ONE OF the oldest rivalries in Spanish football was played out last week, in the small Gambian village of Ndungu Kebbeh, when two of the countries oldest clubs met for the first time in 10 years.
Sporting Gijon and FC Ovieda, from Asturias in Northern Spain, were both founder members of the Spanish league in 1929 and have played many local derbies over the intervening years.
However, they have played in different divisions since 2007 and this particular match was different for another reason.
The two clubs did not field their normal star players. Each team was actually made up of local village footballers, playing in the colours of the two famous Asturian cities. The home team, from Ndunga Kebbeh play in the shirts of Oveida and the away side from Kuntaya, a village a few miles away along a dusty track wore the distinctive red and white stripes of Sporting.
The game was organised by the charity Asturies por África (Asturias for Africa), which was founded in 2008. It was designed as a celebration, an occasion for the kids in a place where among other projects they built and run a nursery school.
In addition, it was way to generate the funds to supply safe water to the nearby village of Kerr Omar Manneh, a couple of kilometres from the Senegal border.
The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa, a strip less than 50km wide running from the Atlantic deep into Senegal either side of the river. A third of the 1.8m population are estimated to live below the poverty line.
The aim of the match was to raise enough to build a solar-powered well and install 15 taps in the village, bringing clean, safe drinking water. Its cost: €14,000, an achievable target. Oscar Sainz, vice-president of the charity, explains everything. He is a familiar face; similar schemes have been set up across the Gambia.
Manchester United’s Juan Mata, once an Oviedo youth team player, is among the footballers supporting the project. The sprint-canoer Saúl Craviotto, a policeman in Gijón and an Olympic medallist in Beijing, London and Rio, twice winning gold, is there representing Sporting.
The two clubs fully support the charity, promote the cause and provide full kits. Their players have recorded videos, led by Nacho Cases and Esteban. Fans raise money; the APARO, Oviedo’s association of supporters’ clubs, collected more than €450 before the league game against Girona days before.
There are metal goalposts, but no net. The directors’ box is a dozen or so plastic chairs beneath a precarious canvas. The corner flags are branches and there is a goat in the far corner of the pitch.
Gambian TV has come to film the game and there must be 500 people around the pitch, some wearing fake replica shirts. There’s a pitch invasion when the goals go in, a huge roar and celebrations from the players and the noisy spectators shouting Vamos Vamos oviedo or Sporting.
After the 1-1 draw, the players and officials shake hands again, Sporting Gijón de Kuntaya and Real Oviedo de Ndungu Kebbeh, on a dusty West African field playing the “The derby that unites us,”
For more information of the charity, visit theie facebook page AsturiesxAfrica.