Erakor Village is home base for OFC Champions League participants Erakor Golden Star and a place where football runs in the blood.
At the end of a rural road in Vanuatu’s Port Vila, a school overlooks the well-used football field, and at one end, behind the goal lies a beach soccer pitch with homemade goals.
It’s here in this picturesque locale where the children and young adults of Erakor Village hone their skills day in and day out.
Benjamin Noel, a teacher in the local school and an OFC Just Play trainer, has been working in the village for ten years managing football development and helping to introduce the OFC Just Play Programme to the local community.
“The environment there in Erakor is just football, football, football,” Noel said.
“I’ve been there working in the village for about ten years. Working with them from the kids up to the premiers and back down.
“They have the passion.”
Noel said it’s important to work closely with the club and the community to develop the opportunities and show young people the pathway available to them.
“In my role I have seen the pathway from Just Play in action.
“I work up and down the age groups to maintain our programme and this year I’ve gone back to the kids,” Noel explained.
“It really works. It works.
“With these kids, if you’re in the village you can see that it’s working. One example is that they’re forming their own peer groups in the village and they’re not associating with the ones who are doing things wrongly in the village.
“They’re forming new groups that keep out what is not good in the community.”
Noel said having a pathway which leads to a concrete opportunity for top level football sets Erakor apart.
“There’s a clear pathway, it is good. That is what we want, it’s a must that we have to consider the pathway,” Noel said.
“Golden Stars is a model of what we want to do. The kids we have in Just Play now, of course they will be the future stars of tomorrow.
“Some of the ones I was with in 2010 are already in the Premier League.
“It’s important that we maintain our programmes.”
Noel’s latest project is to introduce the new Just Play sessions, S2L, in Vanuatu.
S2L will work with an older age group than what Just Play has previously catered to, giving kids 13-16 years old another avenue to football development to consider as they work towards top flight football.
Noel is already running practice S2L sessions in Erakor Village to hone the delivery and prepare the programme for its formal introduction in March.