Newcastle United are yet to have a single player on their history books from Sierra Leone – but that might be about to change if a certain Academy in West Africa have their way.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of finding out more about this very Academy, which offers underprivileged children in the area a place to play football at U-12 and U-14 level and follow their beloved Newcastle United.
It’s an inspirational project and brilliant story I had to share, but they need our support – not only to gain the recognition they deserve here in England, but to improve their facilities due to a lack of funding.
Here’s my chat with Umu Kowa and Yusuf Prosperity Kowa – the Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the Newcastle United Sierra Leone Academy:
Q1: How did Newcastle United Sierra Leone first come about? We’d love to know what your inspiration was to create a NUFC-themed Academy!
“We came to know about Newcastle United FC from the Chairman’s father who went to study in England.
“We met with friends in England and they were supporting Newcastle United FC.
“They motivated and convinced him to start supporting Newcastle. After he finished pursuing a bachelor degree, he then travelled back to Sierra Leone with books, magazines, and started telling people back home about this great club!
“People started falling in love with Newcastle United, so he set up a fan club in Sierra Leone, two years time before he sadly died.
“The inspiration for an Academy came when his son, Yusuf Kowa, became Chairman and called a general meeting with the executives, telling us he has good news for them. This news was that he wanted the Newcastle United Sierra Leone fan club to establish an academy, allowing U-12 and U-14 kids to start playing.
“There were talented young boys within the community who can play well and the majority of them were sons of Newcastle United fans, so eventually we established it back in December 2016.
“Today the young kids are performing well, with us having 50 players across U-12 and U-14 levels.“
2) What sort of backgrounds do your Academy players come from?
“I really like to answer this question.
“The background our players are coming from is really difficult to explain. They are coming from a less privileged background.
“Even for them to afford to go to school is a challenge and for them to eat three times a day is a problem too, with the lack of medication also a serious problem.
“One of the most disheartening things that occurred was in February, where the captain of our U-12 team sustained an injury during training. We don’t have any medical supplies at the training field and no first aid, so he was left. We hope one day the Newcastle United Foundation can help provide us with medical facilities.
“It’s really sad so see the kids come from a very poor background. Mind you, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world.”
Q3: Newcastle United have never had a player from Sierra Leone. Do you believe that could change sometime soon? Who knows, maybe one day one will emerge from your Academy!
“We have also researched that no Sierra Leone has ever played for Newcastle United FC!
“As Newcastle United fans in Sierra Leone, we believe football and NUFC is in our blood, which is one of the reasons we decided to name and establish this academy.
“We will keep up remembering NUFC until death and we totally believe that with the talent we are seeing from these young kids they are going to represent Newcastle United in England one-day.
“It is a big dream for us and we believe we are going to accomplish it.
“We also believe that could one day change the youth academy we have here in Sierra Leone, so we can produce players to represent Newcastle United and Africa at large.”
Q4: Who are the children’s favourite NUFC players? Also, are you able to follow Newcastle and watch the games each week?
“We really do have big Newcastle United fans in our ranks!
“These are the names of the favourite players that are known by the Newcastle United Youth academy kids here in Sierra Leone – Jonjo Shelvey, Miguel Almiron, Allan Saint-Maximin, Christian Atsu, Joelinton and Andy Carroll.
“They love them so much.
“We watch our for updates and the game each week, with us able to watch them on a big screen.”
Q5) How many players play for your Academy and how are your sessions set up? It certainly looks like you get a great turnout from the pictures!
“We have 50 players at the Youth Academy. 25 U-12’s and 25 U-14’s.
“After three months we played in an Academy vs Academy game against our rivals Sunderland, who we beat 3-0.
“They were well equipped with jerseys, football kits, medical supplies and many other things when we play against them. But as for our Newcastle United Youth Academy, we have no jerseys, no medication and many other constraints.
“We are in need of Newcastle United training kits, first aid kits, balls, magazines, flags and many other football things relating to NUFC in England. We really want this Academy to grow so we can produce players to represent NUFC in England one day.
“We have many turn out to watch our competitions against the likes of Sunderland, Arsenal, Man United, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Liverpool, who all have structured and well organised Academies.”
Q6) We, of course, hope you’re all safe and well during this global pandemic. How have you managed to cope with COVID19 both personally and within your Academy?
“It is really disheartening to answer this question.
“During this pandemic all of the world has been hit, including Sierra Leone.
“We saw many other football teams in England that have established fanbases. They made a series of donations to their youth Academy like food, medication and shelter to keep them safe and calm. But for us we did not received anything.
“Sadly, we lost two officials to COVID19 who were going up and down to make sure they provided food, shelter and medication to Newcastle United youth Academy players.”
A final message from Umu Kowa to Newcastle fans:
“Please, we really want you to help put Newcastle United Sierra Leone on the map for your fan base back in England.
“We really want you to to keep posting about the great job we are doing in Sierra Leone West Africa for NUFC.
“Thanks a lot for asking all of your beautiful questions. We are really thankful for NUFC Blog getting in touch with us.
“Our dream is to see the NUFC Sierra Leone branch be recognised in England, so your name will be written in our history book forever.
“Once more thank you very much.”
To follow their progress, please give @NUFCSierraLeone a follow – a Twitter account we have created on their behalf to help document their great work over in West Africa.
We have also set up a Go Fund Me page in a bid to raise money for for food, clothes, footballs (they only have 3 at present!), goal posts, first aid kits and a Newcastle United shirt for all 50 members, with it their dream to all have a black and white jersey of their own! Please donate here and give what you can – it will be much appreciated and would mean the world to them.
Once again, it was an absolute pleasure to speak with Umu and Yusuf. We look forward to working with them to help Newcastle United Sierra Leone gain the recognition they deserve amongst NUFC fans here in England.