Sunday, February 3, 2013 (Day 25)
I was absolutely in pieces when I got home from coaching and playing football yesterday with Real Stars FC. It was probably 35 degrees when we played and when I got home I could barely eat my dinner. I must have drunk five bags of packet water before bed. And so I am thanking my lucky stars that I can have my first long lie in today; with the girls absent and Sunday being Famarta’s day off from the kitchen. I get up most mornings at 6.45 so back to bed with a cup of tea at nine o’clock seems positively sloth-like.
Sadly, Area Best got knocked out of the regional play offs on damn penalties. Had they won the shoot-out, they would have travelled down to Freetown next week for the play off final and the right to play in the Sierra Leone Premier League next season. The differences between success and failure in football are often so fine: a whole season and a club’s future decided by one footballer hitting the outside rather than the inside of the post in a penalty shoot-out. The same applies to some of the young lads I’ve seen playing in the Makeni league. Are all the lads at the academy in Tombo so much better than them? Possibly not. It often depends upon how you played the day the scouts came to watch you perform. A couple of the boys from Real Stars under 12s would definitely get into my academy team.
In the late afternoon, I meet up with all of the coordinators from the CBF to brainstorm some ideas for the upcoming community projects. The subjects are: Child & universal rights (February); Women & disability (March); Health (April); Sanitation & hygiene (May); Environment & ecology (June). After an hour or two of discussion and debate there is just time for me to catch some of the day’s second African Nations quarter final between Togo and Burkina Faso. Nigeria knocked out tournament hosts Ivory Coast earlier in the day. Drogba and his boys looked pretty laboured throughout the tournament and certainly would not have deserved to make the final four.
Dusk settles as I walk home along the Azzolini Highway; lorries coughing out diesel fumes as they pass; motor bikes beeping to warn pedestrians not to step out into the road; acrid smoke filling the air along one section of tarmac as locals burn plastic cartons and bags on a compost heap. Makeni is quite a spectacle at this time of the day. I feel like the bit part in an award-winning foreign film, praised for its stunning cinematography and realism. Ladies carry huge weights on their heads; other local women sit by the roadside trying to sell bunches of bananas and sweet potatoes. Human traffic is moving in every direction; mechanical traffic is moving in every direction. It is quite a scene.
Saturday, February 2, 2013 (Day 24)
The coach of Real Stars, Mohamed A Kamara, invited me down to do a guest coaching session with the boys, which I really enjoyed. Real Stars are one of the four teams in the Craig Bellamy Foundation league that don’t currently have a sponsor for this season. For approximately £1000 (1200 euro; $1600), 40 boys could be sent to school for 12 months and the costs of the under 12 & 14 teams (including kit, first air, water etc.) could be covered for the same period, including their participation in homework clubs and community projects.
For those of you who know More Than a Game and regularly follow the blog I ask that you might make a contribution to help this website raise enough money for Real Stars FC’s boys, or indeed any of the other three teams in Makeni who do not currently have sponsors, to go to school for one year.
More Than a Game has created: ‘The More Than a Game Sierra Leone Appeal’. If you are willing to contribute towards the boys and the girls (a girls’ league begins in March) then please click on the link below which will redirect you to More Than a Game’s fundraising link on the GivenGain website.
The money raised goes straight into the Craig Bellamy Foundation bank account and will enable 40 children to go to school for a year; to become involved in community projects and homework clubs; and it will also enable them to play football in this fantastic league for one season, with some of the cash going towards paying the coaches, buying kit and first aid kits and providing water on match days and training days.
Effectively if you give £25 or 30 euro or $40 you will guarantee one child all of the above for a year. The football is a huge part of the kids’ lives but it is the provision of education which is most important. Thank you for any help you can give.
Donate to the More Than a Game Sierra Leone appeal
Saturday, February 2, 2013 (Day 24)
I look like Peter Reid at the 1986 World Cup, running in slow motion trying to keep up with Diego Maradona. The left-sided midfielder from Real Stars under 14s has just nutmegged me and absolutely done me for pace. I chase after him in the scorching sun but with every yard I run he seems to sprint two. I can’t remember any player ever making such a clown out of me in the 36 years I have been playing competitive football.
At least I regain some pride by scoring a couple of goals for the under 12s; easily one of the best football teams I have ever played with in those 36 years I mentioned. These boys might only be 11 years old but the way they control the ball on the gravel pitch, turn and spread play is a joy to watch. This is how you play football! Passing and movement; switching play. Aside from the physical limitations of their age, the players of Real Stars under 12s are – dare I say it – a more competent bunch of footballers than my own senior team – Riga United FC – back in Latvia.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.