Friday the 13th is a day that gets a bad press amongst the superstitious people in the world, in truth I’m not a fan of it myself.
Yet Friday the 13th of July is a day that will live long in my memory and for all of the right reasons. This was the day I got to spend with the second Sunderland AFC - Sunderland AFC Keroche to be precise and what a day it was.
For anyone who may not know, Sunderland AFC Keroche are a community football team from the town of Naivasha in central Kenya, about two hours, or 60 miles north-west of the capital Nairobi.
As a Sunderland lad and Sunderland fan I first became aware of SAFC Keroche four or five years ago and at the time thought it was great that a team in Kenya were using our name and colours.
It wasn’t for a few years though that I started taking more of a keen interest in the team, this was because my girlfriend, Elisha, and I had booked a safari to Kenya and one of the destinations that we were due to stay at was Lake Naivasha – as you can guess, a large lake just beside the town of Naivasha.
When I found out that we were going to be staying so close to the team I decided that I would like to help. I contacted the Facebook page of SAFC Keroche and made them aware that I was visiting the area and wanted to help in any way I could, such as donating spare boots, balls, bibs or anything that may help.
Straight away I was put in touch with UK President of SAFC Keroche, Gary Lamb, who I informed of my impending visit and willingness to help the club. Gary was great and straight away wanted to tell me all about the club and how much of an amazing set of lads they had, I could tell he was really passionate about the club.
Gary informed me that he had a loft full of equipment such as balls, boots and socks amongst others which needed taking over for the lads if I was willing to help with that, of course this was something that I was more than happy to do.
In the meantime, I had spoken to Sunderland AFC’s supporter liaison officer, Chris Waters, who had kindly sorted me out with some balls from the club to take over with me too and with the help of my friends and family I had also managed to collect lots of boots, training bibs and goalkeeper gloves too.
In the end, myself and Gary sat down and packed two suitcases full of much needed equipment for myself and Elisha to take over to Kenya.
Gary told me that to show their appreciation the lads wanted to see me and show me around the town when I was there and the club captain, Jose, who I had already became acquainted with on Facebook, had even went as far as arranging a friendly so I could get to see the lads play.
I arrived in Kenya and started my safari for a few days before the Friday arrived. Friday came, the day I was due to meet with the lads to hand over the equipment, club captain Jose picked us up from our lodge along with club photographer Kaka and began to show us around the town.
He gave us the guided tour showing us a normal day in the life of Naivasha, during the day between all the sights he would fill me in more about the history of the club and the work that they do within the community. He went on to tell me how the name Keroche comes from the local brewery which is called the Keroche breweries and that is where the club gets the name from.
Jose told me that as the brewery was so close by that the low alcohol prices was causing the youth to start abusing alcohol which sometimes led to other substance abuse and even gun crime and the idea behind the club was to keep the youth of the local area away from the streets.
They wanted to better their community and give the children of the area a better future and something positive to focus on. Jose has been at the club since day one and is still to this day the captain of the club, you could see he was passionate about the club and the players in it.
He took us to a local school where they play all of their home games, the school even sports a “Stadium of Light” sign at the entrance. When we arrived all of the children were so happy to see us, it was really special to be able to see and spend some time with some of the children from the local community who can and will be affected positively by the SAFC Keroche project.
They were all so friendly and welcoming, such happy children to be around, even greeting us in English, asking “how are you?” and shaking our hands. Some of the children played football with a makeshift ball made out of what looked like polystyrene and string.
After we had left the school Jose showed us a couple of local beauty spots and we continued into the town centre to sample some of the local cuisine. We ate “Nyama Choma” (roasted meat - goat to be precise) and “Ugali” (Maize Corn, which I guess you can compare to the Kenyan equivalent to Palenta) which were both things which we had never had before.
Once we had eaten it was then time to start making our way to the pitch which was about 15 minutes’ drive away from the centre of town. As we were driving though the town we started to see the red and white shirts making their way to the local post office which is the meeting point for the team for all away games.
A little later, I, Elisha, Jose and Kaka arrived at Nini Farm which is the home pitch of SAFC Keroche’s rivals for the friendly, FC105. The rest of the lads arrived shortly after us, there was a buzz around the area and all of the players were as happy to see us as we were to see them. Just before kick-off, I had the honour of presenting James Okeke, or “Lethal Weapon” as they like to call him, his top goal scorer trophy from 2014. It was a moment he had been waiting four years for and he was so happy to receive the trophy. I was very happy to be a part of that. He has been the top goal scorer for the last four seasons in a row and I am reliably informed by captain Jose that he is SAFC Keroche’s leading goal scorer of all time, so it really was amazing to be able to share that moment with him and the rest of the team. Okeke told me afterwards that he would have something for me later.
The teams warmed up and the game was underway and sure enough, within five or 10 minutes Okeke was true to his word, looping a great header over the goalkeeper and under the bar after a cross from the right wing. He ran all the way over to me from the opposite end of the pitch, like Adebayor vs Arsenal but only this time in a happy way, he shuck my hand gave me a hug and said “see, I told you, that was for you.” The game restarted and FC105 were in front by half time. After a few half-time changes and second half goals from Okeke and captain Jose, FC105 somehow managed to withstand the SAFC Keroche barrage and held out for a 4-3 win with their goalkeeper even saving a last-minute penalty in the process. I have since been informed that I had been invited to take the late penalty which was such a fantastic gesture but the opposition players would not allow it. Jose told me that Okeke was disappointed as he was "supposed to score a hat-trick" but only managed to score teo.
After the home team left the pitch, Jose gathered all of the lads together as he wanted to organise for me us to officially hand over the cases to the team. All of the lads gathered around in a semi-circle as we presented them with the cases of equipment. They were all full of gratitude and couldn't thank us enough, shaking our hands and asking for photographs before they left - it was great to see a group of people so grateful and for something so small to us to mean so much to them. After the photos and the gratitude, the lads started to disperse and we shorty made our way back to our lodge with Jose and Kaka, who dropped us off so we could continue our Kenyan adventure the next day.
I haven't seen any of the lads in person since, though I sincerely hope to be back one day (maybe for a little longer this time) but a lot of the lads are friends with me on Facebook which I am happy about because it means I get to keep up with the lads. I can now say I have a small group of friends from a small town in Africa - which most average Mackems probably can't say. As well as this, there is also a second Sunderland AFC in my life and from now on there always will be.
I have spoken to Gary about my blog and asked him if he wanted to contribute anything towards it and all he wanted to do is to raise awareness and encourage anyone to view the YouTube documentary and follow the Facebook page. We are always looking for donations of SAFC shirts, boots and other equipment and even club and player sponsors. Anyone who is able to help in the smallest way possible, we are very grateful. Gary and John (who was also part of the documentary, see below) are travelling back to Naivasha in December to take over a lot more equipment and spend some more time with the lads.
If anybody would like to help donate or simply raise awareness then contact SAFC Keroche on Facebook or speak directly to UK President, Gary Lamb, on 07880 732078 for ways to help.