Jeppe Curth and Patrick Lodewijks made a field trip through Ghana at the start of the month and the country made quite an impression on them. Among other places, the two players visited Feyenoord Fetteh Football Academy. The head of the Academy Karel Brokken is in Rotterdam this week and it appears that he too has very positive feelings about the visit.
‘I have a lot of admiration for the way in which they viewed things there and remarked on them. Patrick, for example, said that Europeans get worked up about minor things. If you’ve been to Africa you realise that we have a very privileged life. And the trip was very different to a holiday in Africa. When you do that you stay in chic hotels, but here there is real contact with the local population.’ Belgian-born Brokken has been active in Africa since 1985. It has changed him as a person. ‘I have acquired a different view of life. I have learnt to put things into perspective and that we Europeans do not always tell the ‘truth’. We think that our little rules are the right ones, but who says so? I don’t have any need to return to Europe. I feel a connection with this county. I also have a Ghanaian wife.’
For the players and staff of the Academy the visit by the Feyenoorders was very special. It was the first time that Feyenoord playing staff has visited. ‘The people were very honoured,’ says Brokken. ‘Especially those who were invited to play a game of football with Patrick and Jeppe. But it wasn’t entirely new, because the players have been to Europe a few times themselves. They have got to know the western mentality. It was so that the Dutch people saw their culture and that increased their respect. I would be very pleased if a Feyenoord youth team were to come to Ghana to play a match. Then they could see how we do things here.’
Africa’s greatest problem is possibly the lack of interest, says Brokken. ‘The world should show more understanding for this continent. When you see that the rich countries agree to give to Africa 0.4% of their gross national product and then ultimately fail to do so, it’s obvious that they are not really interested. That’s why it was so very important that there was so much interest from the media during the Feyenoord trip. That showed people that Feyenoord does more than educate footballers, as is sometimes written. I don’t let it get to me, because what can you do about it? I believe that this is one of the best projects in Africa. It would be good for other European clubs to set up similar projects.’
Unicef acknowledges that Feyenoord is doing good work in Ghana. Academy players regularly host HIV/AIDS information sessions for their peers. ‘The partnership with Unicef is going very well. We play a lot of tournaments and we provide information to our opponents. It is very much appreciated. Not so long ago two boys from the Academy actually travelled to Unicef headquarters in New York. It was a fantastic trip.’
Criticism about the Academy can be disregarded fairly swiftly, because there is now some tangible proof that the institute has cast its net much further than football. ‘We recently packed off our first student to university. That’s fantastic. The project has already been a partial success. Although it will be a total success when one of our students plays for the Feyenoord first team. Jordan Opoku is the first to move to the Netherlands. He scored his first goal in Rotterdam for Excelsior last week. Jordan is a big role model for the boys. “We want to follow him abroad,” they think. And it’s my opinion that more talented youngsters will be heading for Rotterdam within two or three years.’
Those talented youngsters will be showing their skills in the Ghanaian first division for the time being. The Academy tops the league at the moment, with a three-point lead on the number two. The boys will be playing a number of tournaments too, starting in Mali in November. The plan is to bring the Academy members to the Netherlands next year.