By Ing. George-Patrick Bediaku | Accra, Ghana
Imagine being separated from your family at the tender age of 10. Separated not because you didn’t want to, but because you wished to realise a dream. Betwixt and between. Such was the dilemma of Thomas Boakye. Fast forward a decade later, Tom’s early sacrifice has paid off, even though he may not have understood it fully then. His family is proud of him and Boakye attributes it to one man and one vision.
The Right to Dream Academy has gained prominence in the media limelight for the last couple of years and rightly so. The dream that Tom Vernon had has, through hard work and dedication, finally began to reap major benefits after a decade.
Boakye plays for Östersunds FK in the Swedish Superettan, a prominent member of the team that gained promotion to the division and helped them stay there.
“It's been great and interesting with all its setbacks and everything. When I first moved to the club, I didn't know what to expect. But with the help of Sam Laryea and Isaac Shaze, they were there to help me. They helped me move forward and settle in. It was tough but I didn't panic. I didn't put any pressure on myself. I just waited and worked hard to bring out the best in me.”
But his story has been one over a long journey. How did it all start for the young man?
Born and raised in Bremang in the Ashanti Region, Tom was your average Ghanaian kid. On one fateful day, he chanced on an announcement that would change his life.
“It was announced on radio that a ‘justify-your-inclusion’ exercise was going to be organized at ‘Wesco’, near State Boys, Suame Police Station. The next morning when I went, there were so many players and only nine were to be selected to do the final justifier to get into the Right to Dream Academy. At the time, it was known as the Tom Vernon Football Academy but he later found it prudent to change the name to what it is now.
“So I made it through to the final stage where ten players were to be selected out of 80, to start the second generation of the academy. Isaac Shaze and Sam Laryea were members of the first generation.
“It’s every kids dream if they get the opportunity that RtD affords. If you’re not good in school, they make sure that you get the best possible help you need to get you to improve, speak good English, read and write.”
And he is well-spoken and articulate. A trait I have noticed among the few RtD graduates I have interacted with. Kudos, Tom Vernon. Boakye continues his story.
“I moved to RtD in 2004. Moving away from my family was challenging. After I was selected, I was given a form to give to my parents to confirm. They don’t just send a paper. They send a staff to sit with your parents, explain to them, giving them a clear picture of what is going to happen. One coach Mariner was the one who came to my house and explained to my parents and I signed a contract with RtD. And since then, my life changed, really.
Boakye in Right To Dream, with Enock Kwakwa
“If you don’t have a good character, you can’t stay in the academy. There’s a code of conduct you’re supposed to adhere to. Because they want to keep guys with good attitudes.
“The academy has changed my life. Free education, free coaching, it can’t get better than that.”
Recognize him? Boakye with Majeed Waris at Right To Dream
An all-round formative institute, RtD has to be credited for helping shape these boys the right way. Most RtD graduates are well-mannered and they are still monitored after they leave the Academy.
“RtD is always looking out for the best of the player. They train you totally, so that wherever you find yourself, you can survive. Also so that the way you carry yourself will not bring a bad name to the academy, your country and your family.”
“We the graduates, whenever we come back to Ghana, we go to the Academy and talk to the boys, advise them about the career, so that they can learn from us. RtD also helps us to get agents, they don’t just leave us out there. They contact us, checking up on how we’re doing, our diet and other things. They always want the best for us.”
After that detour, Tom continues his story, where he lands a scholarship which opens another chapter of his life.
“RtD got me a scholarship to Hartpury College, along with Bismark Boateng, who I think plays for Kotoko, and we studied and played there. The college gave us the opportunity to train with Forest Green Reserves in the Conference in England. We couldn’t play with the first team so we were with the reserves.
“We also got the opportunity to go on trials for the England U18’s and U19’s. Unfortunately, I was the only one who was picked and I was so sad because I wanted Bismark to be with me. So we went to Lilleshall for the final trials to select the best colleges U18’s to represent England. When they pick you, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You will represent England.
“The first year, I got selected for both U18’s and U19’s. My college decided that I should play in the U18’s because that was more advertised. It was on TV and you never know what could happen. After the season with the U18’s, I came to play for the U19’s as well because they were both running at the same time. In the second year, I also had the opportunity to play for both sides.
Boakye (bottom left) with the England U18's
“It is not easy studying and playing at the same time. You have to organize your time very well. I mean, you have assignments to hand in, trainings to attend, work…it is just crazy. It can mess your head up. But thank God, I was able to survive. I had distinction on my certificate. Bismark also passed his. So we both graduated from college successfully.”
Boakye, when he graduated from Hartpury college
Just when it seemed like a major door was about to open for him, he had to encounter a minor disappointment.
“During my time in England, we went to Sweden for the Gothia Cup and we reached the semi-finals, which was a good achievement for my college. That was our second time at the tournament and both times we got knocked out that the semi-final stage.”
Boakye playing for Hartpury College at the Gothia Cup
To be continued…