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   Monday, 11 November, 2002, 13:33 GMT
Cisse right at home in City
Aliou Cisse of Birmingham City
Aliou Cisse celebrates with his new team-mates
World Football's James Copnall talks exclusively to Senegal's Aliou Cisse about finding strength in his new surroundings...

Going to a Premier League match in England these days is a costly affair, but last weekend Birmingham City fans were keen to shell out even more money than usual.

The reason for the extra expenditure? Birmingham's Senegalese midfielder Aliou Cisse lost 12 members of his family in the Joola ferry disaster.

Fans gave generously, and they seemed to have formed a real bond with Cisse, who only arrived in England's second city at the start of the year.

And Cisse seems pretty enchanted with his new support group.

"If I had come to club without caring for it, if I didn't love the shirt and the fans, and I didn't give my absolute all, the fans wouldn't do what they are doing" he told me.

"They would say that I don't respect them. But they feel that here is a boy who is there despite the difficulties I have had. Before the game with West Ham I wanted to protect the group from my state of mind, not inflict on them what had happened to me.

ALiou Cisse of Senegal
Aliou Cisse led Senegal at the World Cup
"That week I kept everything to myself, and we won, and I think that really stuck in peoples' heads. I just want to tell them thank you, thank you so much.

"The people close to me have helped me a lot, but Birmingham has helped me too" he said.

"The players have helped a lot by staying close to me, by talking to me. Steve Bruce and his assistants were really there for me, and what the supporters are doing and have done has really moved me".

All the same the last few weeks have been extraordinarily difficult for Cisse.

He has coped with courage and determination, and these are virtues he will need for some time to come.

"It has been... it IS difficult, right up until now when I am talking to you" he said.

"When you lose 12 people from your family it's not easy, it's not easy.

"Life is like that. I am a believer, and I think it was meant to happen like that.

"During the World Cup our people lived through some wonderful times, despite the social, economic and political problems that we have in our country. The World Cup managed to sweep aside all those problems. During the World Cup there were no more religious or ethnic problems, no local tensions. Everyone was pulling in the same direction. Everyone was behind our team, and it is true to say that our people were truly happy.

"But as we say in our country, often happiness is followed by sadness. After these four months that passed this tragedy hit our people, and me particularly hard, in my family. It's not easy, and we must pray for them, and say to ourselves that it must never happen again".

You can hear all of James Copnall's interview with Aliou Cisse on World Football on Saturday 9 November. Use the audio link on the front page.

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