Igwilo takes winning formula to Nigeria
2018-02-01 16:52:00 -

By Ken McCue

Building on the success of the Insaka Association Football Club in the North Dublin Schoolboy and Schoolgirl League in 2012, former Nigerian soccer international James Igwilo continues with his winning formula in his native Abia State.


Igwilo, who coached the Dublin 15 outfit to domestic cup and league victories along with his colleague Zuby Ufoh, brought the title Insaka (‘gathering place’ in the Bemba language of Zambia) to eastern Nigeria in the form of the Glentoran-Insaka Academy.


Two years on, the academy continues to grow with over 50 trainees ranging in age from 16 to 19. Playing kits and equipment are supplied through links with its other namesake club in east Belfast, facilitated by Glentoran Academy social inclusion manager Stafford Reynolds, allowing the Abia youngsters play at the highest level in their state.


Glentoran have a long track record in using the medium of sport for human development, particularly on the African continent. For over 10 years, their soccer academy in Sunyani, Ghana facilitated the education and soccer skills development of hundreds of trainees. 


Graduates include Ebenezer Afriyie Acquah, the Torino and Ghana international midfielder, who spent a pre-season in Belfast before being forced to return home as he was refused a UK work permit. Nevertheless, the young player has vowed to finish his career with the club that nurtured him.


Following in his boots, the young trainees in Nigeria look forward to playing at Glentoran’s home ground at the Oval. And the Sport Against Racism Ireland (Sari) programme Sport Aid from Africa to Ireland is currently raising funds to make their dreams come through. 


Sari already has a close relationship with the Glens through their strategic partnership Living Together Through Football, which provides technical and cultural planning support for the east Belfast inclusion programme – an example of how a soccer club can contribute to community development in the shadow of the stadium. 


The old club, founded in 1882 in a strong loyalist area of Belfast, now has over 200 boys and girls from nationalist areas training and playing with their academy. The addition of the Igwilo’s Nigerian academy to the fold is a great bonus for the club as it continues to grow its pluralist and anti-sectarian base. 


With the development of the ‘More Than a Club’ community projects led by Cork City FC and Bohemians in Dublin, the Glentoran model and its international dimension can inform new initiatives about the benefits of community engagement through human rights-based programmes.


Meanwhile, the influence of the Glentoran-Insaka Academy continues to grow in Abia State and beyond. Motivated by Igwilo as director of coaching, the academy has adopted the ‘Library for Africa’ project that will raise funds for the building of a central book depository in east Africa. 


Intended as a cultural expression centre for the historical and educational riches of the region, it’s hoped the depository can make a major contribution to scoring a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Ken McCue is international and education officer with Sari.

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