This is the fifth in a series of Blogs that will go through, in detail, what our first ever project achieved, how we set it up, who we worked with, problems we faced, lessons we learned, personal memories and more.
To start this blog, I’d like to say thank goodness for Mr Ozaki, the match official for our Mpraeso tournaments. With the scene set perfectly for our first ever tournament to begin, there erupted one of the biggest rows I have ever seen at a children’s sporting event.
There is no way to sugar coat this bit – and removing the honesty from my blogs makes them, in my opinion, pointless – but there was a lot of cheating in the tournament. The row before the first game was over the fact that we had set an age cap of 12 years, for all players, and out of desperation to win, almost all the teams had bought over-age/over-sized players. Every side was rightfully, animatedly arguing that the other teams had bought over-age players to the tournament. With no way to prove official ages our match official, the wizened and worldly-wise Mr Ozaki casually strolled into the eye of the storm, removed some of the biggest and most ridiculously over-sized players, and told the managers to sort it out and get the remains of their teams ready for the game!
The lesson we learnt from this incident was that, in future, we need to bring weighing scales to the tournaments, to check players’ weights before letting them play. This is common practice in the area, ensuring children are the right size/ weight to be playing, within the age parameters set. This should hopefully ensure safer and more competitive football tournaments which do not include 19-year-old ‘under 12s’!
Once the arguing was done, the teams were really fired up and ready for war – and the games began. with Ellis at the helm as tournament point man, Mr Ozaki as match official and go-between, and two brilliant local referees. The tournament was structured to have two knockout groups of four teams, played on half pitch, then two semi-finals and a final played on full pitch. The football was fiercely competitive, with some crunching tackles, great goals, last minute dramas, and even a sending off in the final! The eventual winner was the Lisa Finely school (which, coincidentally, is where I worked, when I visited Ghana in 2010… Not fixed, I promise!).
With the football in full flow, the real effectiveness of Dom, from SVG Africa, became apparent. His control of the PA, directing children here and there for the lunches, medical checks, games and transport home was amazing, and really ensured the tournament ran smoothly.
For me, it was incredibly pleasing to see the football part of Kicking Off come together so well (other than the cheating, of course), as it proved that what we were doing, at base level, really works. Even without all the other things that tournament day provided (which I will discuss in my next blog), we managed to provide a well-organized, competitive, and fun day of football for all those children. The joy of Kicking Off is that, even without everything else on top, it is something that positively brings together a community, in a celebration of competitive sport. It gives children exposure to something outside their normal lives, providing an outlet and an opportunity for them to express themselves through their passion for football.
And the football wasn’t everything... See part 3 of this blog to find out what else tournament day achieved!