WHEN football does its job properly it has a quite extraordinary power to unite.
Evidence of that was found this month at youth team training at Swindon Town, on the astroturf playing fields at St Joseph’s School, at Wembley, Stamford Bridge, Craven Cottage and the County Ground, where five members of the Robins’ Football in the Community Zambia project got to experience first-hand what we take for granted.
Jon Holloway, Clive Maguire, their staff and associates have created in this link with one of the poorest countries in the world a friendship which stretches beyond borders, language and loyalty.
That’s what football should be about – not boardroom squabbles, celebrity flings, blame culture and scapegoating.
FiTC’s work goes largely unheralded locally and perhaps we in the media are guilty for not fully exposing the good it does, both in our community and much, much further afield.
The Zambia project has invigorated an already blossoming love for the game in Livingstone. It’s brought together charities, local companies, football coaches and generous benefactors, created a footballing infrastructure in one of the harshest outposts in the world, installed lights in classrooms, furnished students with laptops and created a friendship that doesn’t need a shared tongue to survive.
Because when football is at its best, language isn’t a problem.
I found that in the World Cup of 2006, when I spent seven weeks in Germany, sharing a tented village with Argentinians, Columbians, Italians, Ecuadorians and Czechs in the back garden of a family I didn’t know until three days before the tournament kicked off.
I’m still close to that family – the Tenbergens of Oberhausen – today. All because of football.
Sport doesn’t need to be about politics, economics and bureaucracy. At its base level it is about sharing a passion with like-minded men, women and children who love the game just as much.
Holloway and Maguire have captured that spirit with the Zambia project and used it to unify two very different communities. It’s a wonderful achievement. It ought to be celebrated and hung up in lights, particularly when just metres away from the Trust’s offices yet another board-level wrangle is leaving many associated with Swindon Town dissatisfied, disillusioned and, quite frankly, p****ed off.
Back in 2005, I sat alongside Jon and Clive at the final of the Gothia World Youth Cup. We watched a Zambian side play with finesse and indefatigable energy. Their performance made an impression on all of us, but little did I know back then quite how much of an impact it had made on my two coaches.
It’s taken hours and hours and hours of dedication, research and fundraising to turn their idea into the expansive programme it is today but this month has shown that hard work really does pay off - not financially, because when football is at its best that’s not what the sport is about, but in bringing together two disparate cultures under one banner.
In a week where one part of our football club continues to drive us to derision, let’s take a moment to celebrate that.