How Dave Kitson ended up coaching Pacific island Nauru's football team (2024)

'Call me back once you have sobered up,' was Dave Kitson's instant reaction when a good friend pitched this bonkers idea.

The challenge was to take charge of a tiny Micronesian island, Nauru, form a football team and lead them to their first ever international fixture.

The island has just shy of 13,000 inhabitants, one football pitch and an obesity crisis rivalled by no other nation in the world.

But now, with former Premier League star Kitson, they have their first ever manager, running operations from his home in Berkshire.

No, this is not a quirky Football Manager save, this is real life. 'It's a bit of a weird one,' says Kitson with a hint of understatement.

Dave Kitson (right) has been appointed as the manager of Nauru, a tiny Micronesian island as they set up an international football team

The tiny Pacific island has just 13,000 inhabitants and suffers from a serious obesity crisis

Where Nauru is situated in relation to Australia - the island forms part of Micronesia

'I've got a fascination with places off the beaten track, I always have, I wanted to be a travel writer when I was younger.

'I wanted to escape the little town I lived in and see the world, which I did through football. This is right up my street because I love football and travel more than anything in the world.

'I have always been a hound for finding obscure articles about these places.

'One of the places was North Korea - God knows what they'd think of me - and then I discovered a travel writer Gareth Johnson, who just kept cropping up in these off-grid places.

'He rang me up about a year ago telling me he was on Tuvalu and going to Nauru.

'He said, 'I want to start a football team and get them into a tournament - if I could pull this off would you come and manage the team?'.

'I said, 'Yeah, OK mate, whatever… call me back when you have sobered up!'.'

Johnson, who once led a crowdfunding project to buy an island in the Caribbean and create a micronation, is now CEO of the Nauru Football Federation alongside a touring company which puts on pub crawls around the island's four bars and a carvery.

The former Reading striker takes charge of a team founded last year who are yet to play a game

Kitson also played for Stoke in the Premier League and featured in all of England's top four divisions

He fired Reading to promotion in 2005/06 after a couple of prolific campaigns up front

But getting a football team together, especially on an island like this, is much easier said than done.

READ MORE: Former Premier League star is appointed as manager of tiny Micronesian island with a population of just 13,000... and they haven't even played a game yet!

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Part of the inspiration came from American Samoa's journey, which was made into a film starring Michael Fassbender called Next Goal Wins, directed by Maori Taika Waititi.

The film, and the award-winning 2013 documentary by the same name, charts American Samoa's rise from losing 31-0 to Australia in 2001, the biggest ever international defeat, to their rise up the FIFA World Rankings (they peaked at 164 of around 210 nations).

'Nauru is famous for mining phosphate,' explains travel guru Kitson, 44, who had a good career at the likes of Reading, Stoke and Portsmouth.

'They made billions from that but it left scars all over the island. The way the wealth had been distributed left a little to be desired.

'And so people understandably stopped working and the island started to rely more on imports of unhealthy food which led to an obesity crisis.'

Indeed, in a 2007 survey by the World Health Organisation, it was estimated that 94.5 per cent of Nauru inhabitants were overweight.

'That is one of the main reasons for trying to offer some help,' adds Kitson. 'Can we get the next generation to start kicking a ball about and get fit and healthy?

The Sun rises among the rock pinnacles on Anabare beach, Nauru island, South Pacific

A picture of the Buada Lagoon on Nauru, surrounded by tropical vegetation

'It's not our business to try to win, or to put the nation on the map, it's bigger than that and more than getting a team together.'

Kitson's old friend Charlie Pomroy will help with coaching. Pomroy used to work as a director of football at Stevenage but most recently held a job at Cambodian side Angkor City, where his role was a bit of a mash-up between owner, physio, chef, kitman, coach and office administrator.

Fellow Englishman Lee Bowyer has taken on a similar challenge at Montserrat. Kitson and Co have stressed it is not a quick project and a good place to start will be finding a place to play.

As it stands, there is one official pitch on the island but it comes with a large catch: it is at a prison.

'The only pitch is in an immigration detention centre used by Australia,' says Kitson.

'That's the only flat pitch anyway, the mining of the phosphate has left these jagged scars all over. It's the only pitch on the island that would be anything like what we would call a pitch here in the UK!

'There are other places to play but let's say they're a bit more agricultural. We've linked up with two companies that specialise in finding people with links or ties to Nauru - those who might have emigrated to Australia. That's fine but how can we fund them to fly in and out?

One of the tropical beaches on Nauru - but the idyllic island has endured its problems

A satellite image of Nauru shows how tiny it is, with just one usable football pitch on the island

'But this is about people on the island. We don't want a white saviour project here, going into their country and telling them how to do things.

'It's really important that this whole thing is led, owned and operated by the people of Nauru, we're just guests helping out wherever we can.'

It is similar to the mantra of the Dave Kitson Academy in Reading, 'anyone, anywhere, any level', where he coaches kids in the area and is oversubscribed despite setting it up just last year.

He coached a Reading school to their first national final win in their 378-year history.

He also led a player pathway project with agency group Midas which represented Liverpool star Curtis Jones. So taking on challenges is no foreign concept to Kitson, but this one is bigger than all.

The first hurdle is his upcoming three-day journey to Nauru.

How Dave Kitson ended up coaching Pacific island Nauru's football team (2024)


How Dave Kitson ended up coaching Pacific island Nauru's football team? ›

The cast of characters involved include Kitson's mate Gareth Johnson, whose love of football and adventurous travel spirit brought the pair together. It was Johnson who lured Kitson to the Nauru football cause. Then there is national coach-in-waiting Charlie Pomroy, another Brit, who also lives in Nauru.

What is Dave Kitson doing now? ›

Kitson currently coaches football at a school in Berkshire and runs the Dave Kitson Football Academy. One of his teams recently won a national tournament, an achievement he described as "one of the best things that ever happened to me in football".

What is Dave Kitson's sports career? ›

More about Dave!

He started his career at Cambridge United before joining Reading in 2003. He was player of the year in 2004 and was top scorer in 2004/05, the club's record breaking 106 point title winning season in 2005/06 and Reading's second season in the Premier League in 2007/08.

Who does Dave Kitson support? ›

Kitson is a supporter of Talking Royals - a podcast that supports Reading FC fans who are facing mental health challenges.

Who is Syd Kitson's wife? ›

When the Packers' season ended, Kitson returned to campus for the one-month January term to complete his course credits. It's a message he preaches to young athletes: college is too important not to finish. He went on to graduate with his sweetheart, Diane Hansen ('81), the woman he married.

Which football position did the Babco*ck Ranch developer play in the NFL? ›

Syd Kitson
No. 64, 73
Personal information
Born:September 27, 1958 Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Height:6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
14 more rows

What is Michael Essien's sports career? ›

Essien was a mainstay on Ghanaian national football teams from an early age. He played on the Ghana squads that finished third at the 1999 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Under-17 World Championship and second at the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship.

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