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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 April, 2005, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Breaking new boundaries
Oluwashina Okeleji
BBC Sport, Lagos

I'm happy to be alive, as I attempted suicide at some point in my life
James Johnson

At the age of 21, James Johnson, formerly known as the female Iyabode Abade, has already seen the good, the bad and ugly sides of life.

Now opening a new chapter in his existence, after an operation corrected an accident of fate - he was born a hermaphrodite - being a man could stretch his physical and mental abilities to the hilt.

But the striker, who scored a record 38 goals in the 1996 Nigerian female football season, is positive about the future.

"I had no fear going for the surgery because I have strong faith in God that everything would turn out well," he told BBC Sport.

"But thoughts as to whether I would be able to play football again gave me great concern.

"The doctors told me the surgery would make me better and get rid of the nightmare that clouded my life.

"I'm happy to be alive, as I attempted suicide at some point in my life."

Prior to the 1995 female league season, Johnson joined newly-promoted Vero Bim FC at the age of eleven.

Endearing himself to the fans, he earned the sobriquet "Ronaldo," for his all-round skills, which saw bigger clubs seeking to obtain his services.

Disappointment

It was at Jegede Babes, one of the leading female sides in the country, that his performance caught the attention of Ismaila Mabo, coach of the Super Falcons, Nigeria's female football team.

But when he was on the verge of making his debut at the 1998 African Women's Championship, he was barred from the team when it was discovered that he was a hermaphrodite.

He was sacked by his club shortly after he was dropped from the national team.

Unperturbed by the controversy surrounding Johnson, FCT Queens, a team in Nigeria's capital Abuja, gave him a lifeline, in the hope that his talent will help bring them silverware.

Although he was unable to play for the team, he stayed on as assistant coach and helped them to win the FA Cup in 2002.

I still play the way I used to but I am optimistic that the sharpness, which I am currently lacking, will return soon

In appreciation of Johnson's work with the team, Muhammed Abba Gana, then minister in the Nigerian government, approved funding for the operation that changed the player's life.

The operation at the Midway Hospital in Los Angeles, California, cost over US$450,000.

"I'm eternally grateful to my club and the government that stood by me," the striker said.

"It (his medical condition) was a dark period in my life, as I was alienated and abandoned by the world."

Johnson told BBC Sport that he has a point to prove to cynics who are sceptical of his ability to make a success of his new life.

"I still nurse the ambition of playing at the World Cup with Nigeria.

"I will be extremely happy if it even comes much earlier, with the Flying Eagles at the Fifa World Youth Championship in Holland.

"I still play the way I used to but I am optimistic that the sharpness, which I am currently lacking, will return soon.

" I can't wait to show the world what I'm capable of doing."



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