1.2 Onside Soccer - Background Information
Onside Soccer is a football charity based in London in the U.K. and is founded on a Christian ethos. Its purpose is to establish football academies in the developing world to allow children from materially poor backgrounds the opportunity to play a sport they love in a safe, high quality and encouraging environment. It aims to use the young peoples’ engagement in the sports programme as an opportunity for them to also be mentored, and receive encouragement in developing positive attitudes both on and off the pitch. Although integrally a Christian charity, Onside Soccer promotes inclusiveness in all training sessions, making sure that everyone who comes along feels welcome and is treated equally irrespective of their beliefs or background.
Onside Soccer was established in 2009 by Paul Harbinson, who, when travelling to Rwanda with child sponsorship charity Compassion UK, came across a group of children from the slums playing football on a patch of wasteground. After watching the game unfold for a few minutes it became obvious that despite the grinding poverty surrounding them, for these young people football was more then just a game; it was an escape. In their minds, they weren’t playing on a pot-holed, dirt pitch in bare feet, kicking a hand-made football; they were playing at the Emirates or the Nou Camp in the Champions League! After returning to the UK, Paul began exploring the idea of working with children from impoverished backgrounds in the developing world. He sought a method that could combine the seemingly universal passion for football with a life skills programme, thereby equipping these young people with essential skills for life despite their lack of material wealth. A few months later Onside Soccer was born....
Since it was in the country of Rwanda that the original idea of Onside Soccer was imagined, Paul’s initial plan was to establish the inaugural Onside Soccer project there. Practically however, Paul did not have the necessary contacts there and it quickly became obvious that working in Rwanda wasn’t a viable option at that time. However, through a chance meeting with an Indian man named Churchill Joseph, an opportunity presented itself to work in South India instead. A few years previously he had set up the Dr. John Joseph Foundation to help underprivileged children in Chennai, and also ran a small orphanage in the city centre. As a child, Churchill and his mother had been left destitute in a Chennai slum when his father walked out on the family, leaving them penniless, homeless and with little hope. A local church leader named Dr. John Joseph heard of their plight and took them into his home, providing employment for Churchill’s mother and granting Churchill an all important education by putting him through school. When Dr. Joseph died, Churchill felt that the most fitting tribute he could pay would be to establish a charitable foundation in his name, offering a helping hand to children in the way that Dr Joseph had helped him. When the Onside team heard about the orphanage and their desire to find a sports programme where the children could
engage, it was an easy decision to visit India to try to help out.
By May 2011 sufficient ground work had been achieved and Paul was ready to kick off the first Onside tour! He and a fellow football coach travelled from England to Chennai to meet Churchill, and together they ran a football summer camp for the local children as a trial project. The summer camp was a great success with approximately 100 children attending each day over a seven day period. Whilst in Chennai, Paul also identified two local football coaches to help the project expand and ensure that a football training session could continue to run for the children each week, for the duration of the year. Onside Soccer Football Academy, Chennai, was established! By the summer of 2012 groundwork had developed far enough to allow expansion, and a second small team of coaches travelled to Uganda to establish a summer camp in the capital city of Kampala. As in India the camp proved to be very popular, attracting many young people who embraced the opportunity to engage in football and life skills training, and have fun. Football is very popular in Uganda and it was clear that, in a similar fashion to India, setting up a weekly academy for young people would be possible. A local coach was appointed and under his expert guidance the academy in Kampala is growing from strength to strength.
Today the number of academies in Uganda has expanded to three, all under the expert guidance of Moses Kalanzi, with coaching sessions held every week as well as large scale tournaments and camps every 3-4 months. Our academy in Chennai is still ongoing and we have now expanded our work to open projects in the Gambia and Iraq.