Footballers live a very public existence and it has become all too common to see high profile names become involved in tabloid scandals. We have seen John Terry and Luis Suarez accused of racism with former England captain Terry having just recovered from the revelations he had become more than friendly with former team mate and friend Wayne Bridges wife. Role models are few and far between in the beautiful game and in recent times it has felt that a top flight star is more likely to spend a spell in prison than make the headlines for the right reasons. However there are those out there who are certainly an exception to the rules.
Craig Bellamy is a player who football supporters love to hate, unless he is adding some much needed quality to your favourite team that is. He is no stranger to confrontation both on and off the field and has been involved in a number of well publicised incidents. There was the time during his first spell at Liverpool when he threw a chair at a coach before attempting to assault John Arne Riise with a golf club and even the time he both physically and verbally confronted a Manchester United supporter who invaded the pitch during a derby when he was at Manchester City. However there is a very different side to the Welsh forward which is not so well known about.
The ‘Craig Bellamy Foundation’ was founded in Sierra Leone following a visit to the African nation in 2007. The country is in no doubt has some of the most beautiful features on the continent but the majority of the population live in third world conditions. The charity is supported by UNICEF with the aim of providing children with an education in a country suffering from the world’s highest youth morality rate following the civil war. Football plays a big factor in this and boys aged between 11 and 14 play or train on a daily basis however this something that has to be earned. Students who skip school are barred from matches and not allowed on the pitch unless they become involved in the vital community projects to provide water and food. Bellamy has so far pledged over £1million of his own money to the project and has vowed to be involved for the rest of his life.
Didier Drogba is one of the finest strikers to ever grace the Premier League. The powerful forward is an all-time Chelsea great and every defender in the English top flight breathed a huge sigh of relief when he departed for ventures new in China. The powerful Drogba always wanted the ball when it mattered most and will always be remembered for delivering on the biggest stages, none more so than when he lead the line in Chelsea’s Champions League success in May. Often criticised by rival supporters for making the most out of the slightest infringement, there is a different side to the Ivorian which may come as a shock to the general public.
In 2009 the African icon became the face of Pepsi and immediately pledged his £3million sponsorship fee to build a new hospital in his homeland. The idea to build the medical facility in his hometown of Abidjan came shortly after the formation of the ‘Didier Drogba Foundation’. The Foundation was set up in memory of his childhood friend, Stefan, passed away from leukaemia before he could be transported to England for life saving treatment. The goal of the charity was simply to ‘build and fund a hospital giving people basic healthcare and a chance to stay alive’ and it gained huge momentum following a stadium disaster before kick off in a World Cup qualifier between Ivory Coast and Malawi, in which 19 fans died and another 132 seriously injured. In addition to this Drogba is involved in various other charitable projects, as well as being a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. He works hard endorsing the UN’s ‘Millennium Development Goals’ programme which aims to half world poverty by 2015.
Kanu is regarded as the finest Nigerian footballer of his generation, leading his country to Olympic gold in 1996. His illustrious career sees his trophy cabinet filled with a UEFA Cup, a Champions League, three FA Cups and two Premier League medals. Not to forget the two occasions he was named African footballer of the year. However things could have proved to be so different for the centre forward following his move from Dutch giants Ajax to Inter Milan. A routine medical with the Italian side revealed a serious heart defect and Nwankwo career was lead down an uncertain path as he required surgery. It was this experience which inspired him to create the ‘Kanu Heart Foundation’ in 2000.
Nigeria, like many other countries on the African continent, has a very poor health sector. The country has one of the highest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates on the planet, with both being regarded as being plagued with preventable deaths. This is where the ‘Kanu Heart Foundation’ comes in with is goal of plugging the gaps in the health care system by providing vital medical attention for those with heart problems. The Foundation has been an incredible success handling around 500 cases with an unprecedented 98% success rate and has set the foundations to provide care for other African countries. Plans have recently emerged for the creation of a medical centre in Nigeria, as the charitable organisation currently carries the huge financial burden of sending its patients abroad. The best way to describe what the Foundation means to the man, and no doubt to the people of his home country, is through the use of his own words.
“I have won a lot of trophies and medals in football. Till this day, the best trophy I have won and cherished more has been saving souls through the Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation. Whatever we do in trying to save a life will not be forgotten and I urge Nigerians to key into this effort of ours to save the numerous souls who are suffering from heart-related problems”
Jermaine Defoe and Stephan Ireland
It is refreshing to be able to discuss a current England international for their selfless charity work, as opposed to the tabloid scandals we are all so used to. Jermaine and his current club, Tottenham Hotspur, set up a coalition to provide help in North London to vulnerable teenagers following the tragic death of his brother in a street attack. The project ‘E18hteen’ draws participants from four boroughs of the capital, Barnet, Enfield, Haringey and Waltham Forest, with the aim to train and find employment for young people who are, or have previously been, in care. The scheme was founded in 2011 and focusses on those in care because of the day to day challenges they face. The talents of those participating are identified and they are allocated a personal mentor to help them realise their potential in society. 53% of teenagers in care leave school without any qualifications and ‘E18hteen’ sets to put this right to give those involved the best possible chance of achieving employment.
It would be easy to describe Stephen Ireland has a typical top flight millionaire playboy football. After all he did once appear on a television show with the sole purposes of showing off his multi-million pound house and gadgets. However there is a very different side to Stephen and he became involved with the ‘Francis House Children’s Hospice’ following his first visit in 2007. The hospice provides care and help for families of children suffering from terminal and life-limiting conditions and to date the football has raised around £140,000 for the cause.