Man survived assassination attempt to become top referee

A former asylum seeker who survived a shocking assassination attempt in his native Kenya is rising through the ranks of football refereeing on Merseyside – and could one day turn professional.

Jacob Viera now lives in Liverpool with his wife and one-year-old daughter and has become a huge hit in the grassroots leagues of the city.

The 24-year-old, who was once had trials at Everton and was firm friends with former Blues boss Roberto Martinez, has been on Merseyside for the past six years.

Now, the hugely-likeable adopted Scouser is a familiar face as the man with the whistle in the Liverpool County Premier League, The Northwest County League and the Cheshire League.

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Living in Garston, and recently being handed a part-time job by Football Association bosses in Liverpool to mentor other asylum seekers, today's life is a far cry from a series of frightening experiences back at home in Kenya.

Jacob was a talented footballer as a boy and teenager and before making the trip to Tanzania to play for Kenya's Under 16s, he was approached by a gang of drug dealers who urged him to smuggle drugs into another country as a mule.

Jacob Viera who survived an assassination attempt, fled his native Kenya, gained asylum, and is now a respected referee in Liverpool where he lives

To escape this dilemma, he avoided them by giving them the wrong date when his bus would depart the country, throwing the criminals off his trail.

But a couple of years later, when he was playing in the Kenyan Premier League, aged 18, his budding fame brought him to the attention of the same gang, intent on revenge, he believes.

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And it led to a terrible attempt to kill him, in June 2014, when a huge explosion almost took his life as he opened his front door.

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Live wires have been trussed to the door handle, connected to an electricity socket, and it triggered the appalling blast.

Jacob was electrocuted, left unconscious, and suffered terrible burn marks to his body including his face neck and left arm.

Then 20, he was rushed to hospital and medics held out little hope for his survival.

Jacob Viera who survived an assassination attempt, fled his native Kenya, gained asylum, and is now a respected referee in Liverpool where he lives

But in an amazing recovery, Jacob managed to keep fighting and was discharged after only a month.

He told the ECHO: "It was truly a miracle I survived.

"I was unconscious and didn't know what was happening, my family weren't aware what was going on, I was fighting for my life.

"My skin had scorched off and the pigment had turned pink.

"I'm so glad now, that when you look at my face, you can hardly tell I had scars, but I do remember the flashbacks, and it horrifies me."

Talented Jacob went to have trials at Newcastle United and later did the same at Everton, becoming good friends with Roberto Martinez.

Jacob Viera who survived an assassination attempt, fled his native Kenya, gained asylum, and is now a respected referee in Liverpool where he lives

He fondly remembers standing alongside Blues players he used to watch on the TV in Kenya as he played at Finch Farm in Halewood.

His bond with Martinez was strong and it was "heartbreaking", he said, when the Spaniard left Goodison in 2016.

After serious injury scuppered his chances of turning professional, Jacob turned to refereeing and now with his Level Four qualification secured, he has progressed to stand on the highest rung of amateur football.

The dad-of-one now has his immigration status confirmed and he is settled in Liverpool, a place he considers his home.

He said: "Here, I've kept myself busy and put all the bad things behind me, although it remains part of my life.

"I'm always grateful and look back at what I've achieved and the pain I've gone through.

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"I'm really happy in Liverpool and thankful to God.

"When I came to this country, my English wasn't bad, but coming to Liverpool I immediately realised the Scouse accent is really challenging.

"My first week in the city I was training in Liverpool and a lad was telling me I was 'sick' which was strange to me as I was very well.

"But it was only when I got home and told my friend who explained that the person was praising me.

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"So, I started having to learn the Scouse slang.

"If you ask me, Liverpool is the best place in the UK to live, I just love it."

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