Back in Libreville in April, Andrew and The Ball took off on a DHL cargo flight headed for Douala, Cameroon. On the 28th of April 1993 another flight took off from that very airport carrying the greatest ever Zambian football team. The plane crashed and everyone on board perished. Today, we remember those fallen heroes as we visit the memorial to them at Independence Stadium in Lusaka. We pay our respects and find out more about what happened.
After refuelling successfully in Gabon the plane took off. What happened next has laid the foundations for many a conspiracy theory. A fisherman reported a huge explosion and saw the plane go down. This man was the only eyewitness and within a week he was dead. His death raised the bar, the Zambian people wanted to know what really happened. Because it was a military aircraft, there was no black-box on board and no way to find out the reason for the crash without the help of Gabon’s Government, and this has not been forthcoming.
The version that is most popular today is that one engine caught fire, the pilot made a mistake in shutting down the good engine instead and the plane crashed. But we still do not know exactly what happened.
What we do know is that players, coaches, administrators, and journalists were all on board. Their remains were brought home and buried right here outside of the national stadium. The monument here, and the graves of the fallen, are a shrine. The Zambians still mourn the loss of those heroes. They still come here, 17 years on, to pay respect to the dead, and they still sing songs about those players at every home match in Independence Stadium. And they still wonder what might have been.
Today, we mourn those players as the sun goes down. Then, together with emotional Zambian football officials, we enter Independence Stadium, accompanied by twenty barefoot kids. Accompanied by a national team striker, we kick The Ball on the pitch. The ear to ear smiles on the faces of the youngsters brighten up the atmosphere. They are living the dream…
“Normally this pitch if reserved for the professionals and the national team. We are making an exception today for you and The Ball.”
When we met up with Francisco Carlos Soares Luz, the Brazilian Ambassador to Tanzania, in his office in Dar es Salaam, we asked him to say a few words about the Spirit of Football. He didn’t want to answer immediately. For a Brazilian this question goes right to the heart of the national obsession.
Three day later, he arrives in his kit, ready to play for the EU Flames against Albino United. He’s brought along 20 Brazilian balls. But not just any balls. These balls are made by prisoners and donated to schools. Each of these “social” balls is stitched by an inmate, who gets one day off their prison sentence for each ball produced.
“I am ready to tell you about the spirit of football” says Francisco. “I remember, a small story from 5 years ago when Brazil played against Haiti. We had just taken the lead in the UN peacekeeping force in that country. We concluded, that the only fun, the only happiness, the Haitian people would have was if we would take the Brazilian national team to play against them.”
“There were more or less 500,000 people in the streets to greet the Brazilian team and they were on the top of a military tank on the way from the airport to the stadium. The result of the match, was the least important thing, the happiness that those people had in that moment is the spirit of football.”
I’ve supported Liverpool my whole life. Angie, my mum, grew up on Anfield Road in Liverpool. How could I support any other team? And in my childhood Liverpool were the kings of Europe and utterly dominant in the old English First Division with Kevin Keegan, King Kenny and (the now mind-blowingly dull) Alan Hansen. But we’ve not won the league for 20 years and our arch rivals have dominated. Like most Liverpool fans, I am expecting us to win the first Europa League title as we settle down in front of the big screen in Longido, Tanzania to watch the semi-final live from Anfield.
As I’ve travelled with The Ball (Tanzania being the 24th country en route to the World Cup) I’ve met hundreds of Liverpool fans. And, unfortunately, many more Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea fans. Africans love their Premiership football. Just about everybody wears a fake jersey of the club team in England that they follow passionately and the first question is almost always “which English team do you support?”. And, to our amazement, we’ve stumbled across live Premiership and European club football in some of the most out of the way places. Longido is a prime example.
We are the only Europeans in town. The locals are mixed between the indiginous Maasai and new arrivals from the rest of Tanzania. The population numbers a few thousand. Football, once more, is a unifying force. Live football in Longido means one place: a bar with a projector, a large screen, a mixed crowd and Kilimanjaro beer. We’ve won again. Last night we watched Inter hang on against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Julio Cesar, who signed The Ball in February, was once again the star of the game. And tonight, the locals are hungry to see more live football. And so am I. Its another huge European night at Anfield. Come on Liverpool!
Ahhh, its not to be our night. Babel misfires. Gerrard is a shadow of his former self and Benitez confuses once more with his strange substitutions. I am left frustrated. My team is out. The club goes deeper into crisis. But life goes on even though in the moment I can’t imagine it. Liverpool is out.
Tonight, in Longido, I am walking alone.
Andrew asks the Togolese Minister of Sport about the history of football in Togo. He calls Eloian Salo Kodjo Koffi, the National Director of Sport in Togo, who provides him with this answer:
“The history of football in Togo has had many ups and downs. A great deal of its early progress is due to the involvement of the army and of the Catholic community. But football in Togo didn’t really develop in any meaningful way until the 1940s and didn’t really take off until Togo participated in the African Championships in Brazzavillle, Congo in 1964, shortly after joining the African Football Federation, CAF.”
Comparing Togo with its neighbour Ghana brings up an interesting question. Namely, why did football begin in Ghana 40 years earlier than in Togo when the two countries neighbour each other and when their capitals are only a few hundred kilometres apart? To answer this question one needs to understand the differences in colonial influence. Ghana (formerly known as Gold Coast) was a British colony and entertained a form of government that gradually encouraged the playing of ball sports and with them interaction between the colonizers and the colonized. Some sports were kept for whites only — like cricket and golf — but football, the working class sport of Great Britain, was encouraged and played by all. The French administration throughout West Africa employed a different attitude altogether. They curtailed the playing of football and other sports with the locals. It didn’t last long, thankfully.
Cape Coast, the former capital of Ghana, is a relaxed fishing town and tourist spot about two hours drive along the coast from Accra. We arrive in the middle of the day as the sun blazes and the sweat pours. We’ve heard that somewhere around here the first ever game in Africa was played, some 39 years after the very first game to FA rules was played in Battersea Park — the place where our ball, The Ball, started this epic journey on January 24th 2010.
Cape Coast has a fearsome history. Millions of Africans, who had been rounded up and enslaved, were held in dungeons at Cape Coast Castle before being marched through the “Gate of No Return.” Beyond this gate, they were packed like sardines into waiting ships and sent, many dying en route, to Europe, America and Brazil. Those Africans were never to return. But today people come to this castle from all over the world, including Barack and Michelle Obama. They come here to pay tribute to what happened here and to ensure that it will never happen again.
But we are here for another reason. We have heard that the first ever game of football in Sub-Saharan Africa took place here. “Football took off in Cape Coast, formerly Gold Coast, Ghana, around 1903,” Morgan Mason, a Cape Coast historian, tells us. “The first team founded was Essesoir and they played at Victoria Park. The team was founded by a Jamaican headmaster,” he continues.
In The Ball is Round, the Global History of Football, author David Goldblatt writes that “a group of 22 keen pupils of the Cape Coast Government Boys School embarked upon a secret training course in football. They trained mostly at night, when the full moon was over Victoria Park, then a well-kept place for official ceremonies.”
Why was it a secret? “Blacks were not allowed to play the beautiful game in those times, but those days are over” says Morgan. “Football has now grown up to be this game that we all enjoy, globally. Now we are one body, one people”.
Morgan takes us to Victoria Park and we find the field where that very first game was played. Nowadays, it is a concrete square used for official ceremonies — but back in those days it was a rocky, dry patch of land. We locate the half-way line and kick off. Morgan and Andrew exchange several one-twos, cutting the opposition defence open, before Morgan cracks The Ball into the top corner of the goal. Oops, he hits the top corner of a pavilion and The Ball just about hits an old woman selling bananas. Onward.
Can historians also predict the future? We ask Morgan who would win the World Cup. “Ghana will beat Spain in the final”, he says. Unsurprisingly, we have yet to meet anyone in Ghana who doesn’t believe that Ghana will win the World Cup. In fact, Andrew’s friend Kweku told him that Ghana will win the next three World Cups. Good luck to the Black Stars. It is high time for Africa to win a World Cup.
As we part company, Morgan gets emotional and tells us this:
“The mission, the reason, and the aim of which you came to this castle is recommendable. We pray that the good lord keeps you well and wherever you want to visit you should be warmly received so that you accomplish your mission and that when the whole world comes together on the 11th of June to the 11th of July converged in South Africa that there will be happiness, oneness, love, unity and above all respect for each and everyone on this earth.”
Samuel Duodu, DHL’s commercial manager for West Africa, is a self-proclaimed talented midfielder, “a midfield maestro”, he tells us. The team that he supports is the oldest club in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Hearts of Oak Accra was created on 11.11.11″ he tells us with pride.
We are beginning to rue a missed opportunity as we could have met up with Hearts of Oak veterans at the club’s former clubhouse in British Jamestown. Instead, we are stuck in traffic from the Volta region coming into Accra.
“They were looking forward to your visit. They would have even sung the club’s anthem for you. It goes never say die until the bones are rotting. “Is there a big rivalry in Ghanaian football?” we ask. “Well, you can talk about Man United v Liverpool or Kaiser Chiefs v Orlando Pirates in Soweto. Here it is Hearts of Oak and Ashanti Kotoko — these two are great rivals.”
In fact, another missed opportunity surfaces. Our original route had us leaving Burkina Faso and entering Ghana from the north. It would have taken us through the Ashanti region where a visit to the Ashanti King was planned — as well as a friendly match between these two great rivals using The Ball in the game.
“Anyway”, Sammy says, “tomorrow I have organized for you to go to Cape Coast.”
“You can’t talk about football in Mali without talking about Salif Keïta”
— Kassoum Keïta (no relation) from DHL Mali.
Salif Keïta is not just famous in his native Mali, he one of Africa’s footballing legends. In 1970, he became African Footballer of the Year, the first person to be awarded the prestigious Ballon d’or Africain.
Keïta, now in his sixties, is the owner and proprietor of the beautiful Mandé Hotel, gloriously situated on the banks of the Niger River in Bamako. We head over there to meet him.
“Please wait while I call through,” says the concierge.
Like so many, Keïta had grown up poor in Bamako, Mali in the 1950s. Football was his escape from poverty playing for AS Real Bamako and Stade Malien. His incredible talents saw him lead Mali, as a teenager, to the most success the nation was ever to have –- second place at the 1972 African Cup. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury and was unable to play in the final.
The Malian government were investing heavily in football. Their thinking went something like this: if we are successful at football, the masses will be content and less likely to fight against us. It has been a ploy used by political leaders across the continent ever since. In Africa, footballing success can be the difference between keeping power and losing it.
Salif Keïta, the young superstar, was Mali’s hottest asset. It didn’t take long for several top European teams to become aware of the shooting star, but he wasn’t allowed to leave the country. Keïta, however, had already made the decision to leave Mali and head for Europe. He escaped Mali overland and made his way to France where he was picked up by St Etienne. His career took him to Olympic Marseille, Valencia in Spain and to Sporting Lisbon. Nicknamed “The Black Pearl of Africa”, Keïta’s goalscoring exploits and outspoken honesty made him a household name in Europe, and a hero across Africa.
Salif Keïta greets us with a warm smile and we sit down to talk.
The Ball: What is the “spirit of football”?
Keïta: Football is a game that can help people to live together, to have a partnership and to have a friendship. Everyone watches the World Cup final and everyone is ready to be happy with the team that wins or sad with the team that loses. The spirit of football is perfectly forming people together. In this moment the world has many problems and football can help us to solve some of those problems. The spirit of football is for people to accept others.
What do you think about the state of football in Africa at the moment?
African players are playing in teams in top European leagues… Drogba, Eto’o, Traore, etc. Two days ago I saw Egypt lose to England. They were very unlucky. Senegal beat Greece. Cameroon tied against Italy, and Ivory Coast lost to South Korea. I think that African football is in very good shape. A big problem is money. We don’t have money.
What do you think that so many talented young African players are playing in Europe? Is it a problem for African football?
You cannot pay players in Africa like the Europeans are doing. In sub-Saharan Africa we cannot afford to pay the players. If we had the money then maybe they will stay. But you cannot blame young players going to Europe. You cannot stop them.
What are the chances of an Afrian team winning the World Cup?
It will be difficult but it is not impossible. If it happens, nobody can be surprised.
Could Ivory Coast win with Guus Hiddink as the coach?
Maybe he can do something. But he is not playing! (laughter) They are down in confidence. Hiddink can give them some advice. If the players are not right in their own heads then it is difficult. After they lost the African Cup and they lost to South Korea they are very low in confidence.
Nigeria was a big surprise in the African Nations Cup. Everyone said after Egypt beat Nigeria that Nigeria was finished, but they went on to make the semi-finals. They are a good team. I think Cameroon, even thought they are not like they were 10 years ago, can go very far. Ivory Coast, Ghana, even Algeria — they are all good teams. And South Africa are young and they could surprise, they are at home. You never know in football.
Are you going to be in South Africa?
I am invited to go to South Africa but I prefer to watch the games on TV. A while ago, when I was watching France–Ireland, I saw exactly what happened with Thierry Henry’s goal. People in the stadium had no idea. They were too far away. You can’t see this in the stadium. It is too fast live and you are too far away and there are no replays. I like to watch football on TV.
What do you think about the Henry incident? Is Theirry Henry a cheat?
What happened with Henry could happen with any player. It is a reflex. Immediately, he had to do it because he wanted to win. He saw the ball in the net and he was happy. After the match, he went home and everybody said that he used his hand. No, when you are playing you want to win.
You supported a project about cleaning up Bamako. Cleaning up the streets which are full of trash. You did this by using football as a lure to make young people aware of their civic duties.
It is difficult here because you do not have the possibility to continue to do things because there is not enough money. Often projects are a once-off. For success you need to put people to work and talk to them. It can last for a few months or a year. It is not easy. You need to change the mentality. This can only be done through education. When I was young we used to clean the streets every Monday. Everyone would join in. But now, they do not even think about this. And you cannot do it by yourself. People need to understand the problems and the consequences of their actions.
Last week in Dakar, we met Bashir, a Senegalese man who had returned to Senegal after Senegal beat France in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup. He got on the first flight home and didn’t return to the USA. You hear about the exodus of people leaving Africa. But on this journey so far we have met people who have chosen to come back to Africa. Who are investing their skills in Africa. What do you think about the phonomenon of Africans coming back home?
Many Africans are coming back to share their experiences. I think the leaders of Africa need to utilise this, like China and India have done. But Africa doesn’t do a good job with this. When these people come back they have difficulties. But they are coming back to share their experiences. African government doesn’t understand this.
In “Casa”, you can’t help but realise the significant role football plays in Casablancan life. The colours one chooses to wear on the streets need to be carefully thought through.
Red for Wydad — green for Raja.
Wydad was founded in 1937. Raja a few years later by one of the members of Wydad in a break away. Legend has it that he told Wydad officials: “this team is going to bother you for the rest of your life.”
He was right.
“We at Wydad call Raja our sons”, said former Wydad and Moroccan football legend (89 caps for Morocco) Abdelmajid Shaita.
“Could you imagine having played for Raja?”, Andrew asked.
“I cannot bear to even say the name of that club.”
These days you see players transferring from one club to a bitter rival. Michael Owen recently signed for Manchester United after being a Liverpool star, for example.
“Could that happen in Casablanca?”
“No, not here. It would be impossible. The public would not accept this.”
Abdelmajid spoke about a fantastic player that Wydad had several years ago. He didn’t get along with the coach. He wanted to quit. Fans confonted him after hearing a rumour that he might go to Raja. They swore to him: “if you ever play for Raja, we will kill you.” He retired. No one has ever made that change. The fans and the administrators like it that way.
The stadium is shared. One weekend Raja plays at home, the next Wydad. There are two sides to the stadium: the side with the red seats for Wydad; the side with the green seats for Raja. Fans generally refuse to sit in a section where the seats are in the rival colour. But, if they must, the tendency is to vandalise the other team’s seats. Thus as Andrew stood in the middle to the field and swivelled around, he saw that hundereds of seats were missing – red seats, Wydad seats.
“Who played at home last?”
“Raja played there on Saturday.”
It made perfect sense.
“Both sets of fans were as bad as each other.”
Fulbright scholar and women’s football expert Nicole Matuska verifies the story. She witnessed Raja fans rampaging through her neighbourhood of Casablanca, which is within earshot of the Stade Mohamed V stadium, where up to 75,000 cram in to see fixtures between the two teams. From her second floor apartment, she poked her head out the window to see cars on the street below having their windows smashed and rear-view mirrors broken.
Every home game Raja fans make a pilgrimage of up to four hours to get back to their neighbourhoods. Raja fans, preodinantly poor and working class, are notorious for damaging property en route before and after matches. Zaki, Wydad’s Technical Director, said that the city of Casablanca and the Moroccan FA banned the playing of Wydad–Raja derby matches in Casablanca for several years. The fixtures were instead played in cities up to 300km away. The ban was eventually lifted, but the damage to the economy that these games cause has increased the likelihood of a new super-stadium being constructed on the outskirts of Casablanca.
It was even suggested that the King of Morocco has been known to call both clubs before a derby game and demand that the game be played out in a draw. When the king calls, it is done. Or so they say.
Off to Gaucin on Sunday in search of the first recorded mention of football in Spain. After much hunting around we were directed to the Hotel Nacional.
Inside, a guestbook apparently exists with the note in it written by a certain Captain W F Adams — but the hotel was closed and looked like it wasn’t likely to be opening again in the near future.
Some doors won’t open and not all roads lead to Rome.
Africa, however, is beckoning…