While growing up in Islington, Karim Kerbouche discovered a passion for ice hockey after a friend gave him a Sega Mega Drive game – and, after watching his first live match at the age of 12, he was totally hooked.
More than two decades later, Kerbouche has gone on to become head of Hockey Algeria, leading the country’s first ever representative team to a creditable third-place finish in the inaugural African Club Cup this year.
To achieve that, the 34-year-old had to return to the computer for an extensive internet search to locate fellow players of Algerian origin in Europe and North America.
Kerbouche, who attended Central Foundation School, recalled: “I love football but I wasn’t that good at it and, once I found ice hockey, I left all the other sports behind.
“On my 12th birthday my mum took me to see Lee Valley Lions and I fell in love with the sport straight away – the speed, the physicality and the toughness of it.
“I went on to play for Haringey Wolves’ junior side and studied sport and leisure at college, but I always wondered if there could be an ice hockey team in Algeria.
“I started searching for other players of Algerian origin, going through stats on French websites and emailing teams to contact people who had Algerian-sounding names.
“It turned out that there were quite a few players in France as well as Canada and it seemed many of them felt the same, but no-one had taken the initiative.”
In 2008, Kerbouche managed to obtain funding for his newly-formed team to represent Algeria at an Arab Cup tournament in Abu Dhabi and scored their first ever goal, against Morocco.
He went on to play as a forward for Lee Valley Lions and Streatham Redskins in the English National Ice Hockey League – as well as working for leisure provider GLL at Streatham ice rink.
At that same time, Kerbouche continued his determined efforts to spread the growth of the sport in his parents’ homeland – quite a challenge with only one permanent ice rink and minimal government backing.
“The rink is in a mall and it’s not Olympic size – it’s only really suitable for ice skating and kids’ games,” explained Kerbouche, who now works in Poplar. “To be honest, some people in Algeria think it’s a bit of a joke.
“It’s difficult to get sponsorship – we do usually find it but it’s usually a last-minute thing. For the recent African Club Cup in Morocco we had someone sponsor our uniforms about three or four weeks beforehand.
“There is money in Algerian sport but it goes mostly towards football – especially as we’ve been in the last two World Cups and have quite a few players in the Premier League, like Riyad Mahrez.
“With that said, we do get support from the public – on Facebook we’ve got 120,000 followers and more than 6,000 on Twitter.
“Kids in Algeria are skating on roller blades so I think the potential is there and I’d love to bring in a new activity for them. When I was a kid, the biggest issues were the cost of equipment and ice time and those will be the same issues we have to deal with in Algeria.”
Kerbouche and his team-mates, who competed under the label of Algiers Corsaires for their third-place finish at the African Club Cup, are aiming to build on that by winning next year’s tournament.
He added: “It was all a bit rushed in terms of getting players together, with people booking their tickets the week before the tournament, but we learned a lot from it.
“Next summer it’ll be a big improvement and our objective is to win it.
“We’ve managed to get a $15,000 grant from the NHL for ice hockey in Algeria and that also should help us to get better facilities for the sport.”