Sierra Leone City fan in 'thank you' trip to Manchester
The whole country is turning blue
An African football fan has visited Manchester City for the first time since Blues' fans raised money to buy a bus for his team in Sierra Leone.
In 2003, Armani Sheku Kamara was selling sunglasses on a beach when he got talking to City fan Tony Griffiths.
They became firm friends and, with the help of City fans, Tony and Armani have set up a City-inspired football team in the West African country.
Their latest donation, a team bus, was shipped to Sierra Leone in August.
Sierra Leone is one of the world's poorest countries. Manchester City, one of its richest football clubs.
Yet, thanks to Tony and Armani, a bond forged seven years ago has grown into a true Blue partnership.
We decided that we needed a scheme that would help them be self sufficient. So we hit on the idea of a bus
Tony Griffiths, founder of Sierra Leone MCFC
In 2003, retired police officer Tony Griffiths was in Sierra Leone training the country's police force when he met Armani and they started talking football.
"He had the same passion but had no particular allegiance to any club. He soon became a big Man City fan and it's gone on from there."
Since then, Tony has organised years of fundraising with support from members of the Reddish branch of the Manchester City Supporters' Club.
It began by collecting unwanted City shirts.
But working together, Tony and Armani have now founded a football team,
Sierra Leone MCFC,
which plays in a local league.
And the team now has its own bus emblazoned with the City badge which was shipped out to Sierra Leone in August.
"We decided that we needed a scheme that would help them be self sufficient," said Tony.
"So we hit on the idea of a bus that could be used to take them to away fixtures at weekends, but would also double up as a bus for fare paying passengers during the week and create an income revenue for the team."
With the help of Manchester City's grassroots football arm,
City in the Community (CITC),
the team bus was shipped to Freetown along with a container full of kit, training gear, laptops and books.
According to Armani, Manchester City has a huge following in his country, where City star Craig Bellamy has also established Sierra Leone?s first professional football academy, the Craig Bellamy Foundation.
And with more than 400 members, the country now has one of the largest Manchester City supporters' club outside the UK.
"It's fantastic," said Armani. "It feels like the whole country is turning blue."
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average life expectancy of 38. An 11 year civil war came to an end in 2000.
Tony and Armani met on a beach in Sierra Leone
Now for the first time, Armani has finally been able to visit the home of Manchester City and thank the fans who have helped his countrymen still suffering the after effects of war.
"The people out there are really surprised," said Armani.
"Whenever they see the City bus, everybody is asking the same story. 'How come Manchester City send a football bus out there?'
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.