Aldershot Town’s preparations for next month’s Aaha! RARA Gold Cup are nearing completion, with the final Academy squad for the tournament in Nepal set to be selected next week.
On Thursday 5 February, 16 players from the Shots’ Academy will travel to Pokhara with Head of Youth Kevin Knights and coach Marc Wardley, plus Chairman Shahid Azeem and director John Leppard, to compete in the 13th staging of the 12-team tournament.
Host team Sahara Club are the defending champions, having beaten hot favourites Manang Marshyangdi Club 1-0 in the 2014 Final which was watched by 16,000 fans (click here for highlights). The 2015 Final will be broadcast live on national television in Nepal, and online around the world, with the tournament’s top scorer being awarded a Suzuki motorcycle.
Having played two pre-tournament friendlies against local sides, The Shots will enter the Gold Cup at the quarter-final stages in a match expected to attract a crowd of 15,000.
Whilst in Pokhara, the squad will visit the Sahara Academy school, whose mission statement of “turning orphans into athletes” sees them provide both education and football coaching to disadvantaged Nepalese children. The team will also attend several charity events in the region, and donate kit and equipment to local teams.
Aldershot Town’s entry into the Aaha RARA Gold Cup is part of the Club’s new partnership with British-based charity Sahara UK and Rushmoor Borough’s Nepalese community. A challenge match was played at Aldershot Town’s Electrical Services Stadium in October, between the Club’s Academy side and Sahara UK FC, and now Sahara UK captain Nawal Gurung will accompany The Shots to Nepal for the return fixtures.
Based in Farnborough, Sahara UK is a charity dedicated to alleviating poverty in the Pokhara region. Founded in 2008 by Navin Gurung after leading a visit to the region by fellow British Midland Airways staff, he first became involved in the Aaha! Gold Cup in 2005, when he took some of the best young Nepalese footballers from the UK to Pokhara.
The profits from that tournament were spent on improving the welfare of 18 underprivileged boys under the supervision of the Sahara club, which led to the founding of the Academy’s sports centre and youth hostel for underprivileged children. Working alongside branches in Norway, Germany and Italy, Sahara UK and the Pokhara Academy Children’s Trust have previously held fundraising events, including football tournaments, concerts and dinners, across Europe and in Nepal.