If you only watch one film about Liberia in your life, then make it this one…
This is the first version of my film It’s Not Easy, a 40-minute compilation of excerpts from interviews with nine Millennium Stars players which took place in Monrovia in December 2013. I’m in the middle of writing up the full story for publication as a book.
The ‘director’s cut’ will be ready later…
But for now, please watch, absorb and enjoy this:
Why is the Millennium Stars story important?
Firstly, it’s a great story of human effort to overcome adversity: hope and disappointment, war and peace, truth and opinion, life and death, and above all, humour.
Secondly, this project spans a long enough period of time to give the analysis of its impact greater depth.
Millennium Stars formed in 1997, and toured the UK in 1999, so the organisation has been around since the whole notion of sport for development and peace was barely heard of.
Because they can look back on 17 years of experience they have much learning and analysis to offer anyone interested in such projects now. One of the main lessons is that football – like any other vehicle – is not a foolproof answer to any of the world’s problems. Anyone who thinks you can start a sports project, run it for a couple of years, then leave its participants to thrive, will face the same harsh truths that we have.
Here’s the full synopsis of the book:
“Football. The biggest game in the world. Nowhere more so than in Africa, where it is also seen as a panacea. It’s Not Easy explores how the beautiful game really affects individual lives.
“In 1995 George Weah, AC Milan and Liberia, was World Footballer of the Year. Liberian ‘child soldiers’ Millennium Stars FC also supported the image of a little country punching above its weight. They embarked on a dream UK tour in 1999: an opportunity to deliver a message of peace through soccer.
“On tour, they beat all challengers and played the part of ex-child soldiers, a risky strategy they believed would bring them the big prize, a football academy back home.
“After meeting Thierry Henry, John Barnes, Bobby Robson and many more, and returning home heroes, the international link ended, war returned to Liberia and public esteem turned to mockery. Their academy plans crumbled, the team split under accusations of corruption and one player drank himself to death. None of them, it turns out, had ever actually been a child soldier.
“Millennium Stars trusted football would transform their lives, building vast hopes on flimsy foundations. Their story raises questions about the expectations such projects offer participants living with extreme poverty, exposing the lack of understanding of the impact that football has on some of the world’s poorest communities.
“But fifteen years on, football also continues to offer the chance for redemption to this group; still coaching kids in the ghetto; still dreaming of opening Liberia’s first soccer academy.”