Ohen Michael Noone embarked on his solo walk from Old Trafford to Wembley Stadium on Boxing Day to raise money for his football academy in Tanzania, it was not the first time he had made a trip into the unknown. A youth coach with experience working at schools in Manchester, the United States and Canada, the 37-year-old was “looking for a change in my life” when he arrived in East Africa in March 2020.
“I just stumbled upon it,” he says. “I came with just a backpack and didn’t have anything organised, so I kind of wandered off. I started volunteering at this orphanage, played a few games and found the football culture amazing. I coached for many years and had played with guys from East Africa before and they told me there was so much untapped talent here. So I came almost out of curiosity more than anything else I guess…”
Noone started coaching a group of players in Mivumoni, a small town about 300 km north of Dar es Salaam in one of the poorest regions of Tanzania. He was so impressed with the standard that he set up the Route One academy, which enrolls 150 boys and girls aged under eight to under 18.
“Every week there were more and more people joining our group,” he says. “What started out as something casual ended up making me want to stay and help out.”
As well as providing coaches and equipment for the growing academy, Noone – who splits his time between Mivumoni and Manchester – has rented two local houses for some of the players to live in and ensure they have a regular supply of drinking water.
“When I came here they were all sleeping in a house with over 20 people and there were very high levels of malaria,” he says. “Our project is in an area of extreme poverty – there are high levels of typhoid, malaria and dysentery – so it’s a real struggle for them. I’m awake at night because I want to improve everything. We ended up having a hostel too to give them a place to sleep.
Noone adds: “My focus now is to try and improve that environment and showcase the abilities of these players. The skill levels here are really high. We’re just starting to get noticed here in tournaments.
Star player Mahmoud Kanyota’s recent call-up to the Tanzania men’s under-17 team has been further recognition for the academy and Noone hopes he can build on his growing relationship with the Tanzanian football association. country, having recently applied for charitable status. “When we’re on the map, that’s a real option,” he said. “A lot of our players don’t have the right papers, so we had to start working on that.”
After exhausting his savings to get the academy off the ground, Noone has taken on a series of fundraising challenges over the past few months, including Anfield’s run to Old Trafford and his epic march home of football is over on New Year’s Day.
“I did about 35 miles a day on average – my nails are still falling out now! Did it at a really stupid time too because we had a really rainy spell…but I kind of enjoyed it, weirdly. I had some mates with me for a game at first but most of it was alone I just went there When I got to Wembley Way I met some mates at Box Park and I was really struggling It was great to have that first beer but I ended up giving up!
The effort raised around £1,500, but Noone reckoning it costs him around £800 a month to run the academy, his need for more funding is obvious.
“I asked everyone I know to throw in something they can donate,” he says. “A friend of mine is sponsoring the shirts and a few local businesses in the UK have been very generous as well.”
A shipment containing 25 new Crystal Palace kits donated by the Premier League club is on its way to Mivumoni, and Noone picked up training gear and boots donated by members of the Manchester United women’s team after completing her last fundraiser last week – a 182-mile coast-to-coast walk that culminated in Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire.
Mbwana Samatta’s short spell at Aston Villa in 2020 made him the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League, but Noone believes there’s every chance many more could turn up if the local players have the right ones. opportunities.
“I often tell my players that the chances of reaching the top level are slim, but there is a player here who is 11 years old and who is unbelievably good,” he said. “If I can find a way for someone like him, I would be very happy.”