From World Cup to London buses: Former Nigerian international Rachael Aladi Ayegba now drives the 185


HERE is a national shortage of bus drivers that is forcing people into cars and clogging up the roads, the industry warns.

Help to ease this crisis comes from an unlikely source: the former goalkeeper of the Nigerian national football team.

Rachael Aladi Ayegba played in the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the 2006 and 2008 African Women’s Championships and had an 11-year stint as a pro in Finland, winning the league title in 2013 with PK-35 Vantaa.

Now she drives the number 185 between Lewisham and Victoria. She is in the middle of a year’s training.

Ayegba, 35, says she had visited London for years on holiday and always admired the double decker buses. She moved here three years ago.

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She reckons driving a bus and playing in goal have a lot in common. It’s about safety first, about not making a mistake.

The bus driving is harder.

“When you are trying to save the ball, you need safe hands. But there are ten others on your side,” she said. “When you drive a bus, you are on your own.”

In goal, the whole game is in front of you. Driving a bus, at least half the things that could go wrong are behind you or otherwise out of vision.

“Mentally you have to be 100% ready, if you are a goalkeeper the defenders can help you. You can’t make any mistakes driving a bus.”

She works for Go-Ahead, the bus and train giant that operates about a fifth of the capital’s buses on behalf of TfL.

Go-Ahead’s apprenticeship programme lasts 53 weeks, a mix of classroom work and being on the road.

The Confederation for Passenger Transport reckons there is a shortage of more than 6500 bus and coach drivers nationwide.

Go Ahead is doing its bit — it takes on 700 apprentices a year. Of those 68% are BAME while 16% are female, a figure the company says it is trying hard to increase.

Perhaps bus drivers just don’t get enough respect?

“They don’t. I think we just see a bus driver as a nobody,” says Ayegba. “I see them more like a pilot, if anything goes wrong, it’s on them. Now I’ve done the training, the people I respect most, after my family, are the drivers.”

Bus drivers pay starts at £26,000 and rises to more than £31,000.

That’s a far cry from playing for Nigeria’s Super Falcons in the World Cup, but Ayegba doesn’t regret a thing.

Ayegba, whose favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo, doesn’t play football anymore, though she has coaching licences. “I am old. You have to know when to stop,” she says.