Sunderland fans forge friendship with Kenyan team
A BOND of friendship has been forged between Wearside and Africa . . . and they’re even worshipping the red and white stripes.
A local football team play in the same colours as the Black Cats on patchy grass under the baking Kenyan sun.
And nearby, youngsters receive food, clothing and education thanks to an association between Wearside and the village of Karai, in the Rif Valley province of Kenya.
The unlikely partnership forged by lorry driver Gary Lamb and fellow Sunderland supporters is now to be the subject of a film by three students from the city’s university.
In February next year the three, Kevin Clift, David Kenny and Matt Ward, will travel to Karai to document the football club that not only carries the name of the Black Cats, but has also benefits from the goodwill of the people of Wearside.
Sunderland AFC Keroche formed in 2006 as a youth team and adopted the name because of the number of African footballers who have played in the red and white of Sunderland AFC in recent years.
The African club was established with the aim of keeping young people from taking drugs and committing crime.
Kevin Clift said: “Without the support from Wearside the team had walk to every game, and with some away games up to 10 miles away, they walk there, play the game, and walk 10 miles back to the village.
“Team members can be trying to earn some kind of a living by hawking water on donkey carts, at the local market, or working in the local quarries up until 15 minutes before a game. Most of the children come along to the academy and play football in their bare feet.”
Since finding more about Keroche on the internet, a number of Wearside businessmen, including Gary and Michael Ganley, have donated money, kit and equipment to help the club to thrive.
Now the bond is to be the subject of a documentary by the university film production team who call themselves The Unlikely Lads.
Kevin, 24, who comes from Stanley, County Durham, explains: “It started with a Facebook message to Gary Lamb – the president of Sunderland AFC Keroche – and basically it was about getting shirts donated.
“Initially he’d only planned to send out one crate but the response they got from the local communities was amazing. In the end they sent nearly 10 to 15 crates.”
David Kenny, 22, from Gateshead, the youngest of the three who plan to travel, added: “When me and Kevin spoke to Gary in a pub in Seaham we just thought he was a really nice guy who had time on his hands to donate some money to this African community.
“When you see the pictures of Sunderland AFC Keroche it seems unbelievable, but apparently anybody wearing a red and white Sunderland shirt in that part of Kenya will be feted.
“It is not just the football team that has benefited from the generosity of Wearsiders, it is the entire community including an orphanage.”
Kevin added: “Believe it or not, their closest and most bitter rivals, a team called Kenya Knut, play in black and white stripes!”
The documentary that Kevin, David, and Matt Ward, 28, from Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, plan to produce will be a 40 to 50-minute exploration into the establishments and people that have been affected by the donations of the Sunderland supporters.
But The Unlikely Lads say they need £2,625 to help cover some of the costs. They have started a Kickstarter page on Facebook.
“The great thing about Kickstarter is that we’re automatically building an audience for our film,” said David. “People clearly like the story behind the idea because they’re already donating. This is the first time we’ve done anything like this. Any profit we make from this, we’ll give 25% of it to Keroche, because without them we wouldn’t have this fantastic story to tell.
“It’s never about the money. It’s exposure for us and it’s exposure for them.”
Those who donate money to the lads’ Kickstarter page will be rewarded with special mentions in the credits of their documentary, as Kevin explains: “We’re keen to give something back. If you donate £10 you’ll get updates on the film and a thank you in the credits.
“For people who donate more money, we’ll have a special screening where we’ll invite them along to meet ourselves and ask any questions.”