Everybody is a Star

The exertions of yesterday don’t really affect the mood of today.  I’m one of the first to arrive along with Pablo.  Pablo often carries that bad-ass look which can scare a new guy.  But when I talk to Pablo he is extremely nice.  Pablo is actually the brother of the guy who rocked up in a hummer some weeks back, Ibrahim Kargbo.  I’ve since discovered that he’s a Sierra Leone international.  I ask Pablo what happened to his brother and it turns out that he’s back in Sierra Leone to play an African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Niger.  Mohammed Kallon is the only Sierra Leone player I know of.  I ask if he’s still playing.  Pablo sort of grimaces.  Another guy rocks up and jumps in at once, slagging off Kallon.  He’s a player I had admired earlier.  But in the African footballer circles his reputation has diminished.  He now owns a club in Sierra Leone called Kallon FC.  Apparently he’s bad news.  Just about the money.  The other guy asks Pablo how come his brother doesn’t start a club and take ‘us players’ back to Africa.  Now Pablo really grimaces, offering a slide of the tongue against his upper row of teeth for a ‘no’.  His brother already runs a foundation dedicated to charity work.

Yesterday’s conversations by the car are implemented.  It’s decided that there will be 3 teams today.  The smell of competition in the air is rife.  Captains will choose their best teams.  Not their friends.  Bobsam drafts me onto a team with Bishop, Prince, Pablo, Aloys, Iidi, Achie and two ‘high-rollers’ who I don’t frequently see.  One of these is Eynock.  I saw him last year when I visited the park at its old location.  There was something which drew me to him.  His swagger probably.  But also his smart sense of positional play.  This is a team I am happy to play with.  We go down 1-0 to a stupid goal, but manage to get ourselves back into the game, 1-1, generally dominating.  We go through on the toss of a coin.  It’s the first time that I’ve seen this degree of ‘dressing-room atmosphere’.  Unfortunately we’re completely over-run in the second match.  Having to come back from 1-0 down takes its toll on us and the other team, with Ski on fire, steam-roll us 2-0.  Ski’s been in crackling form since I’ve been here.  He’s just had a good season getting promoted to the 2nd division with his club.  Of the younger generation, toiling away in the hope of ascension, he’s the stand-out player by far.  It pains me to hear he’s only  been playing 3rd-div.  Ski’s one of a number.  Guys who were at 1st div clubs but were forced to start again from the bottom because of their papers.

The Kargbo brothers 5 years ago when Pablo was a rising star. He realises his career has stalled, but can only hope for some sort of turn-around.

On the sideline there’s a marked difference.  Once knocked out our team sits chatting amicably.  Content.  The stories which you hear on these sidelines never cease to amaze me.  Sometimes you have to escape the odd ‘fan’ who is often more opinionated on football than the players.  Today I have to take my opportunity to avoid one rather large guy who is hammering home the point that Casillas is the best goalkeeper in the world.  This is a fact he says.  Because he was voted goalkeeper of the year.  Fact.  I made the mistake of giving my 2 cents to the argument.  Bringing into consideration the ranking systems etc.  It was a bad idea.  But I find my moment to make my way over to where my team-mates are seated.  While the discussion initially treads over the speed of Messi vs that of Ronaldo it slowly makes its way to African football.  The players wax lyrical about African stars of past and present.  Their perspective is so detached from that of the media when it comes to African football.  They don’t talk of them as stars, rather peers.  They talk about Beveren the small-town Belgian club which once fielded a team with 11 black players.  We briefly broach the topic of exploitation.  Beveren had acted as a first port for Ivorian players on their way to Arsenal and the Premier League.  If they were good enough.  Prince talks about the Nigerian system.  He knows that in the past any Nigerian player could get an international cap.  If he paid the coach 3000 euro.  Then went to meet him at a hotel.  The coach would take out a list of international fixtures, find a date where he had a place in his squad.  Voila.  Even if he player didn’t make it into the starting lineup, he could add this to his CV.  On that alone it was worth it.  If he had 3000 euro to spare.  The others continue talking about Beveren.  Many of them have played against them.  Yaya Toure’s name comes up.  Yaya Toure is currently the highest-paid player in the Premier League, he’s had a very impressive season.  –  Toure, he’s slow!!

–  He’s sloowww!

–  I’ve played against him, he’s average.

–  But, hey, he’s improved a lot physically…

–  Boka, he was a good player.

They all nod in agreement with this last one.  I remember watching Boka play for Ivory Coast.  He was impressive.

Finally I get my chance to speak to Eynock.  As is so often the case, he turns out to be really receptive.  A couple days ago he’d very briefly mentioned to me that  he’d given up on football.  His agent had screwed him over.  Sent him to Spain.  He was sick of it and had to go and find a ‘real’ job.  But I want to know more.

~ by ahilito on June 20, 2011.

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