Larry Sawyer and Samba Koroma pose with their coach before a match
against Nigeria's youth team at Freetown's national stadium, 09 Dec 2009
Larry Sawyer and Samba Koroma pose with their coach before a match
against Nigeria's youth team at Freetown's national stadium, 09 Dec 2009

FC Johansen is one of Sierra Leone's up and coming youth football teams. Its players dream of playing in Europe and for Sierra Leone's national team. But FC Johansen is not just a successful football team. It is also a family and a home for its players, many of whom were orphaned during Sierra Leone's long civil war. 

"I started playing football when I was eight years old. So I've played many tournaments that brings me to FC Johansen at the age of 12 years," said
Larry Sawyer.  "I started my football career in FC Johansen. So it is a great pleasure for me to be in FC Johansen. I've never regretted it."

Larry Sawyer now plays for the Sierra Leonean club FC Johansen as attacking midfielder. At fifteen, he has already traveled to Europe and America with his team and, like many of his fellow players, dreams of becoming a professional footballer.

But FC Johansen is no ordinary team. Nicki Spencer-Coker, spokesperson for FC Johansen, says the club has a unique story.

"FC Johansen is a youth football club and it is the most successful and recognized youth football club in Sierra Leone based on the fact that these young boys have a fantastic story," said Spencer-Coker. "These are war-orphans, underprivileged kids, who were just neighborhood kids starting up
with football."

The team was founded by Sierra Leone's first female publisher and avid football fan Isha Johansen when she saw the boys playing in the street near Freetown's Hill Station army barracks.

Most of the players are the children of army officers and many lost one or both parents during the war.

Larry Sawyer was only seven when he lost his family during Sierra Leone's civil war. He says football has helped him work through the sadness.

"The game has helped me with more encouragement. After football after our training, I associate with my friends and they give me a word of encouragement. I feel like I'm in my family," said Sawyer.  "I feel like I have not lost. And I know that all is well because Madame Johansen is treating me like she is the mother of me."

Sawyer says his fellow players are like brothers to him.

Sawyer's teammate, Samba Koroma is fifteen and plays left back for FC Johansen. He lost his father in the war.

"I came from a very poor background actually. Because my father was a soldier, but during the war, he was dead," said koroma.  "So I lived through Madame Isha. She is the one who is responsible for us in our schooling activities and many things. She is helping us greatly."

All of FC Johansen's players must be in school in order to be on the team. Education is a priority for these young Sierra Leoneans and they prize it above even football. But they are also planning successful careers on the football field.

Koroma models himself on great Africa football players like Nigerian Samuel Eto'o and Ivorian player Didier Drogba who came from poor backgrounds to succeed internationally.

Sawyer says he wants to be like his favorite player in the world, the mid-fielder Paul Scholes.

"He is a wonderful midfielder. He has vision," said Sawyer.  "So I want to be like him. I want to be more than him. That is my ambition. When I am older, when I'm finished playing football, at the end of my football career, I want to become a big personality in Sierra Leone. Even to come back to my home and take my country to a higher level in football."

Teammate Koroma says he has always dreamed of playing football.

"I've always imagined that," said Koroma. "And when I imagined it at that time I got a dream, that an angel came and said, 'Be patient man, you will be somebody in the future.' Then I follow my dreams - I chase my dream."