In recent weeks we have seen many comments about how people no longer feel part of Spurs and how estranged the club has become from its community, but what happens if you make a stand and try and unite a broken area with football? Across the other side of the world in a poor part of Colombia, two men gave up their day jobs to do just that. Football isn't more important than life, but it can, in its simplest form give a life to a family, individual and community.
Travelling to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs is part of the ritual. The locals, the shops and pubs become part of your routine, but despite how connected you are to the club most of us are tourists in Tottenham. We migrate from different zones, counties and a different way of life. Poverty, crime and depression are all part of the background noise around the Lane and there is little we can do, or feel inclined to do. This isn’t me passing comment on Tottenham as a fan base, it’s the general way we all live. We don’t have the time or ability to make a difference.
Across the other side of the globe, Sebastian Lopera Mesa, a newly converted member of the 1882 movement and now Spurs fan, along with his best friend, Esteban Escobar, decided that poverty and a high crime rate were something that football could help ease.
As fanatics of the sport, football has shaped their lives just how it has ours, but one day they decided to harness this passion and use it to help change the lives of others less fortunate.
Both of them walked away from their full-time jobs to create La25 Export, a footballing social project. Their aim was simple, to take 25 talented young footballers and give them a chance by using football to build a structure around their lives.
This is a poor area, but an area that loves sport, it is in their heart, it offers many a release and a chance to escape, however, very few do make it out
Sebastian, who was in the UK for the SoccerEx convention in Manchester, took time out of his sightseeing to speak to The Fighting Cock about La 25 Export and what it means to him and what they are trying to achieve.
“I love football, it’s my passion. Being Colombian I have seen both the good and the bad that the sport can bring, but Esteban and I decided that we could help make a difference to a part of Colombia in need of a helping hand.”
The duo set up their project in Urabá a small town in the district of Antioquia, Colombia. The area suffers from real poverty, crime and a genuine lack of the most basic social structure.
“This is a poor area, but an area that loves sport, it is in their heart, it offers many a release and a chance to escape, however, very few do make it out. Most are sucked back into a bad way of life.”
Despite the poverty and high crime rate, Urabá still manages to provide Colombia with 10% of all her professional athletes, despite representing only 1% of the nation’s inhabitants.
“It’s an area rich in talent but lacking infrastructure and money. Our aim is to guide kids through their teenage years using football to teach integrity, responsibility and ethics. Jackson Martinez, Juan Curardao and Camilo Zuniga all hail from this area, why can’t more youngsters with the right guidance breakthrough?”
Violence in Urabá is part of everyday life. Between 1990 and 2013, the homicide rate was higher than the national level and reports of domestic violence are the highest in Antioquia. Unemployment is also a real problem with 70% of teenagers opting against further education in favour of a life in crime.
Having both quit their jobs to focus on La 25 they rely heavily on volunteers and the passion of like minded souls that want to make a difference
“Our aim is to give our players the academic and social help they need so they can break away from their problems. It doesn’t have to be glory or guns.’
“When a player reaches 18 at La25 it would be amazing if he went on to represent Barcelona, Tottenham or another team. It’s important that a few make it professionally, as that is where we intend to generate the money to keep this project going, but if they leave unsigned, as long as they utilise the skills they have learnt, then that is also a success for us.”
“La 25” is based on the key principle that to prosper youngsters need safe surroundings. Teenagers that show promise and live in critical housing conditions are allowed to stay at La 25´s headquarters in Apartadó, where they receive formal education both academically and in football. The idea is that through football the individuals learn practical and social skills in leadership, team work, communication, decision making and perhaps most importantly conflict resolution, key skills they will need not only on the pitch but in aspects of life. The program allows them to have a better chance to succeed in their professional and personal life.’
“For now we can only accept those that show promise in football, it is a tough decision, but already La 25, is technically 32 as there were so many outstanding candidates. We can’t help everyone, but it’s a start. Hopefully as the project grows we can expand, but to that we need one of our players to sign for a professional club.”
Having both quit their jobs to focus on La 25 they rely heavily on volunteers and the passion of like minded souls that want to make a difference. The program is supported on two fronts with a partnership with local schools and institutions that provide formal education (SENA: National Learning Service), whilst Sebastian and Esteban with the support of doctors, psychologists, nutritionists and professional football trainers focus on the football side.
“Colombia is not like England, or London for example where you have areas a club can go to scout players. We don’t have the transportation networks. Teenagers can’t rely on parents or a club to bring them to football, so perhaps the exceptional talent has a chance, but the rest, the late developers don’t. At La 25 we look at the group and try to bring through a group of not footballers, but educated and well reasoned young men.”
My team in Medellin is Atletico Nacional and we pride ourselves on the ticker-tape, banging drums ‘Ultra’ kind of frenzied support, I can see exactly the ethos behind what 1882 are trying to do and I have a lot of respect for that
Sebastian who has used his trip to the UK to visit countless football stadiums and as many games as possible, managed to attend the Spurs v Southampton Under 21 game, that also happened to be an 1882 event. He was surprised by what he saw on and off the field.
“Colombia has come to everyone’s attention thanks to a brilliant World Cup, but we still have much to improve on mentally and perhaps physically. I was amazed by the strength and speed of the youngsters playing at White Hart Lane. In Colombia we love technique and slow-slow quick-quick tempo, but the Spurs players were able to combine the two, I especially liked Nathan Oduwa, he has a great technique.”
When asked about the 1882 movement, Sebastian was equally as positive:
“My team in Medellin is Atletico Nacional and we pride ourselves on the ticker-tape, banging drums ‘Ultra’ kind of frenzied support, I can see exactly the ethos behind what you are trying to do and I have a lot of respect for that. In Colombia I watch a lot of the Premier League and through the TV, despite the quality of football, you don’t have that type of support. I have heard great things about 1882, I wish I was still here to see it in full voice at a cup game.”
The Fighting Cock are proud to be have started the 1882 movement and watch it grow, as not only does it offer the individual the chance to support without any of the trappings of the Sky match-day experience, but it also provides a glimpse to the Tottenham youth of what awaits them.
“I could see in the Spurs team young boys of 16/17 playing at White Hart Lane in front of a crowd. It’s experiences like that which help a player develop mentally. Unfortunately in Colombia, with the difficultly of travel and transport, it’s impossible for us to recreate this. 1882 can be a key factor in the development of a player.”
La 25 since it was founded in 2013 has already reached more than 1,000 children in 11 towns and 32 teenagers, not the planned 25, are part of the nutritional, health and physiological assessment program
La25 since it was founded in 2013 has already reached more than 1,000 children in 11 towns and 32 teenagers, not the planned 25, are part of the nutritional, health and physiological assessment program. The project also has 15 kids receiving full-time education after being awarded scholarships. La 25 has also reached out the families of the children by offering them places within the organisation and becoming paid vendors.
“My dream is to watch a kid who may have ended up in trouble and watch him blossom into a footballer, perhaps one day playing in the Premier League for Spurs or just simply reaching adulthood with an education and the drive to improve his life. Football is important, but life is even more so.”
With his visit to London approaching its end, I couldn’t help but ask after the one time promising Colombian Tottenham youth player:
“So Victor Zapata-Caicedo, could he have been the new Radamel Falcao?”