CRAIG BELLAMY SPEAKS ON SIERRA LEONE ACADEMY (part two)
This will then be passed on to the boys; in the new leagues, teams will accrue extra league points for fair play, school attendance and community projects such as unblocking sewers and health education workshops. After games, every boy will be asked an HIV/Aids or medical question and will boost his side’s goal difference if he answers correctly. The projections are that 81,000 children will soon receive health awareness education through the foundation.
“Because of what’s happened over the years with the war,” Bellamy said, “children haven’t had any opportunity, they haven’t been thrown a football, they’ve been thrown a gun. Now we can give them a chance that their fathers or grandfathers never had. That’s the buzz for me.”
A cynic with only a thin knowledge of Bellamy’s sometimes discordant journey through football might suggest that the buzz is in fact some good PR. But as Vernon said: “There are a lot cheaper ways of getting good publicity than this.”
And as Bellamy said straight- forwardly: “I’ve never been interested in people’s comments anyway, apart from my family and my friends.”
He has certainly kept the whole story pretty quiet. It all started when two of his friends in the timber industry started making business trips to Sierra Leone and telling him about the local popularity of the Premier League.
“I thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind going to see that for myself,’” Bellamy said. “I’ve always been intrigued by Africa’s footballers and that’s one continent we don’t really get to see.”
He thus arrived there unannounced for a week last June with little apart from the large quantity of footballs he had persuaded Nike, his sponsor, to provide. “I wanted to see the country my own way, without fanfare or publicity,” he said. “And I made a rule that wherever I saw people playing football, I would stop, give them a ball and join in. That’s where I got the idea for the academy. I thought, ‘I’m in the middle of nowhere and they’re playing with a ball made of rolled-up socks.’ And these boys had ability that I don’t see from kids any more.”
Bellamy returned with his brainchild: the academy. He monitored the Sierra Leone general election in August and, when that convinced him that the country was indeed embracing peace, he commissioned Vernon to conduct a feasibility study.
Vernon, a 30-year-old from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, has been in Ghana for nearly ten years and started from scratch his own football academy called Right To Dream, which not only polishes the best young players he can find, but educates them, too. He has two boys on Fulham’s books and a number of others at university in America.
Vernon’s vision is that the boys who do not make it as professional footballers – who are the vast majority – will leave equipped to make it in life elsewhere. This is exactly how Bellamy wants it in Sierra Leone.
But Vernon’s ten-day study in Sierra Leone threw up more than Bellamy had expected. Vernon told him that because the country had no football structure whatsoever at junior level – no matches, no competition – it would be next to impossible to scout the best players.
“That was when Tom said we needed not only the academy but a league,” Bellamy said. “My initial thought was that this was too big for me. But then Tom went through it with me and I saw the impact it would have and I decided: ‘I’m doing it and I’m going to do it properly.’”
Vernon says he has been “inspired by how quickly Craig understood the concept”. Bellamy is to visit next month to check on its progress.
The next step? “I’ve thought about doing it in Cape Verde,” Bellamy said. “But for now, it’s all Sierra Leone. When you see these people, they do have an effect on you. There is now no other place I’d rather do something like this.”
Kallon FC, SLFA court case today
The court case between Kallon FC and the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) will resume in High Court number one for the third time presided over by Justice Showers.
The case has been adjourned twice with both parties still not having explained their own version of the story to the court.