Craig Bellamy recalls receiving an award from Sir Alex Ferguson when he played for Wales as a teenager at the Dale Farm Milk Cup.
The magic of the occasion at Coleraine Showgrounds is an experience he wants to offer underprivileged footballers from Africa.
Cardiff City striker Bellamy, who also competed for Norwich City at the youth tournament, points out that many of the problems facing the people of countries such as Sierra Leone today are exactly the
same as they were decades ago. Now Bellamy, along with Sierra Leone’s national coach, Lisburn man Johnny McKinstry, reckons the international youth tournament in McKinstry’s home country Northern Ireland will help develop some of the best young footballers from their Academy in the west African country.
Bellamy’s visit to a friend in Sierra Leone in 2007 sparked an intense desire to help the young people of the country.
He says: “The poverty I saw made a huge impact on me. But not the poverty in isolation. It was more the fact that the people who were living in all that poverty were so positive.
“It amazed me. I looked around there and I saw people who had very, very little and still had such a good outlook on life.
“I made up my mind straight away that I wanted to give something back.”
With a car full of footballs he travelled through the country, stopping wherever he saw kids playing the game they love, to give them a ball...and join in!
“I thought about building a school or an orphanage but in the end, I settled on a football academy.
“I wanted to give kids an opportunity in life, not just in football. I wanted to do something for the country and the society, not just for the game.
“So if they didn’t make it as a footballer, I wanted them to be able to go back into Sierra Leone society very well educated.”
The Craig Bellamy Foundation League was launched in 2009 with support from UNICEF. Using football to empower a new generation to bring about positive change it focuses on increasing school attendance
and respect for fair play, whilst delivering community development projects. Involving more than 2,000 boys and girls around the country the CBF League is having a considerable impact.
The CBF Academy opened its doors in August 2010. It recruits some of Africa’s most talented young athletes and works with them to produce football players who are well-rounded, inspirational role models. Five-year scholarships are given to children aged 11-13 who live, study and train at its state-of-
Bellamy adds: “I’m pleased I’ve done it but I wouldn’t necessarily call it unselfish because it’s been a huge benefit to me as a human being. As far as I’m concerned, what I’m doing in Sierra Leone will be my legacy. Not how many goals I scored or how many medals I won or how many Premier League appearances I made.
“I’m proud of those things, too, but they don’t really matter. I hope I’m remembered more for the work of my foundation than for anything I ever did on the football pitch,” he says.
McKinstry says the boys are excited about coming to Northern Ireland: “Facilitating our boys to play against some of the best young players in the world is not only an important part of their own development as elite players, but is important in the development of the CBF academy and elite playerdevelopment in Sierra Leone as a whole.”
“For most of our boys this will be their first trip outside Africa and an amazing chance to represent theircountry in one of the world’s most exciting youth football tournaments.”