Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Football, life and death

"Football is not a matter of life and death; it's far more important than that." Bill Shankly.

Southern Nigeria has been in the news frequently over recent months because of a spate of kidnappings of foreigners, and demands for huge ransoms. The effect of these crimes has been to damage the region’s economy, causing high unemployment, little or no prospects and frustration for young people who live there. They see jobs becoming scarce to the point of extinction, while those engaged in criminal activities seem to have all they want, materially.

Small wonder then, that youths in the area see more future in joining criminal gangs than in completing education and training.

There is a gun and gang culture in the area that is hard to overcome, but World In Need, in partnership with the Universal Centre for Child Health and Youth Development (UCCCHYD), has developed a project which encourages youths to realise their dreams and ambitions, and their need for camaraderie using football training.

Through football, the young men are able to develop and improve skills and, at the same time, they learn positive competitiveness and discipline, and discover a way of being that doesn’t involve crime and guns.

World In Need were loaned a small piece of land, which the youngsters helped to prepare, uprooting bushes and flattening the ground to the best of their ability to turn it into a very basic football pitch. This teamwork gave them a sense of purpose and allowed them to become deeply invested in the project.

The fact that the coaches are local people rather than westerners is helpful, for two reasons. Firstly, local people are more aware of the nuances of local culture than even the most empathetic westerner – one reason World In Need uses indigenous staff for its projects whenever possible.

Secondly, local coaches are not at risk from kidnappers as westerners would be, thus keeping the young men safer and more likely to stay the course.

However, things are not perfect. Despite the best efforts of the team, the pitch is uneven and in rainy weather it becomes waterlogged and unusable, which is discouraging. We need to raise £4,700 to landscape the ground and prevent the waterlogging, and to provide a mower and steam roller to maintain the pitch. Only then can we be sure of the long term success of this project.

You can read about this in the online magazine Footy Matters at

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