Category Archives: Football

Be A Gunner, Be A Runner

On Saturday morning, in conditions more akin to mid-March in Manchester than equatorial Africa, 250 runners took part in Volunteer Uganda’s “Be A Gunner, Be A Runner” community fun run.

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Our Arsenal coaches have put on training sessions for 8 schools across Kanungu district over the past 2 months and the BAGBAR event was an opportunity to bring all of those schools together.

It is now rainy season in south-west Uganda but, despite the rain lashing down making the dirt roads turn to mud, children from Kazuru primary and the surrounding community turned up at the start line at 9am, a full 90 minutes before the whistle would sound for the start of the race.

Kazuru was one of three start lines, with runners converging on the finish line at Savannah trading centre from Kanungu town and Bugarama.

The routes from these trio of start points varied. The course from Kanungu slopes gently downhill for most of the 3km. From Bugarama, the road undulates over the same distance with a final punishing climb just before the finish line. The run from Kazuru is an altogether different challenge.

At just a little over 2km it is the shortest of all the routes but the ground is rocky, the hills are steep and, on this particular morning, much of the course offered the same traction as an ice rink.

With Arsenal shirts, shorts and hats on offer as prizes for first to third in each of the adult, boy and girl categories, the competition was fierce. But it was the competitors out to run, not to win, who captured my attention.

There was the mother who ran the route from Kazuru with her infant son strapped to her back. There was the head teacher from Kirima Kindergarten who, by his own admission, is out of shape but ran to encourage his pupils and teachers to take up the challenge. And there was child after child who ran in bare feet, the knocks of the road dampened by the determined look in their eye.

It is, after all, the ultimate aim of Arsenal in the Community and Volunteer Uganda to
encourage more of these people, the eager entrants, rather than the seasoned runners, to participate in sporting and community events.

On the evidence of this event, the willingness to battle through the rain to reach the finish line, putting personal achievement before sporting glory, BAGBAR has more than served its purpose.

Inspiring the next generation of African soccer stars

The Africa Cup of Nations, as it always does, has captured the attention of the entire continent this month. Although Uganda did not qualify after being cruelly knocked out by Zambia after a penalty shoot out, the sound of the matches taking place in South Africa fills bars from Kampala to Kanungu.

Our ‘Arsenal in the Community’ coaches have experienced this passion for football – or soccer to our American readers – over their first couple of weeks coaching children in Uganda.

From pitches overlooking a panoramic view of the slums of Kampala to the small areas of precious farm land set aside for the national sport in Kanungu, our coaches have trained kids who have the same desire to improve their skills and dreams of making a career in the sport they love that we see in children the world over. But there the similarities end.

Plastic bags or the leaves of a banana tree are used to make footballs; the sight of brothers playing with one boot on their favoured foot as they share the one pair they can afford is not uncommon; matches of 15, 20, 25 a side can be chaotic but playing is all that matters. It is dusty and very different.

Volunteer Uganda’s partnership with Arsenal helps to bridge the gap between the desire to learn and the lack of facilities, equipment and trained coaches. New balls, bibs, cones, whistles, all the kit needed to improve skills have travelled with our trained coaches.

The kids that were coached at the Kampala rehab centre, in a football project designed to steer them away from drugs and other substance abuse, were thrilled to have coaches from a Premiership football club taking drills and organising matches. Always questions, questions, questions – “what team do you support, which position do you play, how many keepy-uppys can you do?” – enthusiasm, energy and excitement.

From the bustling urban setting of Kampala kids league, our coaches moved to the more sedate rural fields in Kazuru, the closest pitch to the Volunteer Uganda lodge. The setting changed but the enthusiasm for football and for learning did not. After a broadcast on KBS radio, over 100 kids turned up for a coaching session.

Notably, around a fifth of these children were girls. In a country where girls rarely get the opportunity to play football in schools, the desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with boys on the football pitch was clear, playing in skirts and never afraid of a 50/50 challenge!

Their interest in two of our coaches, in particular, was clear to see – “female coaches, here?”

If Cheryl and Kate have inspired just one of the twenty or so girls who turned up to train to dream of being a coach in Uganda in the future then the ‘Arsenal in the Community’ programme will have served its founding purpose – bringing new players, better players and, most of all, inspiration to developing countries.

With luck, and the new equipment, improved skills and trained coaches, this group of Arsenal volunteers and those who follow them in the coming years will ensure that Uganda’s future qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations will not be left to the lottery of a penalty shoot out.

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Bald is best Wayne, just you wait

As many of you know I am a follicley challenged twenty-something. In this, a share something with Wayne Rooney – perhaps the only thing as I don’t pay Grannies for sex and I won’t name my children after a Japanese hatchback.

Wayne Rooney's new head of hair

However, Wayne has decided to abandon his fellow baldies by getting a hair transplant, announcing it to his followers on Twitter. This got me thinking, would I follow in his footsteps and tackle the increasingly barren landscape atop my brow?

First I considered the cost, which can be anywhere between £3-14,000. I can think of many things I’d rather spend that sort of money on over a hair transplant. For example, how about a lovely Brant Black Panama hat to hide your shame from the world? Or perhaps consider hypnosis so you don’t think about it.

Second, those who are members of the shiny head club are said to be more virile than most. Would these magical sexual powers vanish if I was to get a transplant? It is a risk I am simply not willing to take.

And third, being bald is part of what makes me who I am. It makes me stronger to stare at the world with defiance and say “yes I am bald and proud, deal with it.” Plus, like looking at the sun during an eclipse, staring at my slaphead for too long can seriously damage your eyes. So just don’t.

So no, I won’t be getting a hair transplant. I wish Wayne well, but I fear that in doing this he has shown himself to be an overpaid, soon to be sexually deficient, weak willed man. Poor lad.

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