On the 15th anniversary of the tragic killing of Kiyan Prince, Queens Park Rangers are to honour the 15-year old by officially “re-signing” him as a player.
The number 30 shirt will be given to the academy product many had touted as a star for the future. In conjunction with the gesture, Kiyan will also be added as a player to QPR’s squad in EA Sports’ Fifa 21. Match Attax have also brought out a Kiyan Prince playing card.
It was on 18 May 2006 that Kiyan was stabbed while trying to break up a fight outside the gates of his school, London Academy, in Edgware. His death, even to this day, carries great significance.
Beyond the story of a life short-lived and another victim of knife crime in London has been the formation of the Kiyan Prince Foundation in 2008. Founded by Kiyan’s father, Dr Mark Prince, a former professional boxer, it looks to continue the legacy of his son by working with children and young people from of all ages with the help of mentoring, life skills and training programmes.
In June 2019, Loftus Road was renamed the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, the result of a fan vote to determine which charity should be gifted the naming rights for the ground. Few were surprised when the foundation garnered as many as 63 per cent of the votes.
QPR has always been a club that has played an active part in their community, right down to their placing in the middle of estates you weave through to get to the ground. The shame is their most profound work has been underpinned by sorrow: first with the loss of Kiyan, then with the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower just a mile away.
But a place in the squad and as a controllable player in Fifa is a development spawned from joy. Framestore – a special effects studio behind Avengers: Endgame – worked with scientists at the University of Bradford alongside consultations with Kiyan’s family, former teammates and coaches over likeness and style of play.
“It makes me feel very excited, very overwhelmed and very emotional,” Dr Prince tells the Independent. “My son deserves to keep being spoken about and he deserves to be in Fifa!”
“EA have done a great job,” he beams, before doubling back with a smile and extra boom in his voice. “But they needed to put some muscles on this guy! My boy had an eight-pack, traps, shoulders, guns. His friends used to say he looked like a 19-year-old on the pitch.”
Those friends, particularly around football, helped with the digital realisation of youth and potential. Michael Harriman, a centre-back for Northampton Town, went to school with Kiyan and also came through the QPR academy. He backs up Dr Prince’s insistency on strength, while also highlighting skills with the ball at his feet that set him apart from the rest.
“He was one of these players if he had the ball you struggled to get it off him,” says Harriman. “He could shoot with either foot, not a problem. You knew at that age he was going to be something special and it shone through.
“I remember being called up to his age group once for a game. I was on the bench and I can remember him picking it up inside his own half. It was a bit like a Messi run: players were bouncing off trying to get to him as he went and scored.
“It felt like he was more than one step ahead than everyone else. He had everything going for him at the time and when you sat back and watched him to do it, it came so easy. As a professional footballer, I envy the players that make it look so easy. The ones that glide across the pitch. And that’s what he did. It looked like he was having fun in the park no matter what he was doing. That’s something special, I think.”
The club hope that making Kiyan, the footballer, a more visible presence will enhance the lessons brought about by his death and the subsequent celebration of his life.
“For some of the young players in our academy, they wouldn’t have known Kiyan,” says Les Ferdinand, a former QPR and England forward, now director of football. “For most of the guys in our first-team, they never got to see Kiyan.”
Nor did Ferdinand, though through Dr Prince and alignment with the foundation, he has a vivid image. He also had family members who attended the same school.
With a career that ticked over 20 years and featured 17 England caps, Ferdinand knows how fortunate one needs to be to make it. That even with the odds can be stacked in your favour, you can still fall short. And while academy prospects across the country are more aware of the twists of fate within the game, Kiyan is a lesson that the game and especially life should not be taken for granted.
“You never know what’s going to happen in someone’s career. You might have a major injury early on and not fulfil your potential.
“But that it was taken away, it does certainly resonate and give you much food for thought. Because as much as it is reliving the story, it’s helping to tell future generations at this football club and at other football clubs the perils of what’s out there and at the same time how hard you have to work to stay where you are.”
As the project was being discussed in EA’s offices, a developer working nearby overheard and recognised the name. It turned out, that person had gone to school with Kiyan. He asked to be put on the project and helped create the finished product.
Of all this, perhaps this is the most significant nugget to arise from this project. That for all the advancements in modern animation to create Kiyan the footballer, Kiyan the person requires no such enhancement. Even at 15, he stood an accurate measure of the man he would have been at 30.
“You’d have a bad day but know if you bumped into Kiyan around the school playground or something, you’d instantly be cheered up,” effuses Harriman.
“He wouldn’t thank me for saying it now, but he was a gentle giant. He made you forget about your worries and just enjoy yourself at the time. There are not many people I have bumped into in my life since then who have had that power that he had to make you feel so warm and so loved.”
Harriman says Kiyan will never stop having an influence on his life. His first professional goal in January 2014 was dedicated to him and, after winning the 2019/20 League Two Play-off Final with Northampton Town, he looked up to the skies and thought about Kiyan watching down and celebrating with him as they’d both spoken about playing at Wembley one day. Even in quieter moments, Harriman and his wife, who also went to school with Kiyan, will crack a smile thinking of him.
Dr Prince remembers a knack of speaking beyond his years. “He came out with things where you look at him and think, ‘who is this guy?’ He had in-depth, discerning words where you’re like, are you 15 or what mate? He was my son and my friend.
“You’d get all distressed about stuff. You’d get all excited about stuff. But Kiyan’s calm. Everyone’s getting loud. Kiyan’s calm. If there’s one word that wraps him up, it’s ‘calm’.”
The crucial aspect of that last sentiment is that it was ultimately Kiyan who helped Dr Prince out of a spiral of anger and desire for revenge against his son’s killer. The power and responsibility he bestowed unto his son returning full circle to a grieving father who admits to periods of desperate, inconsolable loss.
“It don’t get any easier,” says Dr Prince. “But you have to speak what it is that you want into existence. I feel drained. But I’ll tell you I’m full of power. I’ll tell you I’m good for this that I’m ready for this. Because it’ll become your reality. Take what you’ve been given and use it.”
It will never get so hard that Dr Prince will stop talking about Kiyan’s story. Thus, the importance of the number 30 shirt and EA Sports’ work ensures that by boosting Kiyan’s legacy, the burden of grief will also be shouldered, if only a small part of it.
“I used to tell him your life is like an empty page, and you fill in what it is you want to experience,” says Dr Prince. “What you want to become, what you want to do – it’s down to you. And he took that to heart and was destined to become this great man.”
The sadness remains as raw 15 years on. Football was robbed of a star and, perhaps more importantly, society was robbed of a wise, kind, and considerate soul. But it is of some comfort to know that though Kiyan was unable to fill out his own page, plenty is still being written in his name. And that page is only getting fuller.
Members of the public who want to support the campaign can donate to the Kiyan Prince Foundation by texting KPF (then the amount) to 70490. For more information please visit: https://www.thekpf.com/.