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Join The Little Skills Supporters Club!

I’ve taken on a new project at Craig Bellamy Foundation this week. I realised that as wonderful as it is to tell all my friends and family about the league as a whole, it would be nice for them to have something more personal to be part of. Hence my decision to create a supporters’ club for one of the teams. Thus it has become my responsibility to now raise as much money as possible for Little Skills, who are based in Bo and compete at both U12 and U14 level. This is my invite for you to join the club.

Little Skills U14 in action against Shining Stars.

Little Skills U14 in action against Shining Stars.

Over the last four years, the Craig Bellamy Foundation has been running a youth football league in Sierra Leone – a country better known around the world for it’s bloody civil war and diamond trade. The country is working hard to leave that past behind it, but it still has some way to go. The Craig Bellamy Foundation is aiming to help by using the one thing that unites people the world over: A love of football.

The league is unique; With football in Sierra Leone associated with gang culture and neglect of education, it is built specifically to ensure that its participants engage in their communities and go to school. Points scoring for teams is split equally amongst four categories: Matches, fair play, community projects and school attendance. Simply winning matches will get you nowhere in the CBF league. Points are also awarded for doing so without accruing cards and for demonstrating outstanding examples of fair play.

Beyond match day, the children in the league must attend school in order to achieve points for their team. This has resulted in the CBF league achieving far higher school attendance rates than the rest of the country (over 90% compared to around 20% nationwide). Through individual team sponsorship, the foundation is able to pay the school fees of every child in the league.

The League's unique scoring system.

The League’s unique scoring system.

To complete their points scoring total, teams must engage in community development projects each month. Over the course of the season, they will take part in 6 projects with themes that range from sanitation and hygene to human rights. Education programmes involving dramas or assemblies are particularly popular, whilst some teams go further and engage their community in waste disposal programmes or well sanitation.

The league is a fantastic initiative, particularly in a country that is as football crazy as Sierra Leone. Kids are desperate to be a part of it and with time the league will expand to include them all. This year the focus has been on expanding womens’ access to the game, particularly as coaches.

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The fundraising for my club ‘Little Skills’ has begun. I’m collecting small donations from anyone who wishes to be a part of the supporters’ club. In return you’ll receive monthly updates and regular news on the facebook page here: www.facebook.com/LittleSkills. Please join up and click on the ‘donate’ link at the top of the feed to make a small contribution via paypal. Make sure you leave your email address so that I can send you updates.

A £10 donation will pay for one of the players to attend school in 2013. A £5 donation will pay for the boys’ water on matchdays.

Please give whatever you can and join the club. Then tell all of your friends too!

Thanks,

Ric

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Football, General, Sport, Travel

 

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Trips To Bo And Kenema

My favourite part of my job with the Craig Bellamy Foundation is by far and away my trips out to Bo and Kenema in the south of the country. I spend around eight to ten days there each month, offering support and guidance to the managers, coordinators and coaches who run the league in each of the regions. They offer a chance to spend some time with the local staff, getting to know them and how the foundation forms part of their lives. It also allows me to connect directly with some of the two thousand children in our league. I am able to watch them train, see their matches, visit their schools and see their community projects in action.

Each time I go on one of these trips, I try to take something with me to give out to the staff. My trips are full of requests from coaches for more resources from head office, which we do our best to fulfil. These can sometimes come in the form of equipment such as footballs and first aid kits. Other times I go down to pay them a monthly stipend, which they use to pay for expenses associated with running the team. This time around, I took them the latest addition to the Academy’s coaching staff – Coach Paul Westren. Paul arrived in the country in early January and has spent most of his time at the CBF Academy in Tombo, where he brings a new dimension to the players’ development. As part of the League’s commitment to professional development, I took Paul with me to Bo and Kenema to run a small series of coach education workshops with the staff there.

We set off from Tombo bright and early at seven o’clock for a short stroll down to find a car to Waterloo, where we would find transport to Bo. We were lucky enough to jump straight into the first car in the queue, giving us an early taste of what was to come. You see, a taxi in Sierra Leone is not like it’s European counterparts. Instead it is the equivalent of a small, very cramped bus that makes a reality out of the ‘how many elephants can you fit in a mini?’ joke. The norm is for a five seater car to fit seven people in. That is one driver, four passengers in the back seat and two passengers sharing the front seat. It is in these ‘two’ front seats that Paul and I found ourselves for the first leg of our journey, which took us as far as Waterloo junction.

After a short stroll around Waterloo looking for a poda-poda (minibus) to Bo, we were instead offered spaces in yet another car. Sitting squashed into a small car for a fifteen minute journey is one thing. A three hour journey is quite another, but it was our only option. We therefore jumped into the car and got stuck into a breakfast of Sierra Leonean doughnuts, pleased to be on our way. Then horror struck as the worst possible thing that could befall us on a journey became a reality. A fat woman got into the car. As you can imagine, this reduces the space quite considerably and the fact that she was doing her level best to spread out was certainly not helping. Having lost five kilos in my first five weeks in Africa, it still baffles me as to how these women become obese.

Paul and I spent the next hour and a half getting rather better acquainted with one another than we had hoped. This was made worse by the fact that the driver, in an attempt to maximise profits, had put three passengers in the front seat. That’s eight people in a five seater. The only real incident was at Moyamba junction, around half way, when the car stopped and we were relocated to another. Finally, however, we emerged in Bo with little feeling in our legs and a disturbing blend of eight people’s perspiration on our skin.

Paul coaches the coaches in Bo.

Paul coaches the coaches in Bo.

Our first port of call was a meeting with the Regional Coordinators and Regional Manager in Bo. They have done a fantastic job in January and there have been some brilliant community projects happening across the city. We had the pleasure of visiting two of these projects to see the impact that they had on the community. The first was a role play by the EMF club at a health clinic for breastfeeding mothers. The boys, led by an extremely confident young chap in his CBF t-shirt, explained the importance of hand washing and water hygiene whilst the patients waited to be seen. This was followed by a trip to see a well that had fallen into disrepair, but had been rehabilitated by Welding United. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the boys so thoroughly engaged in such good work, and particularly to chat to the locals about what the well means to them.

Welding United repaired and chlorinated a well for their January community project.

Welding United repaired and chlorinated a well for their January community project.

Paul’s major role on the trip was to run training sessions for coaches in the region. In Bo, he ran sessions with both Welding United and EMF, passing on some great tips to the coaches. His biggest impact, however, was made when he ran a session with all of the coaches and assistant coaches in the region, which he followed up with a detailed question and answer session. The coaches were over the moon. They are all so keen to improve their coaching skills that any training that they get is very warmly received.

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We then went on to Kenema, where we followed much the same pattern. Whilst I met with the Regional Coordinators, Paul ran another excellent workshop for the coaches and assistant coaches in Kenema. We then visited an outstanding community project from Samba FC, who had turned what was a dumping site into a community vegetable garden. Not only will the crop feed some of the community, but the remainder will be sold at market in order to purchase water and matchday supplies for the club. Coach Mohamed Musa showed us around the site and explained all about the project.

Street Football International result: Sierra Leone 2-3 England

Street Football International result: Sierra Leone 2-3 England

My favourite part of this trip was the impromptu game of 2 v 2 street football in which we found ourselves involved. Two young men just outside our hotel were kicking a ball around and before long, a crowd of thirty were watching England tear home with a 3-2 victory against a Sierra Leone side that was not afraid of two footed tackles on tarmac. It was fantastic fun.

Just under two weeks have passed since the trip and I am due to go again. From Thursday I will be in Bo and Kenema again, watching some of the football matches and visiting more community projects. Sadly, it will be my penultimate trip as I am returning to Europe at the beginning of March, ready for another football season with the Helsinki Wolverines

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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Football, General, Sport

 

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in General

 

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Sponsor A Club In The CBF League

The boys are now all registered. The kits have been collected, the referees and coaches trained. The players have been training hard and will continue to do so for two more weeks in anticipation of their opening matches. I would love to add at this point that the boots hve been polished and that the grass has been freshly cut. But in Sierra Leone, that is simply not part of the preparation. There are no grass pitches here; There are only fields of gravel that tear at the skin and bruise the knees.

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One of the public football pitches in Bo.

But we are ready. Each club is well into the planning phase of its first community development project. Over the course of the season they will conduct a total of six such projects each. The clubs in Kenema will spend January focusing on environment and ecology, whilst those in Bo will be educating their community in sanitation and hygene. The recent outbreak in cholera has brought this very close to home for some players.

All of the staff at CBF headquarters and those in the regions around the country have been working very hard towards this point and we’re proud to say that the league is going to be another great success this year. But this is where we reach out and ask you for help. With the pledge to pay for the school fees of over 2000 children comes the responsibility of raising the money to do so. Prepare yourself for a plea…

Craig Bellamy Foundation ‘Sponsor A Club’ Initiative

I think that in previous blog posts (like this one), I’ve spent enough time explaining just how fantastic this league is, so here I will just ask for your help. To support the structure, we are working very hard to have every club in the league sponsored for the 2013 season. You can find out all the information about sponsoring a club here.

Huracan FC in Makeni have once again secured sponsorship of the coming season.

Huracan FC in Makeni have once again secured sponsorship of the coming season.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SPONSORING A TEAM IN THE CBF LEAGUE

I’m not asking each and every one of you to dig your hands into your pockets and cough up £1000. That would be a touch unreasonable, as I know that most of you who read this blog are my friends and therefore as poor as Tiny Tim in July. Instead, I’m asking for a little bit of creative thinking on ways that you could direct £1000 towards a team in the CBF league.

You can do this by forwarding the link on to everyone you know; By asking your boss to read the website; By getting a group of your friends together to throw in a small amount each; By having a non-uniform day at your school; By getting in touch with your local paper and asking them to run a story about your fundraiser; By emailing your local football club; By emailing your local anything club. Just get the scheme out there.

It is a lot to ask, but I think that if enough people spend 5 minutes spreding this plea then eventually it will fall in front of people who are able to help out. The impact that will have will be phenomenal for the kids who it helps. They will have access to education and football, whilst making a real contribution to their communities.

Please, please, please, find a way to help us sponsor these football clubs. It won’t take you long to have an impact.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Football, General, Sport, Travel

 

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A Beginners Guide To CBF

I’m not entirely sure that all of you know exactly what it is that I am doing here in Sierra Leone. I’ve had queries that range from teaching coaches, to playing football with David Bellamy. Neither of these things are particularly accurate, although I’d say that one is slightly closer to the truth than the other. No nature walks for me unfortunately.

I am actually volunteering for a charity called the Craig Bellamy Foundation (CBF), which was founded by the professional footballer following a visit here a few years ago. The foundation was initially launched as a football academy for the country’s elite young footballers to access a quality education whilst training with top coaches. The academy guides players towards careers in football as well as access to education abroad in the form of scholarships. Just a couple of months ago, the first player from the academy to earn a scholarship at a school in the United States jetted off to California and is doing extremely well. Academy players have also spent time at Cardiff and Liverpool academies.

Although I visit the academy from time to time (I may be moving there in the new year), my role is with the CBF league. The league is the mass participation level of the foundation and contains a total of 58 clubs across four regions in the country. The boys clubs contain U12 and U14 teams, whilst girls teams compete at U19. With the league due to start on the 5th January, we are deep into preparing and training staff ready for the opening week of the season.

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I question the eligibility of one team’s new left back.

This sounds straightforward enough. The league, however, is unique; With football in Sierra Leone associated with gang culture and neglect of education, it is built specifically to ensure that its participants engage in their communities and go to school. Points scoring for teams is split equally amongst four categories: Matches, fair play, community projects and school attendance. Simply winning matches will get you nowhere in the CBF league. Points are also awarded for doing so without accruing cards and for demonstrating outstanding examples of fair play.

Beyond match day, the children in the league must attend school in order to achieve points for their team. This has resulted in the CBF league achieving far higher school attendance rates than the rest of the country (over 90% compared to around 20% nationwide). Through individual team sponsorship, the foundation is able to pay the school fees of every child in the league.

To complete their points scoring total, teams must engage in community development projects each month. Over the course of the season, they will take part in 6 projects with themes that range from sanitation and hygene to human rights. Education programmes involving dramas or assemblies are particularly popular, whilst some teams go further and engage their community in waste disposal programmes or well sanitation.

league scoring

The league is a fantastic initiative, particularly in a country that is as football crazy as Sierra Leone. Kids are desperate to be a part of it and with time the league will expand to include them all. This year the focus has been on expanding womens’ access to the game, particularly as coaches.

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Teams wait patiently in Kenema for registration.

For the past few weeks, my job has been dominated by registration and training. In each of the four regions, we have a team of Regional Coordinators who are led by a Regional Manager. Each team has now received training from myself and my colleague Harriette on their roles for the season. Ultimately they are the facilitators for the team coaches. They help to organise everything from matchdays to community projects whilst also carrying out the school attendance monitoring. Training has been great fun, particularly as it has been my first real opportunity to get to know the local staff.

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Questioning one of the boys in Bo to ensure that he is eligible for the League.

Hot off the back of training hs been the players’ registrations. This sounds simple enough. Four regions with 500+ players each, however, is far from easy. One of the toughest issues in West African football is that of age. It is difficult to know the exact age of players and with kids so keen to be in the league, it has been fairly common to see 17 year olds queueing up to register. One has to become quite the detective, particularly as many of the kids simply don’t know their own ages.

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Weight is a good indication of the boys’ age ranges.

Thankfully, the majority of kids are now successfully registered and if all goes (relatively) smoothly from here, the league will launch bang on time. I’m not sure who is more excited, me or the kids. I’m spending some time in Bo this week as it is one of the regions for which I am mostly responsible. I should get a chance to visit a training session or two whilst I’m here and who knows, I might even join in.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2012 in Football, General, Sport, Travel

 

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Election Fever And The Football Celebration Diva.

Last Saturday, the elections in Sierra Leone marked the culmination of months of campaigning by the country’s nine presidential candidates. It also brought to a close the weeks of political rallies, during which supporters of each party took to the streets adorned from head to toe in their party colours, with whistles, posters, the obligatory Sierra Leonean sound system for a big old shindig.

Then on Friday night, well before the scheduled release of results, it was announced that the incumbent president Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC party had won an overall majority of fifty eight per cent to be re-elected to office. From the rooftop of my hotel in Bo, I watched the town erupt as supporters of Koroma burst out on to the streets in celebration. Shouts and cheers were cut with the screech of whistles and the clanging of cooking pot lids as the elated victors danced down the streets in packs. A motorbike tore down the road with a chunk of metal in tow, blazing a stunning trail of sparks.

It was an utterly foreign sight in comparison with the British election results, where we were treated to the rather anti-climactic, behind closed doors bargaining of parties in a hung parliament. This was more like the celebrations of a victorious football crowd. The winners poured our of their houses into a huge impromptu street party, while the losers remained indoors to lament their defeat. The streets were painted APC red for the night. As we strolled through the town later in the evening, the noise was fantastic and unrelenting.

It is fair to say that there has been a degree of tension in the country during the entire process, although perhaps not as much as the media would have us believe. To my knowledge, polling went off largely without incident. In the weeks beforehand, public figures in political parties, on television and radio stations had been campaigning for a violence-free election. One poster on my street read ‘The eyes of the world are upon us. Let us not dissapoint them’. This sentiment was echoed in a joint statement by the US and UK in the days prior to polling.

Thankfully, the whole thing seems to have gone off without major incident. The country has successfully navigated the electoral process without the conflict that has beset their West African neighbours in recent years. I get the impression from the few people that I have spoken to that they are immensely proud.

The elections coincided with World Peace Day, giving the boys at the academy the opportunity to incorportate the theme of peaceful polling into their study. They spent Friday afternoon making posters and discussing the importance of political cooperation with one of their teachers, Vicky.

Then on the day of the election, with us all holed up in the academy for the day as a precautionary measure, the academy boys and staff held a five-a-side football tournament. I was invited to join one of the teams as a goalkeeper, due to the fact that I was still recovering from injury. After conceding five goals in my opening match, I was rapidly moved to defence by my team mates.

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This was the first real opportunity I’d had to spend some time with the boys and it was the most enjoyable thing that I’ve done since I came here. My team were fantastic. Alongside myself and Vicky, were Musa, Mohai, Zidane and Issa. Following my swift removal from the goalkeeper’s spot, it was Issa who replaced me and was thus awarded the fair-play prize for the day. He now wears his Barca shirt (from the old Kappa days) with pride.

We finished third out of the four teams that took part, largely due to my own ineptitude. We did, however, have by far and away the best choreographed goal celebrations of all the teams. They were enough to make an overpaid NFL wide receiver proud. In addition to this it should probably be noted that I scored a goal in our final game. A really good one. By my standards.

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The evening was rounded off by a fantastic meal cooked by one of the teachers, Frankie, who rustled up a feast of election-day burgers for us. I have developed a reputation among some of the staff here as being something of a human dustbin. Frankie’s meal made it difficult for me to hide the truth in it.

Despite my initial apprehension about being here during the elections, it has been a fantastic experience. Seeing the level of political engagement is a real eye opener. For whatever reason, people throw themselves openly into politics here. I’ve been really privileged to witness it as much as I have. On top of that, the opportunity to play in the football tournament with the boys on election day is something that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Hopefully they’ll still invite me to play next time.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2012 in Football, General, Sport, Travel

 

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Meet and Greet, Crowded Streets and Unforgiving Heat

It’s been two weeks since I stepped off the Pelican water taxi underneath the Aberdeen bridge, onto the warm morning streets of Freetown. Though pleasantly surprised by the mild temperatures as I awaited the arrival of my welcome party, I was rather dazed due to a lack of sleep on the overnight flight from Heathrow. Hence the initial thrill of immediate acclimatisation was soon to be dashed; Although not before a short drive into town under the false reality of an air conditioned minibus, which further exacerbated my delirium.

From the moment that short trip into the city ended, I have been locked in a battle with the sun. It is by no means the only fight I have on my hands, with the late night party music next door and the maniacal motorbike drivers zooming round the city,  but it is without doubt the fiercest. Every moment of the day is a desperate struggle to retain some small amount of the drinking water that I suck greedily from the small plastic bags in which it is sold. Showers are merely a formality, as I remain resigned to the fact that will be drenched in sweat until I leave this place. The only respite comes in the cold blasting air in the minibus of the foundation’s driver, the fantastic Mr K. But heat is merely a challenge; I have accepted it and begun to adapt accordingly. I have lived in the heat before. I know that I require a good hat more than most.

Those who are familiar with travel will know that visiting foreign lands are a bombardment on the senses, particularly in the first few hours and days. My arrival in Sierra Leone certainly provided me with a colourful vision of the streets of my new home in Freetown. I seem to have developed a habit of arriving in places just in time to witness political rallies. In Germany, I was greeted by a Neo-Nazi march. In Freetown, the supporters of the incumbent party had taken to the streets fuelled by political fervour and in some cases cheap gin, ahead of the upcoming elections.

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Politics.

With my first night due to be spent up at the academy in Tombo, we proceeded to drive out of the capital, where the party was draped in red and getting into full swing. The two hours to our destination (which included a stop at a petrol station that called itself Tesco) were slowed by town after town of huge crowds dancing and cheering in support of their president. Faces constantly appeared at the windows, grinning and waving all the time. One rather intoxicated lady decided that the best place for her party was to lean up against the front of the van, halting our progress. A gentle nudge or two from Mr K soon moved her on.

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Tesco….?

Finally we arrived at the academy to be greeted by the staff and players who live there. It is nestled between rolling green hills and the fishing town of Tombo, which opens out onto the Atlantic ocean. It is a gorgeous site, providing accommodation, a school and the country’s finest grass pitch for the new generation of Sierra Leone’s footballing elite.

The kids there are great. Obviously they are fantastic footballers, but they are a brilliantly committed group of boys who recognise the opportunity that they’ve been given. I’ve not had the chance to spend too much time with them yet but I’m hoping to do a bit of teaching on the history of football quite soon.

Beyond that, the past two weeks have been a blur of trips around the country and preparing for the league season, which is due to begin in January. Prior to that, there are coaches and coordinators to train, as well as thousands of kids to register with their respective teams. All of this will pause briefly over the next few days, as election fever heads towards its climax on Saturday night. Fingers remain firmly crossed that everything runs smoothly and the next few weeks can be as full and exciting as the first two.

So long from Salone….

Bam

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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Football, General, Sport, Travel

 

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