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Celebration of unity

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WHEN THE Caribbean takes on Africa at Brentford’s Griffin Park on May 27 it will divide loyalties on the pitch but strengthen pride throughout the community.

Patrick Vieira, Andy Cole, Nwankwo Kanu, Emile Heskey, Michael Turner, Paul Merson, Vincent Pericard, Peter Odemwingie, Dereck Chisora, Eddie Kadi, Diversity’s Ashley Banjo and EastEnders’ Chucky Venn are among the sportsmen and celebrities set to star as Reading striker Jason Roberts leads out his Friends of the Caribbean XI alongside Bury defender Efetobore Sodje and his Friends of Africa side on Bank Holiday Monday.

More iconic names are still to be announced.

The match is the centrepiece of a celebration of African and Caribbean culture through food, performing arts and various entertainments, all in the aid of the Damilola Taylor Trust, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust and the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust.

Musical acts performing on the day include May7ven, dance crew Boudicia, and Omar. There will also be a dance-off between Africa and the Caribbean and DJs performing from Choice FM. As well as a variety of food stalls, there will be face painting and bouncy castles for youngsters.

It has all been made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Jason Roberts Foundation (JRF) and Sodje Sports Foundation (SSF).

Both organisations have used sport to aid communities in the Caribbean, Africa and the UK but this is the first time they have worked together.

“It’s the first time we’ve brought the African and Caribbean communities together in this country to celebrate culture, sport and music,” said Stephen Sodje, founder of the SSF.

Otis Roberts, chief executive of the JRF, is keen to stress that the day will mark a celebration of all cultures.

“The match is the Friends of Africa versus the Friends of the Caribbean and so we welcome all people with an affinity for both communities.”

LEADERS: Otis Roberts (left) and Stephen Sodje

Sodje echoed this sentiment. “This event is for everybody to come down and celebrate music, sport and fashion and it’s one that we’re all excited about.”

Roberts is keen to emphasise the difference that footballers can make with the appropriate platform.

“Players continually come under scrutiny for their indiscretions off the pitch but there are a number of football foundations such as ours and we saw this as an event we could organise together.”

Sodje believes the foundations’ efforts in compiling two star studded line-ups is no mean feat.

“It’s absolutely amazing to have their support,” he said.

“When you do events like this you have to take into account that these people are busy and that their time is scarce. For them to sign up to this project is an amazing achievement.”

Key has been the co-operation of the hosts Brentford FC, who, led by the Bees’ chairman Greg Dyke, have lent their full support to the day.

“We knew they’d hosted previous charitable events. It’s a good club with a genuine community feel and they are a wonderful club to work with,” said Roberts.

With the right setting the aforementioned charities are set to receive exposure that will raise awareness of their work.

“My work at our foundation has demonstrated how difficult it is to get people to support a project,” observed Roberts.

“Blood and organ donors are incredibly important and, as charities of African and Caribbean heritage, we felt these charities were appropriate recipients.”

But of course, there is still a match to be contested.

“We’ll be battling it out on the pitch to see who the real winner is, but it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” declared Sodje.

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Former Grenada international Roberts agreed.
“It will be competitive and we want to win, but it will be fun and we’ll try to create a carnival atmosphere.”

Another fundamental part of the day is the presence of one of the main sponsors, Barclays. The bank will be running a recruitment drive.

“They’re targeting African and Caribbean people who are out of work or not in education between the ages of 16 and 24 and have 120 places available,” said Sodje.

“Interviews will take place on the day and successful candidates will be handed a 12-month apprenticeship.

“It’s a great day to come down and watch your heroes, whether they’re playing, performing or dancing but it’s also an opportunity for some people to walk away with a job.”

With opportunities for black people often limited, the rapid progress of both foundations in less than five years is remarkable.

“When you have people behind you like the PFA and the FA and supporting such an event it shows you how far these foundations have come,” Sodje added.

“And as black organisations it’s not easy to make strides in this country and we’re proving to people the value of hard work. It shows you how far we’ve come but we’re young foundations and it’s only the beginning.”

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