Tuesday, January 15, 2013 (Day 6)
Northampton Town have built a massive new stand for their Sixfields stadium, which easily dwarfs the main stand at Old Trafford, but those of us present at their League Two match are incredulous to the fact that you cannot see most of the pitch from up here where the opponent's goal is blocked by scaffolding. The stand is also covered by a foot of snow. It started blizzarding a few minutes ago and it hasn't stopped. I glance around me and find Barack Obama, who has slipped over in the snow and is in danger of being marooned in Northampton's top tier, pull him up and tell him he should move his arse or he will miss the rest of the match. And, just then, I hear the Imam (Alasand's dad as it turns out) make the call to prayer and I realise I am not in a snowbound Northampton with the warmongering US president but inside a mosquito net in northern Sierra Leone where it is 5am and 28 degrees. Some of the dreams I have had since I started taking the antimalarial Larium have been unbelievably vivid and silly.
Last night's panic has subsided. I hear Kate showering, Ben running in and out of the toilet (with a bad case of the runs) and Famarta (who will cook us two meals per day during our time here) bring in the breakfast. There is a brief cool breeze at around six which has me cranking my neck towards the window and trying to suck the air into the room.
Makeni Alex picks me up and walks me to one of the coordinator's houses where I meet Alimamy, Esther, Aminata and Abu. We introduce ourselves and I ask them to ask me a few questions so that they can get to know me better. It is also an interesting tactic for better understanding the psychology of the locals. In some countries nobody would ever ask you a direct question in this situation. Esther goes straight in, all guns blazing, and asks me why I won't use the ocada riders to travel around town. I tell her I don't want to ride around on the back of motorbikes, without a helmet, on dangerous potholed tracks. If I have an accident the insurance wouldn't cover me and, more importantly, I don't want to take the risk. It is going to be a pain in the arse for everybody, but they are going to have to walk everywhere with me for the next six weeks.
The next question is 'Why have you come to Sierra Leone to work?' And 'What are you going to do here?' Clearly the locals have no problem in being straight and upfront. I like that. I tell them I have no wife, kids, mortgage or full-time job and I just felt that this was a good opportunity to break away from my life in Europe and to try to do something that might help a few people. It is important for me that those I am working with understand that I am not here for a holiday and that if I return to Europe without achieving much I will be very disappointed. I also explain to them that I have spent a large sum of money to come here, given up my lovely flat I was renting and lost the best part of three months' income (if you include the upheaval of Christmas). I don't tell them this so that somebody might big me up but because I want them to understand that I am serious about this and want to be treated as such.
Esther, Bob and I leave the others and set off for Every Nation Academy, where we meet the new link teacher i.e. the teacher the CBF will use to communicate directly with between the league and the school. Any footballer who wants to play in the CBF league must regularly attend school. And our unannounced visit is to check up on whether any of the CBF boys at this school are bunking off or not. All of the boys who should be at school are present.
It is also an opportunity for me to introduce myself to the head of the school and to ask him how he feels the school's relationship with the CBF is working. He tells me that he is very happy, particularly as the relationship is allowing him to rebrand his school as an educational establishment that promotes sport.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.