Hundreds of football enthusiasts, particularly Chelsea FC supporters in the Tamale metropolis, defied the scorching sun last Thursday afternoon and trooped to the Standfast Park at Lamashegu in Tamale, to catch a glimpse of the celebrated Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho and his dependable midfielder, Michael Essien, during the visit of the junior team of the club to the metropolis.
News of the arrival of the team at noon was greeted with ecstasy as almost all the radio stations in the metropolis discussed the historic visit.
Those who could not wait to meet the team at the park followed the convoy in cars and on motorbikes to the Regional Co-ordinating Council, where the august visitors paid a courtesy call on the Northern Regional Minister, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris.
Despite their disappointment that Coach Jose Mourhino could not make it to Tamale, they were satisfied that, at least, their idol, Michael Essien was around to grace the occasion.
Chelsea Football Club has a large support base in the Northern Region, particularly in Tamale. This is evidenced by the large number of people who come out to celebrate the victory of the club on the streets whenever it wins any match in the premiership or in any European tournament.
At the Standfast Park, a coaching clinic was held for the Standfast Under-15 and 12 junior teams. It was attended by a large number of people who admired every movement of Essien and clapped at the brilliance of the lads.
The visit formed part of a six-year partnership agreement signed in January this year between Chelsea FC and Right to Play, an athlete-driven international humanitarian organisation (INGO).
Under the agreement, £2 million will be raised within the stipulated agreement period to support Right to Play's field operations in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Other programmes organised in Tamale included “play days”, when the Chelsea team witnessed the INGO's specially designed games, which support the holistic development of children and are used as a tool for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
The National Programme Co-ordinator, Mr Yussif Azzika, told the Daily Graphic that four head coaches and seven juvenile teams from Chelsea FC were among the team from the UK .
He said 32 local coaches had also been invited to witness the coaching sessions.
Right to Play has so far trained 32 coaches, who deliver sports activities in schools and communities in the north; this programme is in line with the organisation's specially designed games and activities, which foster peace among children in deprived communities.
Mr Azzika announced that as of March 2007, Right to Play had trained 344 coaches and reached over 9,000 children in the Greater Accra and Volta regions.
According to the co-ordinator, the programme “evolved out of the growing evidence that strengthening the rights of children to play enhances their healthy development and builds stronger communities”.
Essien, an ambassador of the programme, stated that “as a Chelsea and Ghanaian player, I see it great to make a commitment to helping children in Africa and the entire world”.
During the call on the regional minister, Alhaji Iddris he pledged the preparedness of the Regional Co-ordinating Council (RCC) to support juvenile teams in the north to excel.
He appealed to the management of Chelsea to establish a soccer academy in the region to help unearth the abundant soccer talents in the area.
Story by Zakaria Alhassan
& Vincent Adedze