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Island's children have never had it so good

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!

Bermuda thank you for being an inspiration to me over the past year with your many words of encouragement as you faithfully read and critiqued my articles.

With Christmas being tomorrow I wanted to voice a gentle reminder that the holidays should not be all about receiving but more about giving.

I wish to share a story about a young footballer, Cheik Tiote from the Ivory Coast, who plays for Newcastle United. I have become a major fan of his and would like to relate his story to us in Bermuda.

Tiote was born in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast. He is now 24 years old but he didn't start playing football until he was ten years of age.

In the first five years of playing Tiote never had a pair of boots and played in the streets or fields barefoot. When he turned 15 he received his first pair of boots but instead of being completely over the moon he was skeptical and wondered if he would like playing in them or if he could ever get used to them.

Tiote is compared to Chelsea's tough tackling Ghanaian midfielder Essien. Tiote attributes his tough up bringing for his success. During an interview with the Daily Star Tiote explained his situation: “In a way I think playing in my bare feet helped me a lot. It teaches you how to control the ball and pass correctly. If you are playing with the protection of a boot, sometimes you can get away with your mistakes. When playing just with your feet you can't do that. You have to learn technique.”

It was at the ripe age of nineteen that the Belgian team Anderlecht scouted him and gave him an opportunity to play professional football.

In August 2010 Tiote signed with Newcastle and his performances have been so outstanding that he has attracted the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. While he enjoys the life in the Premiership he is always cognizant of his former life back home. Tiote now has so many boots that he even sends some back to his hometown along with shorts, socks and other training gear, for the neighbourhood kids where he grew up.

This story reminded me of an experience I had over 30 years ago as a kid growing up in St George's. Every Christmastime I wanted a red and white jersey, as I loved North Village and Manchester United. When Christmas day came around that was the only thing that I would be looking for along with my boots and new football so I could go down to the club and play.

It wasn't until one Christmas came along and I didn't receive my normal football paraphernalia that I was taught a harsh lesson of what Christmas was really all about. Angry, upset, vexed are just a few words I would use to say how I felt at that time, but my mum sat me down and made me understand to be thankful for small mercies.

Reality is, nowadays many of our kids have everything they need, but they still fuss and fight. We as a country really do not know what it is like not to have like Tiote. Imagine how many sad faces there will be in Bermuda if Santa Claus doesn't bring football boots to all the young footballers this Christmas.

We as Bermudians are so fortunate when it comes to football and many other things but we don't even recognise it.

Prime examples, David Bascome runs football camps for hundreds of kids. Kids go to these camps and need for nothing. There are loads of footballs, goals, cones, camp T-shirts, water bottles etc…Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne have come back from professional football in England to give back to football in Bermuda.

These guys could have been selfish and walked away from the game after being professionals for so long, but no they took up coaching. Today North Village and PHC are respectively first and second in the league. They also were instrumental in organising our first professional football team, the Bermuda Hogges.

I commend them for giving something back, a familiar thing with professionals across the world. My point is that if professionals can do it we have to teach our kids to do it.

So do you think a Bermudian kid could handle being in the same situation as Tiote with no shoes, and probably never having had his own football?

Out of curiosity, as I sought an immediate answer I decided to secretly put my daughter to the test. After calling her into the room I said: “Hailey, this year we are not going to have a Christmas like we normally do and we won't even have a Christmas tree. We will get one or two important things, but that is it, ok.”

Hailey replied: “Really daddy, don't play.” I never answered and Hailey raced off to her room.

After about thirty minutes I called her back downstairs to me and asked her what happened. “Daddy I have been in my room crying, but I remember what my nana told me that If I pray God will provide so I prayed and prayed,” she said.

I have to say I was impressed with how she handled the situation after she thought about it, but it was her initial response that I was really looking at. She displayed the typical reaction of our everyday kid, and that is to run out of the room with great sadness and frustration.

I said all of that to say this, Christmas is a time for giving and I beg of you Bermuda to think of those who are less fortunate than you. If you know a kid or a friend who may be living like Tiote was and has no shoes or doesn't have food for Christmas do something special for them. There could be a little Tiote right in your neighbourhood that is longing for someone to give him a pair of football boots to inspire him and help him go to the next level.

Our young players need to know that there is more to sports than just playing on the playing field. It is our responsibility to expose them to the real facets of life so that they can live with good morals and values. Maybe then they will be able to deal with and handle adversity when it comes their way in the future.

Growing up playing football in Africa is very different to what children deal with in Bermuda.

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Published December 24, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 24, 2010 at 6:51 am)

Island's children have never had it so good

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