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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

The All-Stars game raising much-needed funds for SA's grassroots African community

Led by the Toure brothers, African players from around Australia, with some even travelling from overseas, gathered at Croydon FC's home ground last weekend for an African All-Stars match, raising much-needed funds for children in the community that cannot afford to play club football. Front Page Football spoke to Stade de Reims forward Mohamed Toure and Adelaide Comets midfielder Arbi Mollas at the event about the importance of the cause.

Mohamed Toure's Akhi FC celebrate victory over Lions FC in the African All-Stars match in Adelaide. (BluTik Media)

In recent years, South Australian football has been rocked by a set of brothers continuing to leave their mark on the national football landscape. Al Hassan Toure has had heroic Australia Cup performances. Mohamed Toure is amid a meteoric rise at Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims. Musa Toure is experiencing a young but successful career. Despite all the fanfare their careers have garnered, the fees attached to junior football in Australia could have rendered such exploits to be just a dream.


The brothers were fortunate their family could afford to let them play. But they realise this situation is different for many others. The trio came together with the support of the African football community around Australia to put on an event helping to raise much-needed funding for kids who need it while also starting a conversation about the pay-to-play culture of junior football in Australia.


Socceroos legend Mark Schwarzer has flagged the issue in the past on Optus Sport's State of the Game program.


"Under 13 or 14 in the youth system, between under 13 and 16, the clubs can charge you up to $2650 per annum to play at the club," he said.


This issue is how Akhi FC became a reality. The word means "brother" in Arabic, and the Toure trio, along with professional footballers such as Yaya Dukuly, Charles M'Mombwa, and Panashe Madanha, joined forces for a one-off game against Lions FC, who featured many talented South Sudanese players and their friends, to raise money for an important cause.


Speaking to Front Page Football before kick-off, Mohamed Toure explained why this cause is close to his heart.


"It is a charity event to raise money for kids in need in the grassroots African community. We just want to give something back," the forward shared with FPF.


The former Adelaide United player referenced his former teammate Nestory Irankunda's story about how his brothers had to stop playing football so his parents could afford to give Nestor his opportunity. Toure is glad to see Irankunda's talent light up the country but believes many young players and their families face a significant financial obstacle in letting their sons and daughters play football.


"Those are the things that can happen that don’t get attention. Maybe right now, we could have three Nestors. But we only have one because of how expensive it can be and how hard it is to play football, especially coming from a big family; the fees can get very expensive," Toure said.


"I know a lot of families that have had players that have stopped playing because of the money. We are hosting this tournament to raise money to help families that need it with the money that we make."

Toure was very appreciative of the players who jumped behind the concept without hesitation, and he shared that everything was being done to keep them safe and healthy whilst playing a match outside their contracted clubs.


"It’s crazy because a lot of us play professionally as well, so we have got to be careful with that. We still have clubs we represent in Australia, Europe, and around the world. It is great to see everybody want to play, even for just five or ten minutes, to show Adelaide our talent and help raise money," Toure said.


Croydon FC, which hosted the event at their ground, is the football club that developed all three Toure brothers. Mohamed shared his appreciation for his junior club and their support in bringing this idea to life.


"I appreciate that (Croydon hosting) a lot because I played here when I was younger, so I always knew I could come back to them and ask, and I knew that they could help make it possible, so I want to thank them a lot for their support," he added.

Mohamed Toure making time for his fans after the African All-Stars match on Sunday. (BluTik Media)


The match was attended by approximately 2000 people, with all proceeds from ticket sales going towards the fundraiser. Akhi FC was victorious in a high-scoring game that finished 3-2, with Mohamed Toure scoring from the penalty spot. But the losing side, Lions FC, could not be disappointed after full-time.


Arbi Mollas of the Adelaide Comets has represented Albania's national team at a youth level, and despite not being of African descent, he represented Lions FC on the day.


The young midfielder has friends on both teams and was training with them for fun. But when he received a late call-up to the showcase event, he could not say no to what he views as a worthy cause.


"I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that a lot of people go through a lot of scenarios that may seem unrealistic to people who haven’t lived them, but they are very evident when you hear these stories," Mollas shared with FPF.


"We are very blessed to play sport, especially the best sport, which is football. It unites us and gives us a good cause to provide for the younger ones that do not have the opportunity to play."


Mollas was impressed by the support the match received from the South Australian community. He was grateful to be a part of an event that will hopefully make a positive difference in the lives of the next generation of African grassroots players.


"It is always a pleasure to see the African community come out, just all the people who have come out and watched today and donated money, which is the important thing because it is what we played for today. It was a very good turnout for a very good cause," Mollas said.


"They welcomed me with open arms, and I’d do the same if I was the one hosting it. It is about the respect and humility of what each other brings."

 

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Arbi Mollas (centre left) and his Lions FC teammates in the lead-up to the African All-Stars match. (BluTik Media)


This match was the first step towards building a more sustainable pathway for the next generation of African footballers. They often miss out on playing the sport they love at a young age because their families must prioritise their child's needs first.


The event's success will really affect the recipients of the money. But it will also encourage the players to continue organising such occasions, raise money for an important cause, and remind Australia of the talent in these communities. But also how easily it can be neglected because of financial obstacles.


Concepts like this one provide a wholesome experience for everyone involved. But they also put the onus back onto clubs and governing bodies, whose job should be to ensure no parent has to ever pick between feeding their children or signing them up to play at their local football club.


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