Man to run to every Premier League stadium to build football pitches in Africa

A charity founder is set to run to every Premier League football stadium in England to fundraise for the construction of football pitches in Africa.

Max Keens, 31, from north London, will be running to all 20 stadiums starting on June 1, spending 35 days on the road in a campervan to visit every Premier League pitch between Newcastle and Brighton.

Mr Keens, a TV producer, founded a charity named Project Africa with two colleagues in 2021, a UK-registered organisation focused on building sustainable football pitches for communities across Africa.

The charity has helped to build two pitches to date, located in Kenya and Uganda, with the hope that Mr Keens’ challenge will help to fund the construction of the next four pitches on the continent.

A completed football pitch in Kenya with children playing on it
A completed football pitch in Kenya (David Mulo/PA)

“Our aim is to build as many pitches for communities and charities in Africa that use football to teach, as well as for the children there whose main love is football,” Mr Keens said.

“If a child plays football there for a few years and becomes a teacher, for example, through the teachings that the coach has given them, that’s the aim.

“As much as they will have football teams there, they are more than that, they are for children who can’t afford to go to school so they will come and train but the coaches will teach them things from HIV awareness to tying a shoelace.”

A football with the logo for Project Africa
Project Africa was founded in 2021 with the aim of building sustainable football pitches for communities across Africa (David Mulo/PA)

Mr Keens said the idea behind the charity was born after he went on a volunteer trip to Africa to teach children English and coach them in the sport.

There, he met the two trustees for the charity Project Africa, Leendert Coene and Andreas Schobersberger.

“We were coaching the kids on very gravelly car parks, they were concrete football pitches. The kids didn’t care, they would slide tackle and everything,” he said.

A crowd of people on the completed football pitch in Kenya
A crowd of people at the completed football pitch in Kenya (David Mulo/PA)

“I sort of threw the idea out about building sustainable grass pitches in Africa where children can not only improve their football abilities, but also enjoy the sport without the idea of getting injured.”

Mr Keens said three football pitches, one in the Democratic Republic of Congo and two in Kenya, are in the stages of completion.

He hopes his upcoming challenge will help to fund their completion, as well as the construction of two more pitches with their locations yet to be confirmed.

T-shirts and footballs with the logo for Project Africa
Project Africa has helped to build two football pitches to date, with more under way (Salim Blanden/PA)

The route will start at St James’ Park stadium in Newcastle, where he will run around 20 miles each day, travelling to Burnley, Luton, Bournemouth and Brighton before finishing the challenge at the London Stadium in Stratford.

Mr Coene, one of the trustees for the charity, will be driving the campervan to each spot, as well as documenting the journey along the way.

“We’ve had to find a campsite at every checkpoint where we’ll camp out for the night and go back to where I’ve finished running the next day,” he said.

“Some places there’s literally no campsites so we’ll be sleeping in the nearest lay-by there.”

Max Keens standing next to a steamroller on a pitch in Kenya
Max Keens in Kenya during the construction of the football pitch there (David Mulo/PA)

“I’ve played football all my life but I’ve never been a runner and have never had the fitness of a runner,” he said.

“There’s not a chance on this earth that, unless I break my leg or something serious happens, that I won’t hobble my way through it.

“Even if it takes me eight hours one day to reach the checkpoint, I’ll do it.”

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