I was one of the few thousand fans fortunate enough to head to Brazil to cheer on the Three Lions during the World Cup this summer. But I also went with a mission.
Ever since England sealed their place in Brazil last October by defeating Poland at Wembley I started my campaign. Through Shirts4SaoPaulo I aimed to collect as many unwanted shirts as possible to donate to children and young adults in Sao Paulo. Inspired by my visit to a community project in Soweto, Johannesburg during the last World Cup in South Africa where I donated a handful of my unwanted football shirts, I immediately wished I could have taken many more.
Football charity Kits4Causes put me in touch with ACER Brasil. ACER help give children and young adults a better start in life in the marginalised community of Eldorado, Sao Paulo.
The culmination of my campaign was a visit to ACER Brasil on 18 June 2014. It was a day myself and fifty other England fans who joined me will never forget.
ACER Brasil visit
The day before England took on Uruguay in Sao Paulo the fifty England fans joined me in an early morning start to head an hours drive south of Sao Paulo’s sprawling skyscrapers to Eldorado. Eldorado is community with high levels of poverty, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, child abuse and exploitation, and illiteracy.
Volunteers from ACER took us on a tour of the local community, where we could appreciate the challenging conditions the local community face. Witnessing first hand the fantastic work ACER volunteers deliver to provide additional support to children who only receive 3 hours education a day.
Eldorado, Sao Paulo
Volunteers and children who the charity support demonstrated their drumming and dance skills as fans clapped along in admiration. There was even time to improvise as fans were asked to sing an England song for them to drum along to. It was probably the first (and last) time that ‘Roy Hodson is taking us to Rio’ would echo around the classroom a long, long way from home.
Sport is another way ACER help give children in this community a better start in life. We had the chance to play football against the children and young adults who ACER support and would directly benefit from the shirts we would donate. The children seemed more interested in ‘nut-megging’ fans rather than scoring goals as they skated around the concrete courts barefoot. What was apparent is the unity that football brings. On the court England fans and Eldorado’s street kids all spoke the same language. No one was keeping score and in the end we had to be dragged away from the selfies and sing-a-long’s to head back to Sao Paulo.
Always an opportunity to fly the flag for England fans
But not before one of the main reasons we came here – to donate the football shirts.
Football shirts change lives
I received fantastic support from individuals, football clubs and businesses (a full list can be found here). This would be the first time I would see over 600 shirts in one place for an incredible sight!! When I started my campaign I never expected to collect so many shirts, it has been an amazing journey.
Me and 600 football shirts!
Football shirts are more than just an item of sporting equipment. They help increase the self esteem of the recipient and provide them with a concrete and personal link to a wider world.
Before our arrival ACER volunteers had wrapped a selection of the shirts for us to donate to the children and young adults they support. It was humbling to see the look in the kids eyes as they tore open the wrapping paper to reveal a football shirt. Witnessing the joy the simple gift of a football shirt brought to this community was priceless. Whether it was Manchester United, Port Vale, Everton or Oxford City their reaction was one of delight.
Children receiving football shirts
For more photos from our visit check out my photo diary page here.
We were joined on our visit by English and Russian media who captured our visit on camera.
Check out the short films from Good Morning Britain and the Russian crew at the links below: The Good Morning Britain coverage can be found at:
Russian TV report
We were not the only visitors the community of Eldorado had during the World Cup. A week after we visited Prince Harry visited ACER. He even had time to play football on the same pitches and it was fantastic to see some of the kids wearing shirts we donated! A selection of the coverage in the media is below:
Firstly a thank you to all the individuals, businesses and football clubs who generously donated the football shirts. Such a simple gift has made an incredible difference to this community.
I would like to say a huge thank you to David Thompson, Nick Goldstein, Joe Shearer, Luke Sadler & David Heelis for bringing the shirts from England in their luggage or as extra baggage. Without them bringing we would not have changed so many lives during our visit.
Thank you to the English Football Association who helped fund the visit. Without them 50 fans would not have had the opportunity to see a different side to Brazil.
Thank you to all the fans who came on the visit, I was genuinely thrilled that so many came on the day and participated in all the activities. I came away at the end of the day having made many new friends with who I will continue to follow the Three Lions with in the future.
I would like to say a huge thank you in particular to Jonathan Hannay, the Secretary General at ACER. It has been a pleasure working with Jonathan for the past 6 months arranging our trip and learning about how the shirts will be used to changes lives in Eldorado. Finally, thank all the volunteers at ACER who helped make for such and enjoyable visit. I wish Jonathan and all the volunteers all the very best for the future.
Maybe, just maybe I may get the chance to go back to ACER in five or ten years to see the community again. It would be amazing to see how the simple gift of football shirts has helped ACER support the children and young adults