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Worlds Apart - from Eastlands to Africa

EXCLUSIVE: How Manchester City Sierra Leone are rising to their own challenges

Written by . Published on October 7th 2011.


Worlds Apart - from Eastlands to Africa

THIS season, the Blues have spent big on a new striker with a huge price tag on his shoulders. Luckily, he scored on his debut, so it looks like money well spent.

Not Sergio Aguero. This is Manchester City Sierra Leone.

The club has just made its first foray into the transfer market, buying a new centre forward for the equivalent of £200. That's a world away from the £38m that brought Mancini's new Argentinian superstar to Eastlands.

But Manchester City Sierra Leone FC have fought poverty through sport in one of the world’s poorest countries.

"The wage is around 80p a day and for the players in Sierra Leone, it is their only source of income. Back in the UK, City midfielder Yaya Toure is City’s highest paid player on £220,000 a week."

In 2003, retired police officer and die-hard City fan Tony Griffiths went to Sierra Leone, where he struggled to spot a single Blues shirt.

He then met local businessman Armani Sheku Camara, who was wearing a Manchester United shirt - but Tony soon converted him.

“If you get me a City shirt I’ll be a City fan,” Armani told him.

So that’s exactly what he did. Before long they had set up a football club that would change people’s lives. “Now there are City fans everywhere,” Tony said.

The team busThe team bus

Back then Armani was selling sunglasses on the beach but in just a few years he has become a national celebrity for his work bringing employment and vital support to a poverty-stricken nation. He's even received an invitation to meet the country’s President.

With help from other City fans in the UK, Griffiths started raising funds and equipment to help get the club in Sierra Leone started.

He remembers when former Manchester City chief executive Gary Cook heard about their project and asked what the club could do to help.

"At the time, we were trying to raise funds to buy a bus for the team to use for getting to away games," he said.

"We were running out of ideas for ways to raise the money until Cook stepped in and provided the rest. He enabled it. 

“It would have taken us another couple of years to raise the money.”

The bus arrived in Sierra Leone last August and now makes £1,500 a month for the club, even being used by the South African national team when they played in Sierra Leone.

The money allows the club to employ 55 members of staff, on and off the pitch, providing an income for people who were all previously unemployed.

MatchdayMatchday

Tony said everyone involved in the project is 'over the moon' about the opportunities it has created over there.

One young player who has benefited is 15-year-old Ibrahim Turay. The youngster travels 20 miles to the capital from his hometown to play for the club and has already notched up two goals in six appearances for the senior side. 

His wage is around 80p a day - or £5.60 a week - and for the players in Sierra Leone, it is their only source of income. Back in the UK, City midfielder Yaya Toure is Manchester City’s highest paid player on a reported £220,000 a week. Not to mention image rights and sponsorship deals.

The junior players at the club use the money to simply get an education because there are no free school places in the country.

Former Manchester City player Paul Lake, who went on one of the visits to Sierra Leone, said: “We were blown away by the poverty they live in.”

City remain closely involved with the Sierra Leone Supporters Club and are committed to a three-year project.

“The work they’ve done for Sierra Leone is unbelievable,” said Griffiths.

Tony GriffithsTony Griffiths

Last year the club arranged for Armani to come to the UK where he met the players and got to watch the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United from an executive box.

But despite living in poverty, he still made sure he came bearing gifts when he met City’s millionaire stars. He gave each player a plaque with their name engraved on it.

He was then invited to hang a Manchester City Sierra Leone banner which is now a permanent feature at the Etihad Stadium.

The club won promotion to the country’s second highest division last year and they now hope to make it to the Premier League. They are also hoping to move to a new ground.

In East Manchester, the club's Abu Dhabi-based owners have just unveiled plans for a £100m training academy and airline Etihad are paying the city council £2m a year to have its name attached tot he City of Manchester Stadium. 

Tens of thousands of miles away, Griffiths is working on negotiating a reduced import tax on a container of donations, including 500 footballs and 100 pairs of boots that is currently sitting in the docks in Sierra Leone.

"The next step is hopefully winning the Premier League one day," said Griffiths. "You never know."

Over at Eastlands and in Abu Dhabi, they'd settle for that too.

To find out more about the club or discover ways to help out, visit their website: www.sierraleonemcfc.co.uk 

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