Hibs Community Foundation's donation of strips to Malawi youngsters underlines the power of football and kindness – Susan Dalgety
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The first time I visited Malawi, nearly 20 years ago, I was taken aback to spot a young lad in a rural village sporting an old Celtic top. As I learned more about how the country works, I realised that his mother had probably picked up the shirt from her local ‘bend-down boutique’ – market stalls where traders sell bundles of second-hand clothes from rich countries.
But a group of young players in Dedza, a district not far from Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, are now sporting brand new Hibs strips, thanks to a donation by the club’s Community Foundation. The lads of Kalilombe Primary School football team recently received the kit through Strips4Malawi, a group that collects donations of new and gently-used football strips from professional and amateur clubs, as well as schools, to send to youth teams in Malawi. This is the second donation the Hibernian Community Foundation has made so far this year, and while a set of strips won’t cost a big club like Hibs much, for the children who receive them, the gift is priceless.
Football is a big part of Malawi life, from the national team, the Flames, to the rough and ready games that are the centre of village life. And it’s not just boys who play. Netball is the traditional team game for girls, but more and more are starting to kick a ball as well as throw it.
It may seem self-indulgent – insensitive even – to send football strips to a country so recently ravaged by tropical storms, and whose fragile economy is on a knife edge, but that would be to underestimate the power of the game. Or the force of kindness.
Malawi youngsters love football so much that they will make balls out of plastic bags and play barefoot. A brand new strip for a school team is much more than a charitable donation. To the ‘Kalilombe Hibees’, as one fan dubbed them on Twitter, the strips are a symbol of solidarity from a football club and its supporters thousands of miles away.
Whether or not the lads play any better with the legendary ‘Hibernian Edinburgh 1875’ emblazoned across their chest remains to be seen. But they will certainly play with pride.