LONDON -- Elton John is backing an appeal by Watford midfielder Alhassan Bangura against the British government's decision to deport him.
The 19-year-old Bangura was denied permission to stay in Britain this week after an asylum and immigration tribunal ruled that he exaggerated the risk to his life if he returned to Sierra Leone.
Bangura has appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, while rock star John -- honorary life chairman of Watford -- has written to Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe to express his support for the midfielder.
"I am just praying every night that the Home Secretary will review this and allow me to stay because, inside of me, I know I'm supposed to be here," Bangura said. "I would love to be a citizen here. If I was given the chance to be British, I would take it with both hands."
England's Professional Footballers' Association is also backing Bangura, who said he fled Freetown, Sierra Leone, four years ago after members of a secret society -- which his late father had led -- threatened to kill him because he would not take part in rituals, including mutilation.
Watford, which leads England's League Championship, has insisted that deportation to Sierra Leone could end Bangura's career as a professional soccer player since it would be unlikely he'd get a work permit to return to Britain.
"We're using all of our contacts and trying to drum up support," Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd said Friday. "In the end, we hope that common sense prevails and that Al's allowed to stay."
The immigration tribunal rejected Bangura's request to stay on Tuesday, saying that he had given differing accounts of how he arrived in Britain, a journey he said went from Guinea to Paris to London.
Bangura was reportedly smuggled into Europe at age 16 by human traffickers.
Bangura was taken to an immigration center and a Watford scout recommended him to the club after seeing him play in a public park.
Bangura has become a regular squad member at Watford and is contracted until the end of next season, but has not played since August because of a broken elbow and an ankle injury.
If deported, he would leave behind his girlfriend and son.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press