Depending on what you want, football is a great opener of doors.  Most of the planet plays it, even more watch it, and even more have heard of it.  There are very few places on earth that you can visit where it’s impossible to have a conversation about football.

And that includes Nauru, a tiny Micronesian state 14,000km from Reading, off the Northeast coast of Australia.  And last week, I became its new national manager and football ambassador.

I love projects like this.  When I was younger, I wanted to be a travel writer.  And a footballer.  And also, a chef.  But after an unfortunate attempt to flambé an unsuspecting duck that last dream died just as surely as my parent’s cork splashback.  Don’t judge, it was the 80’s and cork was in fashion.

Anyway, football and travel writing remain, and you will struggle to find a better story than the recent history of Nauru.  Nauru is made primarily of phosphate, that’s bird poo to you and me, which is used in anything from fertiliser and food to cosmetics and electronics.  The mining of this resource meant that Nauru became rich.  Really rich.

Nauru made billions, and with it came excess.  Stories range from people going into shops to buy some sweets and paying with a $50 note and not taking the change, to a chief of police who imported a Lamborghini only to find he was too bulky to squeeze behind the wheel.  It was even said that the locals used money as toilet paper.

Fast forward to today and much of the food on Nauru is imported, unhealthy and tinned.  This has led to an obesity crisis, with two thirds of men and three quarters of women classed as clinically obese.

And it is this rather than creating a football team for the sake of it that interests me most.  I’m not a ‘white saviour’, this project is a partnership with the people of Nauru and as such it will be led by them.  

But I do have knowledge of football, health and fitness and an understanding of how to build successful football programmes.  And most importantly, I have the opportunity.  It’s easier to stand by and watch things get worse with smoking, alcoholism and diabetes all at record levels on the island, or I can try to help, for whatever that’s worth.

But it’s not going to be easy.  The only pitch is in an immigrant detention centre used by Australia, and the population is less than 12,000.  Funding is limited and there is no team to speak of.  In fact, there has never been a football team on the island.

But for me that’s the fun part when starting a football project from scratch.  It’s possible to achieve a lot very quickly before the bumps in the road appear.  If you take the England men’s team as an example, it is an organisation trying to bridge a gap of just one game.  That is to say that the work needed to take the side from making semi-finals and finals to winning a trophy, is so slight that the fun has largely gone out of it.

Clearly, nobody is saying that Nauru will compete for prizes, that would be to miss the point.  But those initial stages of putting ideas into practice and watching them grow from nothing is so much more exciting than anything at the elite end.  At least, to me.

Success in football isn’t always measured by how many games a team wins, that’s certainly the case with Nauru.  If we allow ourselves a moment to dream, success will ultimately lay in what kind of footballing legacy can be created.  Getting a team on the pitch is going to be tough, but once it’s there it’s hoped that it can act as a beacon for kids on the island to want to be a part of it.

I’ve yet to find a door that football can’t kick open, or at least nudge ajar, and I’m really looking forward to peeking behind this one.


I promised to update you on Reading Blue Coat School’s cup final last week.

To have coached the first Blue Coat football 1st XI to win a national cup competition in the school’s 378-year history – and seeing all the hard work the boys put in over the last eight months pay off – is one of my proudest achievements in football.

I was first introduced to our match winning goalscorer Luke Fearn when he was just a few days old by his father Jon, at the Reading FC training ground in 2007, where Jon was our physio. 17 years later, Luke and his team-mates are National Champions!


Finally, a big thank you to those of you who came along to watch my debut for Caversham United on Sunday. Two goals and a stoppage time equaliser wasn’t bad for my first competitive game in 10 years, but I was suffering a bit on Monday!