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.
Craig Bellamy with Sir Alex Ferguson at the Dale Farm Milk Cup
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-the-art facilities.
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 player development 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 their country in one of the world’s most exciting youth football tournaments.”
The CBF Academy, their partners, staff and volunteers are currently involved in a range of fundraising activities in support of their attendance at the tournament.
The CBF will debut at the Dale Farm Milk Cup in the Premier competition which has also attracted two teams from former Junior winners Brentford who will compete in both sections.
The Premier section will also feature CSKA Moscow, Partick Thistle and newcomers Orange County Blues from Los Angeles in the United States.
The Dale Farm Milk Cup begins with the traditional parade of competing teams through Coleraine on Sunday, July 27, concluding with finals night at Ballymena Showgrounds on Friday, August 1. The draw will take place in Belfast towards the end of this month.
The Draw for Dale Farm Milk Cup 2014 will take place towards the end of May.
In addition to title sponsors Dale Farm, Northern Ireland’s largest dairy company, the Dale Farm Milk Cup is supported by the four Councils of Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Limavady, with BBC Sport NI as broadcast partners.
Note for editors:
Dale Farm is part of the United Dairy Farmers Group, a UK dairy farmer co-operative owned by over 1,600 dairy farmers who supply it with fresh milk. Dale Farm has operations throughout the UK and Ireland producing and distributing a wide range of dairy products which it sells across the UK and Ireland as well as exporting to over 45 countries worldwide.