational and a hero.

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"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 am happy about it and thankful for all the kind messages."

Sema's stammer developed when he was at school in Sweden. He did get professional help in the form of speech therapy growing up but incredibly it didn't prove to be much help to him because he always spoke perfectly when there.

"I started to have a stammer when I was six-years-old. It just came from nowhere. I didn't know how, and I didn't know how come. I just came home from school one day and I started to talk a little differently.

"At first, was it just a funny thing I was trying as a six-year-old. I don't know but it just stuck with me. When I was a little bit older, 10 or 11, it just felt like it was me now and I speak a little bit differently.

"My family always said it was no problem. I tried to speak with a speech teacher but whenever I went there, I never had a stammer. They were thinking 'why I was there and did I really need it?' They thought I spoke perfectly fine."

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

The 29-year-old has also featured at the Olympics for Sweden and made 14 appearances for his national team.

Has his stammer ever impacted his football? Sema insists his football has never been affected, even referencing his initiation song at Watford.

Sema has represented Sweden 17 times
Image: Sema has represented Sweden 17 times

"It's never happened to me," Sema said.

"I thought coming abroad to England that it would be weird or strange to have a stammer, but the thing is, no-one really cared. No-one asked about it because I was still me, trying to speak to everyone and trying to be involved.

"I never sensed anyone thinking about why I spoke like that or wanting to ask me what my deal was. I've had great team-mates and coaches who have been calm about it. They have asked me how I am feeling about it.

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

"Maybe it is because I like doing this and I'm not afraid of it. These interviews, spotlights and cameras, it's okay because obviously it is my job and it is in the public eye.

"You are a footballer, everyone knows you and that is normal for me, I guess. However, I know a lot of people will have struggles and have challenges being in front of crowds, but it's about trying to be confident in yourself and staying calm."

Ken Sema, who has a stammer, went viral after his brave post-match interview after scoring twice in Watford's 3-2 win over West Brom
Image: Sema, who has a stammer, went viral after his brave post-match interview after scoring twice in Watford's 3-2 win over West Brom

When asked if his stammer ever hindered him when he was younger, he added: "I've never seen it as an issue for me.

"I'm an outspoken guy, I like to talk, I like to laugh and make jokes, I dance, sing and everything. I've never seen it as an issue like I can't talk in public, or I can't go in front of a crowd because I'm shy. I'm not that type of guy.

"But obviously, when I was younger it was a bit different. In school you don't know how your friends and classmates will react, but it is more about how you see yourself rather than how the people around you see you because it feels like no-one really cares how you speak or how you are.

"As soon as you are happy enough to be you, that is all that matters."

Looking back, what would be Sema's message to his 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 become a footballer because you have a stammer.

"It's not an issue. If I can do it, then so can he or she. You don't have to stop your dreams. It's free to dream. Just try to be you because it is your superpower.

"As a human, you are always thinking of the worse, while others around you, your friends and family, they don't really care if you speak with a stammer sometimes. It doesn't affect the people around you."

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

Whatever could come next, Sema is very keen to build on the positive impact his 'normal' interview had.

He said: "This whole thing that has happened might actually be for something more. This is bigger than me.

"But if I can help in any way, even if it is the smallest thing, I will do it every time."

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