So you’re gonna come and play at the park.

•May 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

[this is the first of a number of backposts, due to the amount of energy put into making the show, I haven’t gotten around to writing these ideas up]

The first day you arrive don’t expect to be treated with much respect.  If you are lucky one guy will take a liking to you and may guide you around like a brother.  If you are lucky enough to get selected for one of the teams he will even take special care in passing the ball to you just to get you involved in the game.  And you will stand by his side at the end of the training awkwardly smiling whilst he chats to his mates who stare at you and occasionally offer a smile, though you are not sure if this is one of ridicule or acceptance.  

 The chances are that you won’t be picked for a team and you will have to wait on the sidelines watching patiently til about the 11.30 mark when a batch of substitutions take place.  If you get involved in a piggy-in-the-middle game on the side you will invariably end up in the middle when the decisions are fifty-fifty and even sixty-forty.  You can argue but it’s just going to make it worse.  

You are a young African boy, only been in the country for 3 weeks and that guy you met through a friend told you to come here.  He’s not here though.  Your hair is scruffy and you’ve got way more jumpers and winter jackets on than the rest.  You won’t end up taking your beanie off all game.  If you’ve got talent, rest assured, one of the senior men will come and tell you.  He’ll see it and tell you that you’re good enough to make it.  That you’re better than half of these jokers.  That’s what you need for today at least.  After the game one of the senior men will take you aside and explain to you that you need to put in a few euros if you’re going to play here (for equipment and stuff).  But it’s okay you can bring it next time.

 You are a white journalist.  You’ve heard about this group via via, a bunch of these guys were in the papers recently coz they made a performance about footballers migrating to Europe.  You’ve come to make a documentary on it.  Yours is going to be different to all the ones which are out there already.    Some of the players are friendly.  Some of them assume you are an agent and are hoping to impress you.  When you finally ask one guy how he came here he refuses to answer.  He can’t talk about that stuff.  

 You are a good footballer looking for some extra training.  You’re not black but they can tell you can play.  You’ll get hacked down a few times and observe the physicality.  Actually about 80% of the players are going easy on you because you are new.  Even though you’re a good central midfielder, it’s better to just stick to the wings for now.  Play simple for today. 

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•October 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

The change at the park is immediately apparent.  Even aside from the big things.  Like the fact that we’ve moved back to the field next to the post-office because they’ve began construction on the football field across the road in order to convert it into some sort of kid’s playground paradise. Or the fact that at least half the players are new or unrecognisable.  Bobsam isn’t there anymore and you begin to wonder if one player could effect the quality of the game that much?  In Bobsam’s case I’d probably argue yes.

I meet Shumu on the sidelines, there’s something so loveable about this guy, a sort of nonchalant cheekiness.  I almost imagine him going around stealing picnic baskets like Yogi bear.  He’s still not playing with a club and doesn’t seem the slightest big bothered by it either.  He’s studying Dutch.  I try not to ask him too many questions but, being back at the park, I begin anxious to try and suck up everything that’s happened since I’ve been gone.  I can see Praise and Junior playing.  Since I’ve been gone via Facebook it’s become apparent that these guys are homeboys and have been enjoying the European summer.  You can see it on the field as well.

The updates begin.  Skill (aka Ibukun Akinfenwa) has moved on, he’s at a 2nd division club in Portugal, Of course.  I could see that coming a mile away.  Too good and determined a player not to be playing.

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ID.  The news hits me like this black smoke pervading my lungs and stomach.  ID’s getting deported.  Well maybe not, it depends on if the Nigerian embassy claims him as a Nigerian.  Shit.  Apparently ID ran a red light and the police picked him up.  Thing is, after all the shit that man had been through in his life, I thought he actually had the right papers when we worked last year.

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When ID performs it’s like you can see his history in his eyes. Photo: Danny Busschots

Essien.  Apparently the kid’s cousins, who he was staying with, were up to some shady business.  The police raided their house and found Essien.  I’m guessing that his visa (he had a year’s work permit for Greece, where he’d originally been set to go and trial) had expired.  They say he’s now in the some sort of centre, he’s not going to be deported, but he does have to stay there for 3 months.

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After treading around this project so anxiously for months, it was probably a few month ago that I began to relax and began to believe that all would work out well for the players and for the project.  The naivety of it all hits really hard as I sit back to watch them train.  All around me are new players, I start to wonder where they’re going, if any of them will make it.

One of the players I met last year, Lateef, rocks up.  We’d talked about him being in the show but it hadn’t worked out.  He looks really healthy and fit with a nice training jersey and shoes.  I remember sitting on the street with him in the cold and lending him a jacket last year.  He borrowed 5 euros from me for phone credit.

A Rhinoceros

•September 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The rise of Issaka baffles me. Or is it Nana Jojo, or Fousseny Kamissoko, I’ve seen so many names associated with him that keeping track of him remains difficult.

Over the last few years, as my interest in the plight of young African football migrants has grown, so too has this little fixation of mine: following random footballers careers via Facebook or Wikipedia.  Kwame Amponsah KarikariObinna Obiefule… There’s something fascinating about tracking these players from small 2nd division clubs; the chance that they might suddenly get signed by a big Italian team; the chance that they might drop off the face of the internet into obscurity.

My favourite/saddest current example right now is Ibukun, who was one of the key performers in the first development of Michael Essien I want to play as you… This guy is, I think one of the best players I’ve ever player against. Definitely the hardest player I’ve ever come up against as a defender in a 1-on-1 battle. Out of all the players at the park, I was convinced that he would make it, but since I left the Belgium last year, he left his club by ‘mutual consent’ and every time I randomly google his name it yields no new club.

Issaka was one of the players from the park who you couldn’t really see much hope for. As I’ve described him on this blog before

a rhinoceros of a player. He is incredibly powerful and surprisingly skilful. But he lacks discipline and is prone to make stupid decisions on the field

When I was told he was going to try his luck in Asia, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand it sounded like it might be the smarter decision, considering he’d apparently struggled when playing for the pub-team which I’d had a few games with last year, but when it comes to the common clichés of dreams of being a footballer and Real Madrid and Manchester United, this wasn’t exactly the picture that you paint.

Vietnam

But then came the trickle of Facebook photos.

At first it was peculiar, this big Ghanaian man in all of these Asian cities looking like a right tourist.

Within a couple of months, in which Uncle George had been lambasted Issaka for not taking his advice, I started to see these photos of him with a team. But this team wasn’t just some amateur team, the setup looked really professional. There were busses, other African guys and even European looking coaches or managers.

Khatoco Khanh Hoa F.C.

I was honestly really perplexed, on the one hand I was really really happy for him, he’d gone out on a whim and just given it a go and it was happening. But on the other hand I was left frustrated, because I was training with some amazing players in Belgium, desperate to find a club, but unable to because of a multitude of reasons. I immediately spent a bit of time trying to google the club (just as I’ve noticed with a lot of the players I’ve met, whenever I actually ask them a question about a photo on facebook it never gets answered, I still haven’t gotten my head around this)

After a small photo-less patch, I logged on one day to find photos containing a very different ambience. There was something which differentiated them from the clearly Asian settings coming through previously. The pitches were amazing and the stadiums looked rather professional. The rest of the players were almost all black, though with varying shades of skin. I managed to catch one photo in which one of the training strips Issaka was wearing had Equatorial Guinea written on the back. For me this seemed an amazing twist in the tail, but also quite believable. Things didn’t work out in Vietnam in terms of ‘first-team opportunities’, he returned home to Ghana and then made a small trip over the Gulf of Guinea, where he would probably be revered because he came from Ghana.

Where is he now?

But as the photos of these amazing training camps kept coming through I was able to pick up more and more clues. A few showed him on the field in competitive matches. And then I saw a link to an Equatorial Guinea African Cup of Nations qualifying match, which he posted. That was when it struck me that he wasn’t playing for a club in Equatorial Guinea. He had been called up for the international team.

Equatorial Guinea team photo from African Cup of Nations qualifier

Where can I go from here? It’s like a tap has been open.

– I thought this guy was Ghanaian! Maybe he is. The guys from the park have told me about dodgy things going on in international football setups.

– I thought he wasn’t that great a player, definitely nothing special, definitely not nearly as good as 1/4 of the players I come across at the park.  Being able to represent your country is a pretty amazing thing.

– I thought that Vietnam was for mercenaries.  Being able to represent your country is a pretty amazing thing.

After a very positive beginning to their campaign, Equatorial Guinea crashed out of the African Cup of Nations qualifying rounds after being thrashed by the Democratic Republic of Congo. The match reports which I manage to find never give enough detailed description or buildup for me to continue my detective work.

•November 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On Monday we all gathered at a small African ‘eethuis’ on the Darmbruggestraat.  Chez Garden.  I’d passed this place almost every day on the way to training or rehearsals.  But I’d never noticed it.  By the entrance stood a small RIP Bobsam Elejiko poster.  Eventually after various late arrivals we sat down to eat and de-brief.

THE MAN THAT TELLS YOU IT’S GOING TO RAIN

It was still just Junior, Sunny, Daisy and I.  It was for a while that I’d wanted to ask Junior what his first feelings towards me had been when I just rocked up at the park back in August 2010.

–  When you first came I didn’t know what to think.  I thought okay he’s a journalist or something.  Sometimes you were there, sometimes not.  Okay. You were always talking to Bobsam and the senior players.

I always wanted to talk to Junior, he was an amazing player and seemed to be a real character.  Plus, he was always wearing these uniforms and training gear from Scandinavia.  For me hearing about those themselves would have enthralled.  When Junior talks he talks slowly and his eyes open wide

–  Sometimes you had a camera, sometimes video camera.  I saw you talking with people and suddenly asking these very private questions.  For me it’s strange.  And then you come and gives us photos and then we don’t see you again.

– So for me it’s like, no I don’t have anything against this guy, but for me it’s better not to get involved with.  It’s like a guy who comes along one day and tells you it’s going to rain.  Okay.  But he don’t tell you for how long, if you have to leave, what you have to do.

AN ATTEMPT TO RECOLLECT THE WEEKS

The meal at Chez Garden was really nice.  I wasn’t able to finish all my fufu.  In the Darmbruggestraat we bid farewell to the guys.  It wasn’t as sad as a sentimental recollection would make you think.  The mood was buoyant, though we persistently refrained from promising it, there was a sense that we would return and re-unite to push the project further.  What follows is a possibly sketchy attempt at re-calling the last 6 weeks.  I would so gladly have written a blog for each week, alas time and energy were always at a low.

WEEK 6; KEEP IT TOGETHER
Always Training

The performers in full flight in their first public showing. Photograph from Koen Broos

The whole crew was rocked by the death of Bobsam.  On Monday we somehow still managed to rehearse, at least a small group of us did.  Come Tuesday we were back into it, running through our 35-minute ‘show’.  The amazing focus and sense of will which had been coagulating the week before had all but dissipated into scatter.  On top of this Jimmy had just found out he’d gotten a job the week before.  We’d managed to agree with his new boss that we’d get him off early for the showings but unfortunately not more.  But come Wednesday the group pulled together.  All along they’d promised me,

–  We are African, when the crowd comes we’ll perform.

It was true.  But not merely in a show spectacle sense.  The guys seemed nicely grounded, possibly brought together by the adversities.  Thursday was impossible.  I was completely drained from the Wednesday, they were completely drained.  When we finally started getting a bit of work done, the birthday celebrations interrupted, albeit pleasantly and possibly in a relieving way.  On the Friday there was a great ‘dressing-room atmosphere’.  The guys had their first chance working in a real theatre – albeit because of a mix-up in scheduling – the professionalism stepped up.  It seems strange that the process didn’t end on the high of Wednesday, but performing to a group of 10 Belgians with analytical faces will probably do wonders in the long run for these guys at the end of what was already a massive learning curve.

WEEK 5; THIS IS CRAZY

A show starts to form. Photograph from Danny Busschots

It was the first time I began to focus our talks on working towards a ‘show’.  The group became preoccupied with knowing the show and being able to perform it perfectly.  I tried to stress to them that that wasn’t of interest to me. If we just kept being creative, we were doing our job.  Nonetheless the idea of a show galvanised the group.  When I presented the option of working on either Friday (the public holiday) OR Monday (usually a day off for us) the answer was an emphatic BOTH.  When I saw what they were performing on Thursday I began to get goose-bumps, I thought, ‘this is really something special.’

WEEK 4; ANOTHER PLATEAU ALREADY?

It was an extremely short week because of the public holidays which seemed to be on tap in Belgium at that time.  I think there was a bit of a come-down from the high of the last Friday.  But retrospectively these slower periods also had an important place in the process.  On a personal level I was happy that we’d avoided the possible ‘showing-freak-out’ and the possibility of cutting short the creative process, which the group had engaged in so well.

WEEK 3; POPPING THE CHERRY

The week started with worries that there was a plateau, we decided that trying to perform a mini-showing at the end of the week would provide the possible kick to shift us into the next phase.  That coupled with a mid-week visit from Hildegard de Vuyst, a dramaturg I’d been hoping to have work on the project, seemed to work.  The group loved having visitors.  It was natural, as long as it remained a series of performances for themselves, they weren’t going to experience that X-Factor, which they were capable of.  With Hildegard on Wednesday it was the first time I’d seen them so adamant to work through their break.

The Friday mini-showing was probably as important for me as it was for them.  I now understood the pacing around I’d seen from Lee Wilson (who was my director in The Football Diaries and Sweat in Sydney) pre-show/showing moments.  I think people would agree that usually I’m the calm, unruffled sort.  Even the performers could see how nervous I was.  I guess for me it was that first point where I just had to let go.  With a crowd of 20, I’d decided I’d do my best not to direct from the side.  I managed it.  And man did the group manage to put on a performance.

Under lights for the first time. Photograph from Danny Busschots

WEEK 2; WILL THEY CONTINUE TO COME?

The million dollar question on Tuesday morning, the first week had been riveting for all.  But from all advice handed down about ‘community’ projects (with non-professionals) that didn’t mean anything.  The scary ‘inevitability’ never materialised.  The group kept up an unwavering commitment which just continued to surprise.  Week 2 had become a bit of a blur for me.  I just remember that it was towards the end that we started to worry/observe and be calm about the presence of a plateau.

WEEK 1; 2 YEARS CULMINATE IN A MOMENT

Michelle Kotevski, our producer from Urban Theatre Projects had come along, I’d met with players, I’d done everything I felt that I could now and intermittently over the last 2 years to try and make this work.  At first it looked like we’d have 10 on the first day.  Then my heart started to sink when 2 became more realistic (2 would still have been good).  In the end we had 5 on the first day.  By the end of the first week we had a group of 11.  The way these guys took to these fremde tasks which I set for them was amazing.  I wonder if it all worked because most of them were already friends.  In the end I had the hard task of letting 3 of the guys go, nonetheless from what I’d seen that week I couldn’t help but take 8 performers, our original estimation had been 4.  On the Wednesday I was so sad that I’d forgotten to record the ‘score’, which was a routine end-of-the-day run of random scenes we’d worked on that day or week.  It was so good and I still could never know if it would ever be repeated/beaten.

In the corner, not exactly sure what I'm asking of them

RIP Bobsam Elejiko

•November 16, 2011 • 1 Comment

It’s a fairly chilled Sunday afternoon when I see the a post on Facebook from Aloys:

Met diepe droefheid melden wij u het plotse overlijden van Bobsam Elejiko. Hij zakte zondag plots in elkaar op het veld. Snelle hulp van Jan en Veerle, noch de hulpdiensten die snel ter plaatse waren, mochten baten.

Onze gedachten zijn bij de familie en vrienden van Bobsam.

I read through it fairly quickly surprised to see such complex Dutch words and sentences coming from Aloys.  It says that Bobsam has passed away.  After a second read, it says that Bobsam died whilst playing on Sunday.  I can’t believe it, I assume it’s some sort of Facebook joke.  But no that’s too cruel.

Bobsam sometimes walked off the pitch frustrated by the lack of commitment

When I first arrived at the park to train, Bobsam immediately drafted me into his team to play.  It turned out that they’d actually mistaken me for Achie, the Brazilian who is an intermittent regular at the field.  During a nervous display from me Bobsam kept coming to talk to me, he saw that I could play, and had the trust – the willingness to take a chance – to keep giving me the ball to help me to overcome the initial nerves.  He did this in the sort of park game which can sometimes be ruthlessly un-tactical and a throw-back to survival of the fittest , where an entire side of a team may be neglected by their own team.  After that match he explained to me that he wasn’t there to prove himself.

It became a ritual for me.  Whenever I would arrive at the park I would always look for Bobsam first, after every game we would chat he would constantly remind me that I knew how to play and that he could see ‘it’ coming back every day.  He would also come up to me in the middle of the game and tell me if my positioning had been bad or if I needed to have told him that I was leaving my man.  I loved when I was picked to play on his team, because I knew he would bring a bit of simpleness and calmness to the team.  If I was ever in trouble, I’d play a simple ball to him and one touch later we’d have averted any danger.

This time when I’d arrived at the park Bobsam wasn’t his usual presence.  He was seldom there and often when he was coming it was just to watch.  We didn’t find as many occasions to speak this time, but he told me he was preparing to go overseas and play.  Since the last time I’d been here, I’d hear that Pablo Kargbo had left to Azerbaijan, where his brother was playing, these countries seemed to be the obvious choice for players nearing the ends of their careers.

He’d been playing for SC Merksem in the 4th division, where all of his 3 sons play.  It was on Sunday in the middle of a match that he fell to the floor without any contact from the opposition.  He started convulsing as if experiencing an epileptic fit.  His team-mates screamed for the doctors, who were there quickly apparently, but there was nothing which could be done.  Bobsam had had a heart problem about 5 years back and I’ve been hearing different things from different quarters.  Some say he was told to stop playing 5 years ago.  Apparently the club new nothing about it.  Others say he’d had the clearance to play from doctors.

On Monday we naively setup the rehearsal space as usual.  We had to do it anyway.  I had no idea what would happen and immediately I was taken back to the nerves of the first weeks, waiting, wondering.  Only Sunny, Aloys and Essien were there.  We’d gotten calls from different players, all kind of vague, but saying they’d be there soon.  In the end we all jumped on a bus for the very short trip to Bobsam’s place.  Inside were a large group footballers from the park and his family.  Everything was quite pragmatic.  The family was at the table dealing with paperwork and the Nigerian community were on the couches organising there own tributes.  Junior, Jimmy and ID were all there.  When I saw how long Junior hugged Bobsam’s wife Caroline for it really started to sink in.  She held him so tight, I don’t even know if she knew him.  But I bet he reminded her of Bobsam.  I’d seen her in pictures from the field.  I can’t image  what it’s like.  But I know that every time I’m at the park and I see a similar figure approaching, I can’t help but think it’s him.

Rest In Peace Bosam Elejiko

Living Illegally 101

•November 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Semira Adamu denied asylum in Belgium

Semira Adamu, denied asylum in Belgium, suffocated whilst being deported

Not long after I first returned to the park Uncle George asked me if I would play for his club team on the weekends.  He told me that there was no pay involved, which didn’t surprise me so much as him saying it did.  Uncle George is one of the elders at the park and one of a minority of Ghanaians.  He’s an honest and humble man who’s been living in Belgium for the last 20 years.  He’s 52.  But you wouldn’t know it.

On another Saturday midday I hop on my bike and make my way over to the Roosevelt Plaats, which has now become something of a mini routine for me.  I wait outside of the Eurolines shop observing the people who pass by.  They are definitely different to those in the gentrified Zurenborg where I stay.  When the car finally arrives to pick me up, Uncle George is inside with Nicholas (another Ghanaian who is seldom at the park) and his two kids, who are unbelievably cute.  Nicholas drives fast and the music pumps loud.  Always nice African beats which get my head nodding.  We all yell above the music.  Uncle George and Nicholas often notice people who are driving stupidly or not obeying the rules.  They wince and lambast, unable to understand why someone wouldn’t indicate if waiting stopped in the middle of the road.  I enquire about Issaku, who was playing for the team up until the week I joined.  Issaku is a rhinocerus of a player.  He is incredibly powerful and surprisingly skilful.  But he lacks discipline and is prone to make stupid decisions on the field.  Issaku left for Vietnam not long after I returned.  The allure of earning 100 thousand plus euros from one season had him hooked since the last time I was here.  Uncle George laments the situation, he tried to help Issaku out as much as possible, told him to get in contact with Momo, who was over in Thailand up until the floods, and to get some trials sorted out but when Uncle George telephoned with him it got cut out, Issaku hasn’t gotten back to him and Momo, now back in Antwerp, never heard from him.

– I always try to help someone who is close to me.  But some people you just can’t help them.

– Some people have short memories.

Playing in this ‘pub team’,- which is probably the perfect translation for the Flemish term cafe ploeg – has been a surreal experience.  The Belgian football world is so intricately different from what we have in Australia and also from what I experienced in Germany and the Netherlands.  The level of this competition is very low.  We often rock up 5 minutes before the match starts.  We don’t have a coach or tactics.  Though the other teams do appear to.  Each team, from what I have seen so far, has about 3 African players, who seem to not have any real friendship with their team-mates; in fact in every match I’ve played I’ve seen a far greater rapport between Africans on the opposing teams, who all seem to know each other.  When I first arrived I was shocked at how little there was in the way of pleasantries from my new ‘team-mates’.  I guess I was just another one off the conveyer belt of mercenaries who play for a few weeks and then leave.  3 weeks later and I know one of their names.  What shocked me most was when I heard that some of the African players on the other teams were getting paid.  In Australia one would pay to play this level.  Yet these guys, who were admittedly decent players, were getting paid to play a level which was so far below them that it was just silly.  The whole thing is tied in with the catholic church, but I don’t really know enough to be able to speak intelligently on the matter.  For now I’m just happy to be playing without paying and getting a few free drinks after the game.

During the car-ride home Uncle George laughs at a young couple madly in love on the side of the road

– They’re so in love they don’t know how complicated it will be.

He begins talking about a funny story from Italy at which point I ask him about his story and how he came to Belgium.  It’s funny I have such a Western mindset, I’m always interested in what visa people are here on (if any) and how they plan to get around such issues.  But what I learnt this week was that this preoccupation with visas and papers doesn’t exist for the guys I know who come over here.  As Ski and Sunny explained to me vehemently this week during rehearsals,

–  We don’t think about papers, we don’t even know about them, we just think, ‘how can we make it?’

On the topic Uncle George begins to talk about the 90’s.  How hard it was for Africans trying to get around Belgium.  He sighs every time he even thinks about it

–  Ma friend, you can’t believe it.  You cannot believe it.  In the 90’s it was so hard.  You have to keep on asking for visa.  At the time, they give you 3-month visa, always small, perhaps 1 year.

–  In the 90’s we all came on tourist visa.  But if you didn’t have papers.  Esh… Life was very very hard.  Back in those days, if we see the police we all go running.

Uncle George turns to Nicholas and it’s obvious they share this joke/mantra

Because if you do anything wrong, next day you’ll be back in Africa.

It’s ironic that at this point we drive past a police check-point.  We cruise straight past.

Uncle George insists that these days it’s so easy.  He sights the death of a Nigerian woman who was being deported having unsuccessfully sought asylum here in Belgium.  That was the turning point.  Semira Adamu was suffocated by police officers who were supposed to be escorting her out of the country.  It caused a massive public outburst.  Uncle George reckons that this paved the way for a whole new wave of African migrants.  He thanks God for the current situation and the fact that his kids now have papers.  Uncle George thanks God a lot.  But he can’t help but reminisce about the 90’s.  And lament how stupid some of his friends were.  He tells stories of guys who owned cars, who rode on trams without tickets, who went to nightclubs, who went to parties.

– All of those things are trouble.

– That’s where the police get the chance to check.  If you get caught on the tram without a ticket, the first thing they’re going to ask for is your passport!!

Pointing back at the police he remembers one ‘stupid’ friend who drove past a checkpoint and stuck his head out the window to make fun of the police.

–  The next day he was back in Ghana!

Nicholas says in an I-told-you-so manner.

– You know what he’s doing now?  He works at a car-wash in Accra!  Esh.  My God.

Uncle George is impassioned as he talks about this subject.  But for him he just can’t comprehend it.  Uncle George came here on a mission: to make money for his family and to make possible a better life for his children.  He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go to parties, ‘that’s where you get in trouble’.  He’s never been in trouble since he came to Belgium.

Across the Road

•October 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

On a Tuesday midday a bunch of players wondered into the Luchtball Cultural Centre for the first time.  The cultural centre is situated some 150 odd metres from where the players congregate every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Some of the CC Luchtbal employees catch the same buses and trains as the players every day to work.  The players are possibly unaware but from the window of the 1st floor, their matches can be seen.  And in the diverse group that frequent the centre they have a sort of supporter-ship.  When the players first arrived in the centre they seemed overwhelmed.

– I’ve never been in a place like this before, ID could be heard saying as he looked around, his eyes bulging out.  As the players seated themselves around the table filled by a super-market-purchased banquet, no one dared to break the polite atmosphere.  Eventually some ventured so far as to pour a drink and then Essien – as if sent by some higher power to grace his namesake project, the youngest of the group, the kid who I’d seen play and just randomly asked to come to check the project out, in a fit of fear that we wouldn’t have any participants – leant forward and began to make a sandwich.  I was nervous and only ate as an example for the rest of the group.  That morning I’d been excited and emotional.  Then slightly dejected when I realised that the rich number of 8 would possibly be closer to 2 for our first day.  In the end we had 5.  But the 5 weren’t really interested in eating or waiting for more they were keen to get started with what would become known as ‘the programme’.

To my surprise as the week dragged on the numbers began to swell.  So much so that on the Friday, which I’d labelled as the last day of an audition week, we had 11 African football players in a nicely-equipped rehearsal room, rolling along the floor, pushing each other about and dribbling balls in circles.  As amazing as it was to feel that energy at times, I knew that I would have to let at least 3 players go.  It was a decision which I had to make professionally.  I was really confronted with this fact when Skill Ibukun offered to step down.  He knew that some people in the room needed it more than him.  I thanked him but told him that I couldn’t take that into account when I made my decision.