It’s a long way from Inverness and Mark Holmes was exhausted as he stepped off the bus in Atwima-Koforidua, Ghana.

To his astonishment, thousands had turned up to give the football coach a hero’s welcome.

It was his first visit, but the 44-year-old’s positive influence on the African country’s Ashanti region was already undeniable.

The former Caley Thistle, Ross County and Falkirk player has set up a football academy there after being contacted by a local on Facebook.

Now, the Mark Holmes Football Academy trains 250 children, giving many a better life by providing accommodation, meals and an education.

“We have beds for 70 kids and employ two cooks to ensure the children are eating three meals a day,” Mark explained. “We fundraised to buy bunk beds – many kids were sleeping on the ground.

“A lot of our players have suffered famine. Every day was just about surviving, but not now they are at the academy.

“We have an eight-year-old boy who travelled 100 miles to get to the academy.

“He is orphaned and turned up with his uncle, who couldn’t afford to feed him.

“He is now clothed, eating meals every day and receiving an education.

“Before I visited last year, I’d set up everything over the phone, so I was stepping into the unknown. I never believed it would turn into what it has become.”

© Paul Campbell

Mark Holmes in Inverness

Mark, who was forced to call a halt to his playing career at 27 after suffering injuries in a car accident, worked as a football agent before setting up an academy in Inverness.

Just a few months later, he received a Facebook message from a coach, Solomon Owusu, in Ghana.

Mark felt compelled to help and agreed to set up an academy.

He estimates £50,000 has been spent on the academy. Alongside fundraising, the cash comes from Mark’s Inverness football school.

“Everyone in Inverness has been very supportive and the parents should take a lot of credit,” said Mark.

“If we manage to sign a player from Ghana to a club abroad, I want to put all the money back into the community they come from.

“I want to do all I can to help this community who I’ve taken to my heart.”