Among football fans everywhere, Wednesday nights are known for gripping Champions League matches involving sporting heroes players like Mo Salah, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe. But on the afternoon of this past Wednesday, November 8th, an equally momentous match took place right here in Phnom Penh, as the Little Hearts boys’ football team faced off against the mysterious Dark Team.
As many of you know, our boys have been practising regularly for years under the tutelage of their coach, Rathanak. Their athletic skills and team play have been improving steadily, but they don’t often have the opportunity to test them against other teams. But Rathanak also plays and coaches at Central Park Sports Complex, a sports venue in central Phnom Penh featuring futsal fields and volleyball courts. At Central Park he often watched a group of other boys drawn from various schools and universities in the city, who call themselves the Dark Team, so he challenged them to a match against Little Hearts. Much to his delight, the Dark Team accepted.
A date was set, and the venue was agreed – Central Park itself, rather than the pitch at Little Hearts, which is too small and often flooded during the rainy season. On matchday, only six members of the Dark Team were available to play, so the game was played on a small field and our boys rotated in and out to give everyone a chance to play. The two teams played a full 90 minutes over two halves. The end result: Little Hearts won, 10–5. Well done, boys! (But please don’t be too euphoric or show off, ‘cause the match was just a friendly…)
A few days later, on Saturday, November 11th, our team had another chance to compete, this time against a group of boys from Sok Sabay Association, an NGO that, like Little Hearts, shelters abandoned children in need of healthcare, education and a home. (Indeed, Little Hearts and Sok Sabay collaborated on several activities a few years ago, including dancing competitions and anniversary parties.) As it turned out, however, the Sok Sabay boys do not have the benefit of training under their own coach or formal footballing lessons, so they aren’t used to playing as a team. The would-be match therefore quickly turned into a football clinic run by our boys to help their new friends learn basic footballing skills and strategy.
Thus, over the two game days, two aims were met. The main reason why Little Hearts staff encouraged the staging of these games was to give our kids the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their weekly football training – and they did so with aplomb against the Dark Team. But we also wanted this to be an occasion to build their social skills. All the kids are smart and accomplished in various ways, but many of them are shy and find it difficult to communicate with other youngsters outside of their school and Little Hearts. So playing with the boys from Sok Sabay gave them a chance to meet other kids much like themselves and interact in a natural, spontaneous way while doing something they love – playing football.