Several sets of AFC Blackpool kits are now being worn proudly by children in a village school in Kenya.
The story behind the kits making their way to the school at Irovo in Western Kenya is a fascinating one, and was made possible through the involvement of AFC Blackpool Juniors Secretary Steve McLellan, and Squires Gate photographer Albert Cooper.
The school, based in a remote area of Kenya, has been adopted as a project by a couple from Lancashire, Alan and Olive Whelan.
Alan is a travelling author, and on a trip to Africa that took him to Kenya, he came across the village school.
He discovered that a local teacher was trying to set the school up in temporary accommodation, and the facilities were basic to say the least, with hardly any teaching equipment, and sacks pinned to walls and written on as improvised blackboards.
When Alan told Olive of his experience, she decided that they needed to do something to help, and they drew up a plan to get some supplies out to the school.
Olive left her job working at Lancashire County Council Social Services, and as part of the planning for the trip, she alerted her work colleagues to the project she was undertaking.
It was at this point that Albert first heard about the trip, as he explained.
“About a year ago, my daughter Donna told me about a lady she worked with, who was leaving and had put a note round the office saying that she didn’t want a leaving present, but would like people to make donations towards providing equipment for the school”, said Albert.
“My wife bought some chalkboards, pencils, pens, rubbers, notebooks and so on, and some other things like skipping ropes and a few tennis balls and small footballs, and my daughter did the same.
“As part of the conversations we had with Olive, we thought it would be a good idea to try and get a football kit out to the school. It just so happened that I saw Steve soon afterwards and mentioned that to him, wondering if he could help”.
Steve takes up the story.
“When Albert asked if we had any spare football kits that were no longer in use, I asked Martin Baird, the team manager of the Under 16’s who in turn sought approval from the AFC Blackpool Chairman, Tommy Baldwin”, said Steve.
“What we found was an Aladdin’s Cave of surprises, as the club had various football kits of all sizes, and in all we collected about six different kits.
“Albert came down to the club one night, and together we bagged them up for collection, along with many other items he and his wife Mary had managed to collect”.
Once Albert made Olive aware that there was equipment available to take out to the school, she came and picked the boxes up, and in due course she and husband Alan then organised for all the supplies they had collected to be shipped to Cape Town at the end of August 2015.
Olive and Alan then set off for Cape Town themselves, and after being reunited with all the supplies, they then bought a Toyota 4 x 4 land rover, loaded it up and then travelled the length of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, and on to Western Kenya, a journey of more than six thousand kilometres.
Once they got to the school, the arrival of all the equipment was greeted with great excitement, and none more than the AFC Blackpool kits.
A couple of weeks ago, Albert received a note back from Alan saying that the village school team is now officially known as “The Tangerines”, and alerted him to photos that were on the blog Olive had set up about the trip.
“It’s a great story, when you think we started out initially thinking we could maybe get a few footballs, or maybe one set of strips, and Steve eventually managed to get as many kits as he did”, said Albert.
“We feel very involved with it all, even though the school and all the children are so far away. The pictures tell a million words, it’s absolutely fantastic to see the children in the kits”.
Steve says that everyone at AFC Blackpool is pleased that they have been able to help with such a deserving cause.
“As a club we were happy to help Albert with supplying some equipment, and when we saw the pictures of the children wearing the kits, we were delighted”, he said.
“Tommy Baldwin, the AFC Blackpool Chairman, told me how pleased he was to hear that these kits had been so well received, there’s not always a happy story to tell these days.
“It’s great to know that the kits have been put to such good use and are so well appreciated, and the work that Alan and Olive have put in at the school restores your faith in human kindness”.