Tuesday, June 25, 2013
We did it!!!
One June 22 our Sierra Leone appeal hit our £1000 target, two days ahead of the closing date for donations. This means that we are delighted to say we will be able to send the 40 boys from Sektars Football Club, based in Makeni, to school for one year and also provide them with football coaching and matches for the same period.
Our More Than a Game Sierra Leone appeal was started after volunteering and working together with the Craig Bellamy Foundation and the Collective Sierra Leone in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone. We felt that we needed to do more to help the people of Sierra Leone and, after volunteering in west Africa for two months, decided this appeal was the answer. We want to thank everybody who donated their hard-earned cash to this appeal:
And so, a million thank yous go out to:
Paul Featherstone, Laurent Dathie, Footbaltic, Graham Williams, Kelvin Hooke, Josu Samaniego del Campo, Alexandra Flemming, Gordon Hamilton, Jaime Morris, Ed Russel, Jane Pannell, Atheen Spencer, Shaun Gisbourne, Erika Medene, Rupert Williams, Maureen Robinson, Bernadette Samuels, Neil Mathieson, Alan Davies, John Mottram, Graham Foster, Lindsey Langford, and Michael Finch.
Without all of you, we could not have achieved this. Your efforts will improve the quality of life of a lot of little boys in west Africa.
Monday, April 1, 2013
More Than a Game will sponsor Sektars FC for the next 12 months. Agreement has been reached with the Craig Bellamy Foundation to sponsor the Sektars FC under-12s and under-14s. Sektars FC play in the Makeni league in Sierra Leone.
Here is a description of the club as featured on the Craig Bellamy Foundation website:
Sektars FC are a product of two young men from two rival communities, whose friendship surpassed the differences between the two areas. Their dream was always to set up a football club that would unite the two communities and help people move past their differences. Sadly one of the young men would lose his life in the civil war but in tribute his friend became ever more determined to fulfill their shared dream. In 2005, this was achieved with the formation of Sektars FC.
To date we have collected £655. We need to reach a target of £1000. This will send the 40 boys playing for Sektars FC under-12s and under-14s to school for one year and will also pay for their participation in the league, regular coaching, equipment, water etc.
If you would like to help the boys of Sektars FC, then please follow the link below:
Support Sektars FC in 2013.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 (Day 42)
Text message from Bob:
"On behalf of all the CBF Makeni team I wish you a safe journey as we appreciate all your effort and that God will crown your efforts and grant you more prosperity. I am proud of you. This is a sad moment."
Alex meets me at the bus stop for a drink and to see me off to Freetown. I have loved the company of Alex and Bob. We have had such a good laugh and they have been bloody good company throughout my time in Makeni. It certainly wouldn't have been the same without them and I will miss them in the months and years to come.
I was up at 7, packing the last of my stuff and saying my goodbyes to Alsand, Famarta, Kate and Esthere. I think Charlotte and Kate will be breathing a big sigh of relief now that I have gone. I am pretty sure that Charlotte sneaked out the door this morning so she didn't need to go through the pretence of wishing me goodbye. I will certainly miss Alsand; a lovely young man who I hope gets the chance to achieve the things he wants to in life. I give him my Euro '96 England shirt to remember me by when I am gone.
The government bus to Freetown is full but, not one to give up easily, I ask the driver if I can pay and sit on a bag of rice on the floor. And just like that with Alex waving farewell and Makeni flashing by the window this chapter of my life is closed. Goodbye Makeni. I hope you prosper and are kind to all your people.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 (Day 41)
I knock out some match reports and an interview for CBF headquarters, post half a dozen blogs and smile as I see that my mum and sister as well as my good friend Neil Mathieson have all donated to my Sierra Leone fund.
They have only gone and double booked the pitch again and so there is to be no send off match for me tonight. I am gutted. I fancied a hat trick tonight and all joking aside it was my chance to say goodbye to two dozen friends most of whom I won't get the chance to see now before I leave tomorrow.
Bob can see I am itching for a game of football on my last night in Makeni and suggests I ask African Minerals if I can join their training session. This is the richest club in the region with big ambitions for the Premier League in coming seasons. I have never had the nerve to ask them if I can join them but as this is my last evening I pluck up the courage.
Five minutes later I am labouring through ten back-to-back shuttle runs from the goal line to the edge of the penalty box. That is basically 360 metres of sprinting. I feel relieved to complete the sprints without having a heart attack or being left two shuttles behind.
"Now sprint as fast as you can between the six yard box and the goal line"
These shuttles seems to go on forever and I feel like my lungs are going to explode.
Only half of the squad is here tonight as the other lads have been excused and are en route to some of the several dozen football cinemas in town for Arsenal v Bayern Munich.
We end up playing an 8-a-side match at the 'stadium of light'. The standard is high and the fitness levels even higher. Football is like an art form with these lads and when I find myself as the last defender against two oncoming forwards I blast the ball up pitch to clear the danger. "Have it!"
"Why you do that?" one lad asks me gesticulating that I could have instead controlled the ball, flicked it over one of the lads, shimmied the other and chipped the ball to him twenty yards away.
The session is hugely enjoyable. "See you tomorrow; the same time" the coach tells me, patting me on the back.
"I'd love to but I'm leaving tomorrow. I fly to England on Friday."
"Well as soon as you get back from your trip home come down here and join us again."
Oh, no. I am gutted. If only I'd asked to train with these lads six weeks ago; I could have played every evening under the lights with this classy outfit.
I grab a team photo with the African Minerals lads and leave Wusum field for the final time, strolling some of the way with John, a young talented footballer who plays in the Craig Bellamy Foundation league. John is one of the best young talents in Makeni but sadly missed out on a place at the academy at Tombo despite being invited to the trials. John is naturally two-footed and has the class and composure of a seasoned veteran. He is also a leader off the pitch: I remember a stirring performance by him in one of the anti-violence community projects in January.
"Just keep playing the way you do with both feet and make sure you continue enjoying your football. I think you are a very talented player John. Just keep believing in yourself.
"Thank you Justin. I hope you return to Makeni one day."
At Yeane's it seems like half of the male population of Makeni is watching Arsenal (the best supported team in the city) stutter and fall apart against Bayern. It is impossible to get inside the bar so I sit on the gravel outside in my football kit, with a cold Star, taking in the scene. It is one of those goose bump moments: witnessing the pleasure that the game of football gives to Africans. There must be fifty of us sat in the street peering in at the TV; many of them little boys who sadly spend their lives hawking groundnuts, cigarettes and packet water instead of going to school; boys who are united and equal with the rest of us for a few minutes in their love of the game of football. Twenty yards further on the scene is the same at Suburban bar. I am going to miss this. Watching Sky Sports down the pub in England is never going to feel quite the same again.
Friday, February 15, 2013 (Day 37)
I cannot wait to see my girlfriend. It will have been 70 days since I last saw her when we meet in Tirana next Saturday. Far too long and one of the reasons I have often felt home sick here, despite hugely enjoying much of my time in Sierra Leone.
We couldn’t get the go ahead from the education ministry in time for today’s homework club at SLMB school so I decide to take advantage of the couple of free hours I didn’t expect to have by beginning my packing and cleaning out my bedroom at the house.
I don’t know why it is the case but today has been shocking for people asking me for money. On the whole kids only occasionally ask you for food. Maybe one kid in an entire day asks you to help them with cash. This Friday I must have been asked by more than a dozen kids as well as three adults. As much as I’d like to slip these kids a few leones it just isn’t appropriate. If I give them money then they might think it is the norm to ask foreigners for financial help and end up begging on a regular basis. This can’t be allowed to happen.
Today I set up my More Than a Game fundraising appeal on GivenGain. The target is to raise £1000; enough to send 40 kids to school for a year and guarantee one under 12s and that same team’s under 14s side football for a whole season. In other words, every person who donates £25 is sponsoring one child for an entire year. I am determined to raise this cash in the next 90 days and I hope some of you who follow this blog will follow the link below and consider donating something to help these Sierra Leonean school kids improve the quality of their lives and give them the education that will enable them to build a future for themselves.
Read about the More Than a Game Sierra Leone Appeal here
Friday, February 15, 2013 (Day 37)
It kicked off last night with my housemates. It was inevitable really. It is lucky the girls are off down south to the beaches for a couple of days otherwise the atmosphere would suffocate all three of us today. I say inevitable because putting a bunch of strangers together in a foreign land in sometimes testing circumstances is bound to reach snapping point at some stage, particularly if a bloke aged forty two lives with two girls in their early twenties.
The row started because the girls did not lock the house the other night. You wouldn't leave your front door open in England so I am not sure why you might think it ok to do it here in Sierra Leone. I was furious when I got up in the morning and found the front door unlocked and unbolted. Any Tom, Dick or Alimamy could have wandered into the house.
The subject is discussed in the evening and predictably leads to mention of other multiple irritations in our cohabitation. It is pretty apparent that my house mates will breath a sigh of relief when I depart Makeni next week. As nice as the girls are I will also be pleased to get out of their hair.
I try to change the subject to: 'Did you hear about the meteorite impact in the Urals? What would you do if they suddenly announced that that massive asteroid passing close to the earth tonight was due to hit the earth?'
"Don't know, probably go to the beach."
"I'm not sure the taxi drivers would fancy running you down to the peninsula if the world was about to come to an end. Wouldn't you try to survive? I would climb Wusum Hill and look for some caves."
"When your time is up, it's up." Charlotte remarks in a monotone voice.
Clearly it was time for me to call it a night.
Thursday, February 14, 2013 (Day 36)
Over spicy breakfast omelette baguettes Charlie and I discuss what has been achieved during my time in Sierra Leone with the Collective and the CBF. There have been plenty of frustrations but I feel happy overall with what I have achieved here and can leave satisfied.
I will be the last Collective volunteer to work with the CBF. After my departure the CBF will use their own volunteer to fully manage Makeni. The Collective, meanwhile, will continue to place overseas volunteers with NGOs across Sierra Leone who are looking to improve the lives of the people here and to boost the economy and the quality of life in this developing country. They are doing some very very good work here.
I made the mistake of telling too many people about the good quality free Wi-Fi at MJ Motel and increasingly other NGO volunteers pop in here, for the odd hour or two, to get vital work done that they might struggle with on the usual slower connections. Predictably, as a result, the hotel now wants non-guests to pay per hour for Wi-Fi. It works out at about two Star beers per hour in terms of leones. I leave next week so I just thank my lucky stars I had this place all to myself for the last couple of weeks.
It is an absolute scorcher today; the hottest day so far by my reckoning. It feels like it must be 40. Bob and Alex ask me to referee the 4 o’clock match but I purposely swerve them until 4.30 knowing that my body just couldn’t cope with an hour refereeing in this heat. And so instead I find myself broadening my horizons by becoming a linesman for the second inter-school cup match of the day. I have given linesmen a fair bit of stick over the years watching League one and two matches with Northampton Town back in England. Today I have got a bunch of kids giving me hell on the touch line. It is all in good humour but I do sense that linesman karma is coming back to haunt me.
There are a couple of occasions where I am about to flag in one direction or the other for a throw and, for a split second, my mind gets muddled with which way the two teams are kicking. I hope my tenure as a linesman is short lived. I don’t think I am cut out for this.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 (Day 35)
Wusum stadium, Makeni
How the hell did my life reach this point? There’s a mini pitch invasion with around thirty kids going wild all around me: hugging, jumping for joy and rolling around on the football pitch, some of them doing cart wheels. I can’t help roaring aloud. You see I am referee of the match between SLMB and Our Lady Primary School at Makeni Stadium. There are 688 paying spectators in here – more than you often get for Scottish First Division matches - and another three or four hundred kids and adults have swelled the crowd in the second half after the gate people stopped collecting tickets. Yes, I find myself refereeing a Sierra Leonean football match with a crowd of one thousand roaring on the two sides. Brilliant. I am never going to forget this experience.
I think I managed to get through that without any real clangers. SLMB have run out 3-1 winners but I did have to book three of their players in the closing minutes: one for blatant time wasting (pretending he was injured when he wasn’t); the second boy for an awful tackle from behind; and the third yellow for one of the players in the wall running at the Our Lady free kick taker and deflecting the ball away. As the floodlights are switched on, I remind their captain that the game is already won and if any of the boys are red carded they will miss the next couple of matches in the tournament.
I enjoyed that but I am glad it is out of the way. I feared making some terribly bad decision that ended up breaking the hearts of several hundred school kids and being ever remembered in Makeni as ‘Justin the refereeing clown’.
Leaving 'the stadium of light', the high-five and shaking hands count must stretch into the hundreds on my walk home. I have also made friends with a group of young boys who are all holding on to me with dear life and don’t want me to leave them.
“Well done Sir! Good, fair performance!” One passing gentleman tells me. What a day!
Back at the house, I lie on the floor of the veranda chatting to Charlie, who has come up from Freetown to visit his Collective volunteers and bring the cash for rent and meals. I feel exhausted from my amazing day: national radio, meetings, coaching and refereeing.
Cheers and roars are coming from every corner of the pitch dark bush.
“Seems like United have just taken the lead against Real Madrid”
Charlie checks his phone and yes Welbeck has put United 1-0 up; thousands of football fans all over Makeni celebrating in unison as they watch the match at the dozens and dozens of football cinemas across the city.
The Real Madrid equalizer is a whimper in comparison but is still audible across the bush. A fitting end to a remarkable day.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 (Day 35)
It is a jam-packed day. The CBF HQ people have driven all the way up from Freetown and I get the opportunity to present my report detailing my observations and recommendations from my time with the Craig Bellamy Foundation League in Makeni. All four of the overseas staff read through my report and tell me that they agree with most of my points raised. Let’s hope that the CEO of the CBF in Tombo will now action some of those recommendations, which I believe will lead to the league running even better than it does now.
There is also the opportunity for me to observe the CBF’s coach give an excellent hour-long coaching presentation to a half dozen of the Makeni coaches about ball possession. I believe that you are forever learning as a football coach. There are always new skills and ideas to be picked up from watching other coaches working. I think that applies to somebody like me, with a couple of seasons coaching experience, or even the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, with decades of football at the very highest level.
Afterwards, the coach kindly joins me as the two of us present a refereeing workshop to the local league’s referees. From what I have seen of the guys, they are excellent in general but we just need to brush up on some small interpretations of the game and some of the latest changes to the rules of the game by FIFA over the last year or two. Coloured cones represent attackers, midfielders and defenders as we work through various possible match day scenarios and what the referee should do in each situation.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 (Day 35)
I am live across Sierra Leone on national radio. This is one of those nice head spins you will always remember and occasionally chuckle to yourself about in the years to come.
Alex and I have joined a gentleman from the education ministry and a football journalist for an hour-long chat show and phone in on Radio Maria which is going out live across Makeni, Bo, Kenema and the capital city.
We are here to plug the inter-primary school cup and the work of the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Makeni and across the nation. We go on air in the station’s sound-proofed recording studio at 8.30am and I get my first question from the programme’s host fifteen minutes in. Alex has prompted me that my first question will simply be about why I have chosen to work in Sierra Leone so when the host asks: “Please Justin, tell us about the relationship between the Craig Bellamy Foundation and Makeni.” My mind goes blank with panic for a second. Like a politician I find myself buying time with a few fluffy sentences while I get my head together and actually answer the question. Once that panic has passed I manage to get my game together for the remainder of the hour-long show.
Actually, I am enjoying this. As well as being incredibly surreal it is also rather good fun. One caller phones in to discuss the Sierra Leone Premier League play off finals; while another caller asks what we think the starting line-ups will be for tonight’s Real Madrid versus Manchester United match. We discuss the merits of promoting education through football as well as the pitfalls and frustrations of scouting young players for academy football.
“Hello to Justin and Alex from the twin sisters in New London” is one of the text messages read out on air. I just know that is Bob trying to make Alex and I laugh.
The programme ends with our individual predictions for tonight’s Champions League matches. There is indignation and laughter that an Englishman could possibly think Real Madrid will beat Man U.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a two-month voluntary placement in January 2013.