Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Many Tribes, One Team

Many tribes, one team

You all know that story about a Glasgow football club formed to support and feed the poor and to give them some pride in their harsh, unforgiving lives. You also know that it rose to greatness and eventually became the finest side in Europe. It sounds very much like a film script or a fairy story but the rise of Celtic was all too wonderfully real.  Sometimes the values which animated and set this club apart become diluted or even ignored by those in positions of authority but the supporters who sustain Celtic would never allow this to remain the case. The soul of Celtic rests with them and over the past 127 years they have remained true to Walfrid’s ideals of helping others. The Penny Dinner Table may have gone but as a good man said 2000 years ago ‘The Poor are always with you,’ and I see so many Celtic fans doing good things, big and small to help those less fortunate. We may not be the wealthiest support but we have the warmest hearts.

The Celtic Foundation spearheads the club’s official charity drive and does magnificent work in Scotland and abroad. It has helped raise more than £7m for charitable causes since its inception and the magnificent Celtic support has been at the fore raising much of this. We all know of those who climb mountains, cycle hundreds of miles, hold raffles and do hundreds of other things just to uphold the charitable founding principles of Celtic FC. Our troubled world is in need of such kindness and sometimes Celtic connections occur in surprising places.

Kibera on the fringes of Kenya’s capital city Nairobi is home to more than a million poor Kenyans and remains a tough and unforgiving place. Poverty of a kind not seen in Scotland since Brother Walfrid walked the streets of Glasgow’s east end exists there on a daunting scale. Corrugated shacks line streets through which filth of all kinds flows. Here poverty is augmented by violence of all kinds which is spawned by the sheer hopelessness of people’s existence. In late 2007 and early 2008 during an election campaign, rival political groups set their tough guys loose to intimidate the opposition. This led to political and inter-tribal violence which killed 1500 people and many of the victims lived and died in the mean streets of Kibera. With food markets closed or ransacked by the gangs, aid convoys entered the area to feed the hungry. One convoy was stopped by a gang wielding machetes who demanded that they hand the food over to them. One aid worker, Andrew Onyanga, stood up to the gang and said no. As a gang leader raised his machete to strike him down, local women of all tribes surrounded Andrew insisting that they would die before letting them kill Andrew and steal the food their hungry children needed. In a lawless place it was an act of huge courage.

Into this atmosphere came Celtic fan and film maker Jamie Doran, best known to Hoops fans for his magnificent ‘Lord of the wing’ biography of Jimmy Johnstone. He met Andrew and two of the most notorious gang leaders as he was making a documentary about slum life in Kibera. They confessed that Andrew and the women of Kibera made them realise that the poverty which afflicted them all was responsible for the violence. One day as Jamie listened to them talking about their favourite English football teams Jamie told them a familiar story. He recounts that they gave him rapt attention as he outlined the birth of Celtic among the poor and hungry slum dwellers of another time and place far from Kenya. That conversation led to an extraordinary decision being made. The three young Africans would form a football team to help the poor of Kibera and to give the impoverished shanty town some pride. It would be a team which would unite all the tribes of Kibera and this in itself was something unique as Kenyan teams are usually based on tribal or ethnic lines. There was much to do to lessen the distrust  and even hatred many of Kibera’s young men felt for each other. Most thought the new team had no chance of becoming established given the tribal and ethnic mixture of the slum. Despite this a piece of scrub land was cleared to make a pitch and players came forward for trials. Incredibly a club in the Kenyan third tier folded around that time and the brazen Kibera boys applied to replace it. The Kenyan FA agreed so long as they could provide a decent arena and fulfil fixtures. This they did and the club was up and running in the Kenyan League.

The new club rapidly built a fan base and was successful in uniting Kibera residents of all tribes. Of course the club needed a name and to select its colours. The founders were unanimous that the new club would sport green and white hooped shirts and be called Kibera Celtic. When Jamie Doran returned to see the team in 2010 he asked the squad to identify which tribe they belonged to. To his pleasure the squad of Kibera Celtic represented no fewer than 12 tribes resident in the slum. The club’s goal of helping to lessen tribal hatred and violence had been realised. They adopted a club motto we of the green persuasion in Scotland would recognise and approve of… ‘Many Tribes-One Team.’
There are of course other links between Celtic and Kenya with powerful ex Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama hailing from Nairobi. There was also  the case of a philanthropic western Doctor who encouraged his son to play football in the rough, tough environment of Kenya. His young son recalled playing barefoot in Kibera in games which toughened him up physically and mentally. His father wanted to ensure that his son appreciated all the good things his relatively comfortable lifestyle gave him in comparison to others his age struggling in the slums of places like Kibera. The young boy was often the only white face on the field as he mastered the necessary skills and attitude to play the game in such a harsh environment. That young boy went on to be a professional footballer of some note and started a charitable foundation to help young footballers in Kenya. He said recently…

"I barely wore shoes for two years – that toughens up your feet. I went down to Kenya this December with 80 kilos of football equipment for the team but my plans are much bigger than that. We want to build an artificial pitch in Kibera and a school too. That's my dream."

This is clearly a young man whom Brother Walfrid would smile upon given that he promotes the values Walfrid held dear. Despite having built a successful and wealthy life based on his footballing skills, he still remembers those less fortunate than himself and does something to help them. Like Walfrid he sees football as a force for good.
That young man’s name is of course… John Guidetti.

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