Monday, 18 June 2012

CamKids / qb Football Tournament 2012

Under the blisteringly hot Phnom Penh skies, Cambodia showed the world on Sunday June 10th, how a football tournament should be run. The first annual CamKids/qb Football Tournament was held at the Old Olympic Stadium, and alongside some impressive footballing talent, the day was marked by irrepressible excitement, good humour and happiness.

On the day there was a total of six teams battling it out for glory. Teams from various provinces, Who Will Kompong Chnang, Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) Phnom Penh, New Futures Organisation (NFO) Takeo, Hopeful Association for the Poor (HAP) Kompong Speu, were four of the teams and are all organizations supported by CamKids.

CamKids also invited PPSL, a team of ex pats and Cambodians who train and play every Saturday in Phnom Penh, and another well trained team, comprising of children from 6 different orphanages, represented qb on the day. Some of the players had never been to Phnom Penh before. Some of the players had never worn football boots before. But you wouldn’t have known, from the enthusiasm and spirit, how new this was for many of them.

The stadium looked wonderful, thanks to sponsors qb, the mobile phone company, who had printed hoardings to go around the pitch, adding to the air of professionalism that surrounded the event. Indeed, from a neutral, outsider’s perspective, the professionalism that permeated every facet of the tournament was incredibly impressive, not least because, as is always the case with a CamKids project, no one was being paid.

So it wasn’t just the hoardings, or the wonderful vivid team kits, also thanks to qb, that made the whole event seem so significant, but it was the labours of so many people that made the day such a delight. The referees and linesmen toiled in the thankless heat, the staff from The Eighty8 barbecued satay and cooked noodle salad for over three hundred players and spectators. But so much of the unsung work was done, as ever, by Dom and Benita, who organised every aspect of the day, from arranging sun hats and cold drinks, to Dom’s inspired commentary – the day would have run far less smoothly without their huge efforts.

On the pitch, the teams were surprisingly evenly matched, despite the disparity in experience, and in player size. The new kits looked magnificent, and the pride of the players in wearing them would have brought a lump to the throat of the most cynical football fan.

The Who Will team looked lively and guileful, but in the end NFO won the day, due in no small part to the enthusiasm of their coaching team. Even underdogs HAP acquitted themselves well, defending doggedly and attacking on the break like seasoned pros. The crowd was spirited, enthusiastic and very vocal, and, unlike other tournaments currently going on in Europe, there were no reports of hooliganism. Everyone was just thrilled to be there.

There has to be a winner, and in the end, a tense, hard fought final was won 2-0 by NFO over qb. 3rd and 4th was battled out between Who Will and PPSL, with Who Will the somewhat unexpected victors with another 2-0 scoreline. EYC took 5th over HAP, but only lost one game on the day and had the player of the tournament in their team, who has already had a mural dedicated to him on the wall where they train. HAP, although coming 6th on the day, had never played together before and the story of this team will definitely be the subject of a follow up article.

The point of the day was a simple one: for everyone to have fun, and there’s no doubt that they did. CamKids paid transport costs, not only to bring in the teams from each organisation, but a 50 strong crew, so all the children and carers from the centers could attend. This allowed a great day out for everyone and gave each team a support base and the whole event an amazing, positive and joyous atmosphere. The looks on the faces of the players as they got their medals at the end of the day, and were told they could keep their kit, was worth all the hard work and effort. It’s humbling to stop for a moment and see how the kids respond to something we’re so used to in the developed world, and it was humbling to watch the care and effort put in by everybody involved on Sunday. It was a terrific day, and one everyone should be thoroughly proud of. Roll on next year.

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