‘It shows what kind of character he is’: Royals ace praised for work with international charity
A WORLD-RENOWNED charity has commended the support it has received from Reading Football Club and one of its homegrown players.
KitAid works closely with the Royals to ship out soccer strips to teams across the developing world and was approached by vice-captain Tom Holmes over lockdown, who was keen to offer his services.
Speaking to Reading Today, founder Derrick Williams MBE discussed the special relationship between the charity, the club and grassroots teams across the world, who now sport the famous blue and white hoops.
KitAid collaborates with clubs at all levels of the English football pyramid, and is set to deliver its millionth kit in 2023 – its 25th year of activity.
Mr Williams said: “Reading have been fantastic with us. Their kit manager [Stewart Bannister] and staff are really good guys and I think they trust us and like what we do.
“At the end of each season, when the shirt changes and they clear out, they give us a lot of kit and we make sure it gets through to teams that need it.”
Recent deliveries have seen children and adults in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Colombia and Bangladesh kitted out in the Royals kits and training tops from their 150th anniversary 2021/22 season.
The latest shipment was sent to Kokoben School in the Santasi District of Kumasi, Ghana, where students aged from 12-16 received last season’s home kit.
“We’ve done a lot in Ghana with Reading,” Mr Williams explained. “There’s even a hospital team who now call themselves Reading FC.
“When teams get kits from a certain club, they’ll look it up and want to follow that club.”
He also revealed that defender Holmes went out of his way to donate a number of kits during the 2020 lockdown, after learning about KitAid’s work.
Having established himself in the first team, he spent weeks gathering kits to be collected by the charity.
“He came to us, which shows what kind of character he is and I think it’s synonymous with the club,” Mr Williams said.
“There are clubs where we don’t have access to players, so for him to have come to us was great. I even went around to his house to collect the items, he was still living at home with his mum and dad then.
“To me, it tells me that Reading are a real community club. He’s from the area, it’s great that he’s a community ambassador like that.”
Mr Williams set up the charity in 1998, following a relief visit to Tanzania with WaterAid, where he often found himself swarmed by footballloving children who were drawn to the football shirts he was sporting.
He remembered meeting a boy in a Liverpool shirt which had been so worn out that the Carlsberg sponsor’s logo had faded. This inspired him and his friends to donate a box full of their disused jerseys – and thus KitAid was born.
Mr Williams said: “We got a lovely reaction. We thought, ‘we can’t stop here now, we’ve got to carry on.’
“Here we are, 25 years later with nearly a million items all across the world.”
He continues to be impressed by the children’s knowledge of the Premier League and the English game, only half-joking when claiming they knew more stats and players names than him.
Where the charity can’t provide kits, they prepare bundles of collectable MatchAttax football cards, which youngsters enjoy trading amongst themselves.
But the impact of KitAid’s work goes far beyond a football shirt or tradeable card.
Mr Williams explained: “For a lot of projects, they’re using football kits as an opportunity to engage with the community, getting kids back into school, getting them away from gangs, drugs and antisocial behaviour.
“Looking at an extreme example, we’ve got a project in Uganda where they use the football kits to engage with farmers and poachers who are killing chimpanzees.
“The only way they could get their message across to them about not killing the chimps was by setting up a football tournament.
“So the charity is really more than just a shirt.”