Sunday, January 20, 2013 (Day 11)
Despite the 5pm Kick Off it is still roasting up at the Makeni stadium ahead of our football match between the Craig Bellamy Foundation coaches and staff. I am playing centre-forward for the staff against a coaches' backline which is mostly made up of police and army men. It is only five minutes in to the match that I realise that I need to walk around rather than jog when the ball is nowhere close, otherwise I might collapse through heat exhaustion before too long.
In the warm up these lads looked like the most fit and skilful bunch of players I have ever stepped onto a football pitch with but once the game gets going I realise that the style of play is mostly individual flair and much less team work. Playing up front with Alex I balloon an early effort from the edge of the box so high and wide that I hear a couple of the kids watching the match laughing aloud. It makes me feel like a bit of a clown.
The first half turns into a goal feast and we go in at the break trailing the coaches 3-4. There are probably around 150 spectators watching the match and if it wasn't for the fact that Manchester United are playing Spurs live on TV at the same time, we might have had 500 in here watching us. You have to laugh.
I was expecting to be a spent force in the second half but I actually seem to be fitter than a lot of the lads and finally manage to get my Sierra Leone goal scoring account off the mark. It is Bob who crosses deep from the left and I steal in at the far post and volley the ball into the top of the net. Scoring a goal in a stadium in Sierra Leone - it is a great feeling. One to tell the Grandkids as they say.
I am struck by how fast some of the lads are. I like to drop out onto the flanks where there is lots of open space. On two occasions I buy myself more than 20 yards of open grass but the defenders are so fast that they close me down in a couple of seconds and force me to pass the ball to teammates rather than suicidally trying to dribble past them.
As the sun begins to set some of the boys are completely knackered and lots of mistakes are being made. In the final moments I cross long from the right wing and Bob comes racing in at the back post to equalise with an excellent volley that is the goal of the match and makes it 7-7. An elderly gentleman behind the goal tells me: "Excellent cross; very good quality football sir,"
I am buzzing from playing at the Makeni stadium if not a little frustrated by the style of football at times. I love players expressing themselves but I also like footballers doing the basics and making the simple pass when it is available. A couple of the lads suggest we settle the match with penalties but I insist we pencil in a rematch before I leave Sierra Leone.
Walking home instead of the locals shouting out 'Oporto!' (white man), many of them now shout 'Bellamy!' This is my high point since I have been here, strolling back through my suburb, feeling like it is my home and that I am now accepted by many of the locals. I buy a couple of cold beers from my usual kiosk and stop off at the football cinema for the second half of Mali v Niger which is settled with a goal from Keita.
Predictably enough I cannot sleep for ages as I replay my goal over and over again in my head and fantasize about a cameo performance in the Sierra Leone Premier League.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.