Tuesday, January 22, 2013 (Day 13)
I am stood in a circle holding hands with the two men either side of me. The coach is saying prayers.
"Now our guest Justin will lead the coaching."
This is a terrible misunderstanding. I asked Moses on Sunday whether I could join his team for training this morning. He asked the head coach of the team who kindly agreed to my participation. Something has been lost in translation and instead of having a kick about with this team; they think I am here to 'guest' coach them.
I can coach football but let's get this in perspective: this team has qualified for the Sierra Leone Premier League play offs. Next week, if they win their regional play-off match, they will qualify for the play off finals in Freetown. They will probably get 20,000 people watching if they qualify. And, if they win that, they will play next season in the Sierra Leone Premier League. These boys train two to three hours per day, every day. So, you see, the idea of me coaching this bunch of lads is rather absurd.
It is 7.30am and barely light. I join the squad for circuits of the full pitch; the pace being stepped up a notch with every lap. After completing three full circuits I (conveniently) drop out and talk to the manager. It has occurred to me that if I don't do any coaching drills he might lose face after introducing me as he did. And so I organise some drills and small-sided games. Thank God, it all runs smoothly and I avoid ending up looking like a clown. Better still though, I get to join in the small-sided games. The funny thing about football, I have always found, is that the standard of my game drops or improves depending upon the quality of the players around me. This is case in point. I should be well out of my depth here and yet I find myself scoring two decent goals in the kick about and more than holding my own against the tough tackling defenders who are marking me. These boys are quicker and in far better physical condition than I have ever been but I make up for some of these deficits by using my head. I can sense that one of the defenders is expecting me to do the obvious things each time I have the ball. He is assuming I am well past my sell-by-date. I make sure I remain poker faced after turning him inside out and leaving him on his arse. I cannot explain how much pleasure that gave me.
"You fine training wiv us. Plenty running." One of the lads tells me as I sit on the side line, dripping with sweat (panting), watching the lads finish up with an 11-aside match. I appreciate him telling me that.
Time has flown. It is now 9.20. Better get myself to the office.
Yes, of course I am buzzing as I 'skip' to work. I am 42 and I have just trained with an African second division league team.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a two-month voluntary placement in January 2013.