FOOTBALL mad youngsters in a poverty-stricken country have been left smiling thanks to an Albion fan and the club.

A football academy in the African country of Gambia has been kept alive after Seagulls supporter Lee Pattenden delivered spare kit and equipment last month.

He visited the country in February last year, and stayed in touch with Badou Conateh, the director of the academy.

When preparing his family holiday this time around, Lee contacted Badou, a former Gambian international footballer, to see if he could help the academy.

However, when 59-year-old Lee found out they were forced to close because of a lack of equipment, he decided to take it into his own hands.

Lee, who lives in the Hanover area of Brighton, said: “I contacted Paul Barber, Albion’s chief executive, to see if they had any spare kit or equipment we could take over there.

“They gave us three boxes full of shorts, training tops, balls and other things, and we already had about 50 footballs to take.

“Badou and the children were over the moon when we gave them all the equipment.”

Property management worker Lee contacted The Argus last week after reading our story about fellow Albion fan David Foster.

David was coincidentally was in Gambia at the same time and bought an eerily similar souvenir to the one purchased by Lee the year before.

Lee was also helped by Thomas Cook’s public relations team, who gave him one free suitcase to get on board to Gambia.

His generosity even led to the academy being renamed the Seagull Academy.

“It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces,” said Lee.

He was on holiday with 18 of his family members – girlfriend Zaneta, mother Joy and children and grandchildren.

The age groups at the academy range to under-18 level.

Lee said: “They are only allowed to play football there if they attend school regularly and get a good report.

“The children play football on sand without any shoes on.

“Some of them even had to make their footballs out of socks. It’s a completely different world.

“They were overwhelmed when we gave them their kits.”

Lee said he stays in touch with Badou and they are now “personal friends”.

“He invited all 18 of us to his house for dinner to say thank you,” Lee added.

“No tourists would really go there, but it was a brilliant experience.”

Lee praised Albion for their generosity in giving him the kit to take to Gambia.