Original Post: 9/19/2009
By Mike Amos from The Northern Echo Newspaper.
Nick Gates, North-East lad but world traveller, will be back in the UK tonight on the trail of a global award for creating change through sport.
Bill, his dad, made a few bob from football and millions from sports shops. Judith, his mum, became a leading educationalist on both sides of the Atlantic.
We talk to Bill and Judith over lunch in a pub near Durham, to Nick over the telephone to Malawi. “There are no wires,” he says; cheeky sod.
His charity’s called Coaches Across Continents, designed not just to teach football but through it everything from HIV education to leadership and what Nick calls female empowerment.
“Social development,” he says, but he’s also very keen just to make kids laugh.
Though presently centred on Africa, in the past year they’ve had requests for information from 83 different countries. Next Thursday he’ll learn if CAC has won a Beyond Sport award, at the end of a three-day event attended by everyone from Tony Blair to Richard Branson, Archbishop Tutu to Prince Faisal al Hussein of Jordan.
He’d left Malawi, by bus, on Thursday morning. “I don’t particularly enjoy all the travelling, but I love getting dirty with the kids and seeing what a difference all this makes,” he says.
“I don’t really think about winning the awards, but there’ll be 300 hugely influential people there and who knows what other good might come out of it.”
He’s 42. “I reckoned I was getting old when one of the kids, instead of calling me brother called me Papa. I kicked him, of course.”
BILL Gates was from Dean Bank, Ferryhill, Judith Curry from Spennymoor – a couple of miles away.
They met on a school trip to the Rome Olympics, chucked three coins into the Trevi Fountain, wished for happiness and found it in abundance.
He was 17 when they married, she a year younger.
Getting on fifty years later they’re still holding hands in the Seven Stars. Trained observers notice these things.
Bill captained England’s youth team, made his Middlesbrough debut in the week before his 17th birthday, totalled more than 300 appearances – mostly in central defence, always on contact lenses – while training in the morning and studying accountancy in the afternoon.
After the last day of his finals in Gateshead, he dashed off to Carlisle, arrived at 7 20pm and played for the Boro ten minutes later.
He opened his first sports shop in 1974, sold the chain of 12 for £4.4m thirteen years later and became a tax exile in the Cayman Islands.
Judith went to Nevilles Cross Training College, became a head teacher at 29, opened a new school in Middlesbrough the following year, was a schools inspector in Sunderland at 36, gained a PhD, lectured at Durham University and was a visiting professor at two American universities.
They’re still in the Caymans, allowed just 90 days a year to return to their home at Castle Eden, near the Durham coast. Much of the time’s being spent extending and refurbishing it.
“Women,” says Bill, affectionately.
No danger of crossed lines, we’d spoken to Nick a couple of hours earlier.
Did he, asks his mum, mention about the time he’d found barefoot kids playing football on a rubbish tip – a rubbish tip with broken glass all over it?
Did he tell of the kids who’d turned up with a battered pair of football boots and proudly worn one each?
Did he talk of a kid called Walcott, lovely little lad, who wanted nothing else in the world than to be like Theo?
While directors of Coaches Across Continents, a registered charity in both UK and USA, they take a back seat both corporately and financially.
Nick had seen Africa’s problem’s especially in the South African townships, during an extended tour in 2006-07.
“It made him reevaluate his life, have a very different perspective on things,” says Judith. “He wanted to work with the kids and he wanted to work through football, but he came to this with his head as well as his heart.
“He’s not a soft touch, but he’s got a soft heart.”
Bill, one of five brothers – ex-England international Eric another – was himself so committed to football that at the age of nine he went doorto- door around Dean Bank collecting names for a petition to erect goal posts in the rec, because they were always getting chased off the streets.
“I suppose Africa’s a bit like when we were kids,” he muses. “Very few people have much but they’re lovely people and they’re happy, just like we were. It sounds almost pretentious but it’s amazing the difference that football is making, the way it’s changing lives.
“It’s a structured programme and it can be replicated in India and elsewhere.
It can grow much bigger. He’s a good lad, he really is. Nick cares.”
NICK went privately to Millfield School in Somerset, played for England Under 18s, had trials with several Football League clubs but decided instead to take up a scholarship to Harvard University.
“It was the days before all the Sky Sports money, education seemed a better bet,” he says.
His dad believes he could have played professionally – “maybe not at the top, but certainly in the lower leagues.”
Was he as good as his dad? “What at,” says Nick, “golf?”
In 1991, Nick and his elder brother David launched Play Soccer, running soccer camps and coaching throughout America and coached their millionth child four years ago.
The brothers had also been mascots at their dad’s Ayresome Park testimonial against Leeds United, one carrying the second division trophy – Boro’s – and the other the championship trophy, won by Leeds. The occasion notwithstanding, Leeds fans threw stuff at them, anyway.
David now has day-to-day control of that operation while his daughters, aged 18 and 20, run PASSIT – Pencils and School Supplies for International Townships.
After that it becomes almost selfexplanatory.
Nick, as might be supposed of pencils and things, is at the sharp end.
Formed two years ago, Coaches Across Continents trains local coaches and then gets them to train other coaches, the whole exercise backed by an on-line program 365 days a year.
It affords versatility and sustainability, says Nick. They can mentor communities all year round. “”We have a strategic business plan. It’s a charity, but we’re running it like a business.”
“The problems in Africa are unique, but the children are still the same. They laugh, they smile, they show respect for the coaches and for the game.
“Children might not always attend school, but you can bet if we show them different ways to do their daily tasks, change will be possible. Just to play football for an hour a day means so much to them.
“My dad’s background in football and my mum’s in education have been incredibly useful. They’ve both been very supportive.”
He’s sitting in an office at the Malawi FA. The country, he supposes, may now be famous for Madonna and her new baby than anything else.
There’s no time to dwell on it; there’s a bus leaving towards England and, many hours later, a plane.
“Of course it’ll be good to be home,”
says Nick, “but my passion’s now for the kids of Africa.”