When former Hull Daily Mail journalist, Matt Stephenson and film-maker, Alan Jones, touched down in Sierra Leone, they were expecting to be greeted with colourful culture. Freetown, Hull’s twin city, was certainly bustling with activity, but also provided them with plenty of food for thought. They soon understood that people were unsure of where the next meal meal was going to come from, unsure of when it would land on their plates. The pair, dabbling in book and film journalism during the day, craved a grander story, one which combined Freetown lifestyle with somebody’s unfulfilled dream.
It was at this point that the plan was hatched to unearth the best untapped footballing talent in the country. Of course, every good idea has to have an equally profound subject who can make the project work. Sierra Leone certainly had that personality; the name, Alhassan Kamara. Affectionately known as ‘Saviour’, the little known striker was banging in goals left, right and centre for the best team in his country. Despite thoroughly enjoying his football, pocketing a mere £30 a week is a far cry from what we have come to envisage the modern player earning. His income was insufficient to support his family as his parents continued running their business of selling water/cold drinks to keep the pennies rolling in. Amid the financial struggles faced by most families, football was repeatedly interrupted by chronic political revolt. Consequently, to remain in Western Africa was simply not an option for Saviour!
Fortunately, after watching the young sensation on the pitch, the journalists instantly recognised that they had found the man to invest their resources in. What followed was the tough struggle to obtain a Visa, while wrangling with clubs in the hope that someone would offer Saviour a trial. With hope gradually depleting, a club from the Swedish 3rd division badly needed a centre forward and saw Alhassan as the man to help them climb the table. His impact was immediate and became an instant fan favourite netting 5 times in 10 games during a 2011 loan spell. Kamara had bigger aspirations though and when the top club in the first division came calling, he transferred to AIK that October. The rigors of adapting to cultural chance have stinted his progress at his new club, but at just 20 years of age, he still believes that he can play for ‘one of the biggest clubs in Europe’.
Throughout Saviour’s adventure from his hometown to Sweden, Stephenson and Jones followed his progress through the lens of a camera. They hope for the story to find its way onto British television screens and here is just a snippet of what they have produced so far.
Stephenson paid aspiring journalists a visit at Hull’s Creator College on Thursday evening to both tell the extraordinary tale and discuss the effects that carrying a camera can have. Reflectively, he conceded that the documentary’s intervention has only “accelerated the move [to AIK]…. Anybody with serious potential will earn their break at some point”. Continuing to speak frankly, Stephenson admitted that the film will not suffer if Saviour’s career aspirations take an early blow. However, he has also been “charmed” by Alhassan’s enthusiasm and the tremendous support shown to both the football player and man surrounded by poverty. A project that was initially designed to make interesting viewing, quickly became impossible to remain emotionally removed from. The “overtly participatory” nature of the role thrust him into the spotlight and mentoring a player suffering from homesickness was another skill demanded of Stephenson.
Where will the project go in the future? In truth, few can say. Still, Saviour’s drive and determination to improve his football, and to transform Sierra Leone, makes it difficult to believe that this is the last we have heard of his name.