The team arrives every morning at “around” 5.30am. Darfuri time is not exact, if you are within 30 minutes either side, you are in good shape….though it’s usually only one side of the allotted time that things happen here!

I have tried to introduce routine to the player’s days. Two sessions at the same time each day! We start with the same dynamic warm-up, so that the players can maintain the process when we leave to return to the US. The topics of training chosen out of necessity, given our limited time span of 5 days with the players and a total of only 10 training sessions. (4 of which were player evaluation!) Defending, Team Shape, Midfield Play and Forward Interaction.

Selecting the players was not easy. Each player was capable and had a “good – strong” set of technical skills. The game here is different to the game played in other parts of the world, directly correlating to the resources available here. For most Darfuri’s their first steps in the game revolves around kicking a home made make-shift ball, small in size and difficult to control. They develop a very subtle technical mastery of the object and build up a relative level of tolerance for the feet with few of the children having any kind of footwear. The game is played in small areas of the field with long passes difficult due to the unreliable terrain and fluctuating standard of ball. There is also a tendency to try to walk the ball into the goal, which I think is due to the lack of desire to attempt to strike the ball hard only for it to pop into the air just before contact…rendering you a strange looking being swooshing at thin, dusty air!

Soccer balls are a rare luxury, but the ownership of one guarantees an instant growth in your circle of friends…….and enemies!

During the first two days with the players keen to impress, there was understandably a large proportion of the games dedicated to individuals pushing forward their own desire to be seen…..It didn’t make for free flowing action, but did paint a clear picture that these boys are no strangers to the soccer field….or dust bowl as it should more accurately be described. Also, with the bringing together of 12 largely isolated camps into one project, there was undoubtedly a nervousness and bravado between the players as to how this was going to play out…..

From the get-go our aim was to let the players understand that this was their team….The role of Brian and myself was to be that of facilitators, in helping them achieve as much as possible during our short stay. We would be there for direction and advise but ultimately, the success of this team would ride on their shoulders.

Reducing the team to 20 players was never going to be easy. As coach, it was clearly my responsibility to present the news, something I have done a thousand times before…..but never with so much on the line.

In many ways I am glad that I didn’t get to know the player’s stories before or during the selection process. It would have proved to have been an additional obstacle in an already impossible process. As a coaching team, we sat and discussed the merits of each candidate and were extremely cohesive in our own decision making process.

I’ve always believed that honesty and straightforwardness ultimately proves the way when making difficult decisions that directly affect people, so we met individually with each player to thank them for their efforts and notified them as to whether or not they made the team.

There are approximately 280,000 refugees in displacement camps in Chad with the number growing each day. These young men…. the top 61 players from those camps……an incredible achievement in it’s own right!…….Nobody was unsuccessful in this mission…..but 20 players were presented with the opportunity to write history for their nation…..and our team of volunteers has been blessed to see the journey thus far at close quarters….and it’s only just beginning……….Darfur United….”We are now a part of the World!”

Mark Hodson
Darfur United Coach

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