Now more than ever, footballers are creating charities to give some of their wealth to those less fortunate, and to use their reputation to make the world a better place.
Football and charity are two words that it is increasingly common to hear in the realm of the beautiful game. Football charities are aplenty in today’s society, whether they’re run by footballers themselves for causes close to their hearts, by clubs, or to improve the game itself.
Ex-Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien was a tough tackling box to box midfielder. He brought brains and brawn to Stamford Bridge, with his no-nonsense defensive solidity matched by his intelligent play in the final third to create chances.
With some 43 goals in over 400 career appearances, Essien has gone down as one of the most reliable midfielders of the early to mid-2000s.
Yet, whilst Essien brought an imposing, authoritative aura to the pitch, he was (and is) also known for his big heart off it. Inspired by his upbringing, Essien created the Michael Essien Foundation to help those less fortunate than himself. Essien, however, wanted to bring change close to home. Close to the place he grew up and loved. Close to the community who championed him.
Football and charity both play a big part in Michael Essien’s life. But why?
Despite the substantial wealth he accumulated during his playing days, Essien, like many successful footballers, came from humble beginnings. Whether it was a natural talent that carried him to the top of the beautiful game, or a drive to give his family a more privileged upbringing than he had himself, we can’t be sure.
But what is evident is that Essien feels a sense of responsibility to help those who were closest to him as a child. He does have a drive to use football and charity to bring positive change to his hometown.
Essien was brought up in an impoverished area of Ghana called Awutu Breku. During his childhood, Essien was afflicted with malaria; another part of his upbringing that would influence his charitable ventures in the future. Life in Awutu Breku was basic. So when Essien launched his foundation in 2009, he returned to the town to great admiration.
Essien’s success had, in turn, given hope to millions in Ghana. He was once in similar circumstances to many of Awutu Breku’s children today. Essien inspired these children to, truly, reach for the stars. But it was difficult enough in the town to find basic amenities, let alone become a Premier League footballer. Essien decided that enough was enough.
Essien’s foundation seeks to bring fundamental provisions to the area, such as clean drinking water, libraries, and public toilets.
Awutu Breku is 30 minutes outside of Accra, Ghana’s capital. Whilst Accra is home to over two thousand millionaires (making it Africa’s tenth wealthiest city), the surrounding areas are filled with poverty. However, it wasn’t Essien’s pursuit of equality in wealth that necessarily drew him back to Ghana. It was a more personal reason.
Speaking with BBC Worldwide, Essien explained:
‘The most important thing for me to set up this foundation was my late brother. I never got the chance to meet him before he died but I learned later he died when looking for water for the family to live by’.
Similarly, Essien cites his mother as another person who inspired him to take on the charitable venture. Football and charity came together under Essien’s foundation to create a female life skills workshop in the town. This paid tribute to Essien’s mother who he said:
‘Sacrificed her life for my sisters and I’.
Of course, football and charity, for Essien, also needed to involve football. The Foundation aims to help educate children using sport. Similarly, it aims to get children active by playing the game that so many across the world love.
But Essien wasn’t finished there. Knowing how valuable education is, Essien launched the ‘Reading Goals Literacy Initiative’ to encourage children to read. Much like Marcus Rashford’s book club campaign, Essien’s drive to educate children is a passion that JAX Branding Creative Director Jack Bies shares. Similarly, Jack understands the value of giving, and helping others every day; values he himself lives by. JAX Branding has experience working with sports charities and these organizations are always welcome to work together.