“A Beautiful Country… helped by football”

A great story from Owen Slot of The Times:

..spent two weeks in Sierra Leone. He went there because two mates of his were in the timber business there and advised him that it was a fascinating country. So he took them at their word, arrived unheralded with no fanfare, no media welcome, nothing apart from a large number of footballs and the intention that, whenever he saw a bunch of kids playing football – usually with a rolled-up ball of socks or a taped-up ball of newspaper pages – he would stop, give them a real ball and join them.
He left inspired and certain in the belief that this beautiful country, brought to its knees by a savage civil war, could be helped by football.

And so…

..two years on, he has succeeded in putting in place the first ever structure for youth football in the country. He already has 1600 players, he employs 40 coaches and 40 managers on the payroll and this is just the start.

On top of that:

The next stage is the opening, next year, of the new state-of-the-art football academy outside Freetown, the capital, where the best young footballers will receive an elite football and academic education. The whole project was expected to cost him £650,000, but building projects always over-run the budget – don’t they? – and (name of current Premiership player) has committed to spending a considerable amount more.

I’m pleased to say that we’re talking about this man (no, not that one):

One of these men has founded a state of the art academy outside Freetown

Craig Bellamy: founds state of the art academy outside Freetown

Tom Vernon is the go-to guy when it comes to setting up proper facilities in central and southern Africa, and he

says this of Bellamy: that he is astonishingly professional in his approach, that when he makes his two-week visit every summer, he turns his phone off and dedicates himself entirely to the project “like he is turning up for a business conference” and that when he drives round the country to look at the prospective football talent for the academy, he talks to the players, eats with them and meets their families. And he says that Bellamy is so on top of the project that he insists on meeting every prospective new employee; before the new head coach was appointed, he was flown to England to spend a day in Bellamy’s company.

(..)

Vernon says he often finds that footballers are keen to put their name to an academy believing that this alone will bring funding, yet putting in their own money is a different matter. And when Vernon’s management team convene to consider these players and their proposed enterprises, too often their conclusion is: “No, they’re not like Craig.”

I’ve always had a certain amount of time for Craig Bellamy. On the sports field, I had an ego, a short fuse, a red mist and a strong tendency towards violence. That was twenty years ago and I’m too old for team sports now. I still have a temper on me at times, but I can appreciate how different someone can before and after the whistle goes.

Slot’s article fails to mention one other salient Bellamy fact: he’s married to his childhood sweetheart with whom he has three kids.

Someone said a week or two ago that Bellamy’s superb start to the season was all down to his feeling that he was at last in a team worthy of his talents. That may be so. But really, given all of the above, it scarcely matters: he can still beat Arsenal (and nearly Manchester United to boot) but he’s found a better and wider expression of his talent than his Prozone stats. Good for him.

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5 responses to ““A Beautiful Country… helped by football”

  1. I’ve always found Bellamy rather unlikeable, but I’ll see him differently in future.

    Amazingly uncharitable comments under that article. It reminds me of an internet discussion about Bill Gates I saw once where people refused to give him any credit at all for giving money to charity. I know that Microsoft has been ruthless over the years, and I know some of their products have been a bit poor, but surely giving away billions of dollars to help cure malaria and AIDS ought to count for something.

  2. Though it’s hard not to see some irony in the fact that in the league he’s set up in Sierra Leone, 25% of points are ‘awarded to teams for abiding by the laws of the game, players disciplinary records and respectful general behaviour of team staff and players.’

  3. Clearly, Harry, he takes seriously “Know thyself”.

  4. “I’ve always had a certain amount of time for Craig Bellamy. On the sports field, I had an ego, a short fuse, a red mist and a strong tendency towards violence. That was twenty years ago and I’m too old for team sports now. I still have a temper on me at times, but I can appreciate how different someone can before and after the whistle goes.”
    It’s much the same with Dider Drogba, I think.
    It helps not to judge footballers – and all sportspersons – only on the basis of what they do and how they act on the pitch. Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin were perfect gentlemen on the field, for instance.

  5. James Hamilton

    You’re right: I think Drogba’s an impressive guy off-field – does a lot to support new players coming to the UK from Africa, for instance. Worth saying. I don’t know much about Cronje or Azharuddin, but good to hear.