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“Football is not a matter of life or death…It is much, much more important than that”

By Mark Hodson / April, 2, 2012

…was famously quoted by the late, great Liverpool Coach Bill Shankly, although I doubt whether he had a team of refugee players from Darfur in mind when he made that proclamation…but “oh boy” was he right!

Football has been very kind to me and my family. It brought me to the United States some 13 years ago and indirectly introduced me to my beautiful wife, who was working at the organization I joined all of those years back, as well as providing me with so many outstanding opportunities and experiences over the proceeding years, meaning that I will forever be thankful to “the game.” Darfur United has produced another incredible experience and one that will forever resonate in my heart.

I cannot imagine at any time in these Darfuri player’s lives did they ever dream that football might be their opportunity to escape the monotony and tedium of everyday life in their refugee village. Sure they know who Messi and Ronaldo are….but “that’s not possible for me! Footballer’s do not come from Darfur!”…….Can you name any?

Tomorrow you will be able to answer “Yes” and do so with great assurance and a  swell of pride as we reveal the names of the 20 young men, who with a lot more hard work, dedication and determination, will begin their team training as the official representatives and team mates of Darfur United. A day of real celebration for everyone involved.

We also commence the unenviable task of ending the “football’ journey (for now) of some 40 players, who will return to their camps…….Hopefully with great memories and newly forged alliances and friendships with the teammates and countrymen that they have spent the last three days competing with and working alongside.

Maybe this time and those experiences will ultimately serve as the greatest of life experiences for these men thus far and will provide them with the stimulus and understanding that they will need to confirm to themselves that they are the future of this great and proud people, and that their real work now truly begins, as they return to their camps to tell their story to the people they share each and every day with. To tell them that there are people they will never see or speak to across the globe, who care about them and will always look out for them, and assure them that they must believe that there are places and opportunities to grow beyond the boundaries of these desolate camps that they have been forced to call home.

For the 20 chosen…..another fate awaits. They are the chosen ones. The team that will carry the message to a much wider audience, an audience that will follow their tale and spread the word of their cause and fortunes…….”They say football is not a matter of life or death….it is MUCH, MUCH more important than that!

Mark Hodson
Darfur United Coach


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