Now that the other Craig Bellamy Foundation league teams have got wind that I have been guest coaching, it has been requested that I do a session at each and every one of the fourteen teams. How could I possibly say no? And so, after meeting at Bob’s house near Banana Junction, the two of us walk a good couple of miles until we reach Sektars’ training pitch. There is no sign of the lads. “There is a possibility that they are training at a second pitch.”
Thirty minutes later, having strolled along a rural country road, cut through friendly residential areas, and then carefully negotiated our way across two polluted streams, care of half a dozen sturdy tree branches and some industrial metal pipes; we reach the second pitch where the boys are busily training. Sektars Ropolon FC are easily the friendliest boys’ team I have so far encountered during my time in Sierra Leone. A good half dozen of the boys run over and shake hands, and two of the boys even thank me for showing up.
Coach Lilson tells me a little about the history of the club:
“During the civil war there was rivalry over a particular piece of land. There was a lot of fighting between the two local communities over this land. A good school friend of mine lived in the other community and we decided to try and heal the conflict by bringing the boys from the two communities together in one football team. And so we formed Sektars Ropolon Football Club.”
“Where is your friend now?” I ask coach Lilson.
“Sadly he died in the war,” he tells me, his eyes welling up with tears. I struggle to keep the tears back myself as I listen to this gracious man and witness the pain in his eyes.
The coaching session is really good fun and I am very impressed by the ability levels of the boys in the defenders & defensive midfielders versus attackers & attacking midfielders drill we practice. The coach is doing an excellent job with these lads. The stand out player though is the goalkeeper – Alimamy Tarawalie - who is by far the best number one I have seen during my time in the country. This lad knows all his angles, is brave, smart and is able to pull off some seemingly impossible saves. I hope Tom and the other members of coaching staff at the CBF academy get the opportunity to see this boy play because, on the evidence of this afternoon, he is a little bit special (I even get a photo with him afterwards - see above). I must admit to feeling a little sad leaving the Sektars boys and their coach and heading off for another rather long ‘waka’ to the next pitch and the next coaching session.
Starman FC must have close to 30 boys present at training at a huge dusty field on the edge of Makeni. I agree with their young coach, Mister Ibrahim Rogers that we will finish his coaching session with a small 7-a-side tournament as the boys look keen for some matches before the sun sets.
For the second time in a couple of days I am made to feel like I am 100 years old in footballing terms by a couple of 14 year old boys. They are so damn fast and so clever with their repertoire of step-overs and drag-backs that they leave me mesmerised on a couple of occasions and the ball is up the other end of the pitch before I know it. I don’t know how and when I did it but I have picked up an injury. I can’t feel it when I walk but as soon as I run or kick a ball a surge of pain goes through both my right ankle and my knee. Maybe it is just old age. This evening, as the huge orange sun dips below the palm trees at 7pm in West Africa, I am starting to feel like the sun is also beginning to set on my own football playing days.
One of the Starman 7-a-side teams ends up winning most of their matches and staying on as winners. Their centre forward has scored all of his teams goals and is a quality player but the real secret behind his team’s success is their sensational central midfielder, whose name I sadly did not catch. This lad is only 14 but he looks like a man in miniature. He is perfectly toned and ripped and runs around the pitch with a centre of balance that is difficult to comprehend. This boy is a natural footballer and his unselfish decision making also makes him stand out above the rest present. He controls the ball on a sixpence; distributes high and long on his right foot; flicks the ball cleverly with his left and then runs into acres of space. I am slightly ashamed to admit it, but when the two of us compete for a loose ball at one point, the young midfield maestro easily wins a 50-50 challenge with me, despite the decades of experience I have over him, the foot in height advantage, the 30 kilos weight differential and…I am wearing a pair of Adidas Sambas and he is in bare feet! I rest my case.
It is dark when I get home and for not the first time after playing football recently I find I have almost no appetite for food. With the generator once again broken, I sit in the dark with Charlotte and Kate catching up with them after their weekend adventures in Freetown and on the peninsula.