Ebola virus: Johnny McKinstry vows to stay in Sierra Leone

"One day my Academy boys will be the leaders of this country"....

Last updated: 28 Oct 2014  Source:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-29799290


A football coach from Lisburn, County Antrim, has vowed to stay in Sierra Leone, despite being at the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak sweeping West Africa.

Johnny McKinstry became the youngest coach in international football when he was appointed to lead Sierra Leone in 2013.

The 29-year-old was sacked last month, but decided to remain in the country.

He is currently managing a football youth academy in Tombo, near Freetown.

McKinstry has run the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which coaches youth players aged 12 to 17, for the past five years.

The players typically have 12 hours of football training per week and spend more than 20 hours on academic work.

Sierra Leone coach Johnny McKinstry
The Lisburn man said he is determined to remain in Sierra Leone and continue coaching a youth academy

'Zombie apocalypse'

However, the academy is now in lockdown, with a self-imposed quarantine in place in the 15-acre site.

Although his family have called for him to return home, McKinstry said he promised the parents of his young footballers that he would protect them, and he is staying put in Sierra Leone.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, McKinstry said he could not imagine abandoning his players.

He said: "My parents are concerned when they read these things in the papers, it sounds like the zombie apocalypse.

Johnny McKinstry
Johnny McKinstry said the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone has not hindered his players' progress


"But we're like an extended family here, that's what I've explained to my parents. I've got 27 kids here and have formed a relationship with each and every one of them."

'Relying on me'

There have been more than 3,800 cases in Sierra Leone since the outbreak began, with almost 1,300 deaths, according to the World Health Organization's latest figures.

McKinstry is the only person who leaves the academy now, making a fortnightly trip into the country's capital, Freetown, to collect supplies.

He said the city has changed dramatically because people are scared of the disease.

"Sixty to 70% of the expats who were here have gone home now," he said.

"If I was doing this job only for myself, I'd have gone home. But other people are relying on me, so I'll stay."


Although the football academy has been in lockdown for a number of months now, McKinstry said it has not hindered the players' progress.

"Their educational performance and levels of behaviour have actually improved since the outbreak," he told Al Jazeera.

"Their attitude is very humbling. They are cheerful, positive and appreciative of the opportunities they have here.

"We have a scoring system to assess their performance. The behaviour and their scores have never been higher than the last few months.

"One day they will be the leaders of this country."


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About Coach McKinstry

Coach McKinstry is a UEFA Pro Licensed Football Coach, with a number of successes across his 20+ year career to date.    He is currently Head Coach of Gor Mahia FC in Kenya

As Head Coach of the Uganda National Team, the 'Uganda Cranes' (2019 - 2021) he led Uganda to win CECAFA 2019 and over his tenure delivered a WIN from 2 in every 3 games, going undefeated in over 8 in every 10 games played.  This represented the highest 'win' and 'undefeated' rate achieved by a Uganda National Team Coach in over 15 years.

He was International Manager and Head Coach of the Rwanda National Football Team (2015-16). Within just 17 months he led Rwanda to a number of highs - including their first ever appearance in the knockout stages of a major international tournament (Quarter-finals of CHAN, Jan 2016) and finished runner-up in CECAFA (Dec 2105), being named 'Coach of the Tournament' for his efforts. 

Across 2013-14, he was Head Coach of the Sierra Leone National Men's Football team. Within just over a year, he had led Sierra Leone to their highest ever FIFA World and African rankings - 7th in Africa and 50th in the World (August 2014). 

He has also been Head Coach of Saif Sporting Club, Bangladesh Premier League (2018-19); and FK Kauno Zalgiris, Lithuanian A-Lyga (2017-18).  He is a European (UEFA), American (NSCAA) and university qualified football coach. 

Coach McKinstry is a member of 'Common Goal'. Together members seek to support high-impact organisations that harness the power of football to advance the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Quotes: What the media say

  • McKinstry led the team to their highest ever placing in the FIFA world rankings. They broke into the top 50, ahead of his native Northern Ireland.

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    Damien Edgar Backpage Football
  • Under his management, the team played attractive football, scored goals and racked up some important results.

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    Eoin O'Callaghan the42.ie
  • Very few 29-year-olds have managed a national football team. None have done it while that country is being brought to its knees by Ebola.

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    Ben Smith BBC Sport
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