Has the Scorpion lost its Sting? - Gambia Vs. Algeria (An Analysis of Gambian Football)
- Friday, 02 March 2012
- Written by Latirr Carr
We have inherited a lot of things from our colonial masters; the language which we are yet to master, the needless pride which takes us more backward than forward, public hatred for anything French but a secret desire to be fluent in it, the lazy, laid-back attitude that has allowed our neighbours to take full advantage of our short comings, but even worse, our lack of success in football.
Like the English, we have a seriously unquestionable love for the game. Everywhere you go on a sunny weekend, “video clubs” are packed, discussions are thrillingly opulent and a football air takes over the living rooms. There was a time, when I like many others thought we were truly the best at this game but were unfortunate not to have the financial status to support our talents. Unfortunately for me, I grew up in a football loving family where weekend games were a must-watch and “African Cup of Nations” as it was called was the highlight of its hosted year. Living in that environment, I saw such a display of football talent that I was yet to witness in the smiling coast.
I remember being awestruck at a party hosted by the one and only “Muhammed Kallon” at a residence in Kotu and watching George Weah go one-on-one with our very own George Lobba at the Independence stadium. I believe the latter is still suffering from the pains of that saved free-kick (yes we all know you pulled a disc after that one George). I also remember our hosting of the Amilcar Cabral – Zone II tournament. Yet, as a child, my desire to play football did not come from our Independence stadium or from the annual nawettan. Regardless of what I am expected to think of a Bai Omar Samba, a Jatto Ceesay, an Ebou Sillah etc etc, my inspiration to play football at a tender age came from my watching the African Cup of Nations and watching George Weah tear open every Italian defence before him. I remember doing the Abede Pele hairstyle with the long extension at the back and doing the Roger Miller dance after every goal scored.
Okay apologies for I digress. Yesterday, like the English colonial masters, we took on a superior nation in African football (Algeria) and I wait for a single Gambian to feel offended! My choice to ignore the history of thirty years ago is a deliberate attempt to make us feel better in this comparison. Now, Algeria is a much higher ranked nation in the world of football and have done a lot to deserve such. Where they have done a lot to fight off rival opposition, we have been the kind hosts to our neighbours time and time again, creating a basket for goal collection at the back of our posts. They have qualified for three (yes 3) World Cups and have won the African Cup once.
Their main rival is found in Egypt which happens to be one of the only two African teams to enter the top ten of FIFA’s world rankings. Where we have chosen our main rivals to be Senegal, we have done little to earn that position. A brother of mine once said, “The only thing we have done to deserve to call Senegal our arch-rivals in football has been to find ourselves living right next to them”.
Regardless of how mighty the desert foxes are, the Gambian people are only hungry for more hunger. We have one of the most easily satisfied fans in the entire world. A little effort and hunger from our “darling scorpions” is enough to keep us going. I could not watch the game live as something urgent came up, but my phone (which serves as a radio) was constantly next to my ear. The commentators spent more time chatting amongst themselves than doing a running commentary for there was very little to comment on to raise our spirits.
How easily I lose myself in this one! Don’t blame me; blame the frustration of a fan! I started this piece by comparing our scorpions to the “three lions”. Yesterday, they played Holland...sad, I know. Like the scorpions, they had a new coach/manager, a new captain and a new hope. Like the scorpions, they fell. I believe we have been hit with the “colonialism curse”. Like the English, we have over-hyped our players and made our people to believe in a dream that takes more work than talk. Like the English, we continue to hire and fire coaches, moving from a local coach to a foreign coach to a local coach to a......as if that is truly our deficiency. Yesterday was indeed one of many reality checks we have failed to take note of.
The Veterans that did not turn up
On the side of our veteran footballers, the most noticeable name of them all is our very own “Biri Biri”. I have heard many say that his name was sung at the stands in Sevilla as a hero of the game. A football genius! A true legend of the game! Has The Gambia ever produced anyone like his? I think we all know the answer to that. With such exposure, an obviously obtuse contact list in Denmark and Spain, has he done enough to sell potential “Biri Biris” to a world hungry for new talent? I might be naive in believing that legendary status is heavier on the “responsibility” side than the “right” side. As our culture states “Xalel dafaa xam plas-am” so I’ll assume that my message is well sent, and therefore well received...and I’ll end on that matter.
...And then there is another local legend in George Lobba. Many people do not know the man but know the footballer. I have seen George play every position known to man on the pitch. True, I believe he also lost the battle with his back years ago, but how does a country that NEEDS technical expertise allow such talent to go to waste. Recycle! Recycle! Re-bl**dy-cycle!! Haven’t you heard of climate change and global warming!! I am sure he is not alone. It is sad to see that our veteran players and earlier “superstars” are forgotten and dumped as soon as they retire from the field and we wonder why they never retire. Now I feel I am talking of another topic – politics...but ah! That’s for another day.
The Officials that never wake up
As often as every year, the entire football fraternity of The Gambia witnesses radio conversations that show how political our FA have been in their dealings. From the alleged corruptions of the amazing Zone II tournament we hosted last, to the ridiculous tussles for the presidency of the GFA, the entire FA has become a laughing stock and a source of pure comedy for all those that dare to watch and listen. There is neither peace, nor progress nor prosperity! It is an easy formula.
What is there to fight for? Between the ministry and the FA some very serious conflicts have arisen to the public eye, ending recently with the firing of Paul Put (to which I secretly agreed – ok I had it all over my facebook status *blush*). How can these two organizations help a national team that almost needs a miracle to progress to the CAN when they cannot even make a decision as simple as the hiring or firing of a coach together – in peace? Again we are our colonial masters...Are we not one and the same?
The Gambia and England...? I think remembering that your duties are to your country and to its people but not to your egos is the first step to creating the necessary foundation for mutual respect and love. Again this is not supposed to be an unending essay so, I will rest on this segment for now.
The Players that have no “purpose”
I mean no insult my brothers, but how in God’s name do you come down all the way from your teams to play for your country and end up walking around the pitch like it’s the “tour de France – àpied”? I hear it was a boring match to watch. Even 166 on the rankings, Guinea Bissau played better against Cameroon on the same day and only allowed a single goal which was scored late during the game. I think it has simply become a ritual of coming home to beautiful, entertaining ladies that have a serious craving for “football talent”. I understand all you secret and public complaints of monies owed to you and the poor preparation accorded to you for these games but I remember being told once that the pride of wearing your national colours and listening to our National anthem play for you in the presence of thousands of fans was always enough of an inspiration to make your country proud. Shed your feathers!
None of our players of recent times...ummm...actually if I remember right, since “Biri Biri – the great”, has ever played at the top flight. Yet, you are satisfied with growing wings and walking around a pitch as you get bullied by North African opposition time and time again! Where is the hunger to succeed...to be seen...to shine? Do not play for the FA, or for the Ministry. Rather, you must play for the thousands of fans that fill up the Independence stadium every now and then to cheer you on. Play for your country and for its colours. Stop moaning!
The entire government and peoples of The Gambia celebrated your successes as “kids” even with the shaved beards and moustaches and I remember, even as I was away when you became overnight celebrities. Don’t you want to feel that joy again? My piece excludes the efforts of Momodou Ceesay (Zico) and Pa Modou Jagne (Nda), for many I have spoken to have unanimously agreed that you played your hearts out. Keep doing the good work and fighting the good fight. Your time to enter the big leagues is not far away. Again I digress...
The Fans that are TOO COOL
I am not and have never been an advocate for violence. However, in as much as we must never place our team above its limits, we need to always receive our monies worth and nothing less. I will sit and watch a team that is playing its heart out to impress my little 100 dalasis even if it loses in the end. However, a team that walks around the pitch like a lost stranger deserves no love. It is this hypocrisy that tears my heart out. We sit in our corners and criticize the players yet we allow them to feel that they have done their best. What do we have to lose?
When did we ever qualify for a major “senior” tournament? Like the older generation would say, “Ku tuki nju rerr sa ganaw”. We need to demand more from our players. I still do not get why “security personnel” would hit and abuse football loving fans for expressing their anger at a team that we all need to see doing more. Fans all over the world have expressed themselves in similar fashion and haven’t their teams responded positively?
Who are these players that we should not boo at them and hurl banana peels at their bus? If I paid my hard earned 100 dalasis to watch them play and did not receive my monies worth, I will have to earn it by amusing myself with profanity and target practice. Maybe then, they will grow. Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Cristiano Ronaldo, etc etc etc have all been booed for poor performance and so should our players. If it drives them away from playing for their country, then they were never with us in the first place!
Who were those officials that were appealing to the crowd to treat our guests with respect? Begging or instructing the fans not to boo at the desert foxes? Have they ever heard of theart of intimidation? We must pull in the benefits of staging a home match. Every nation that visits the smiling coast to play football must forget that our name is truly “the smiling coast”. Even where we should bring them to no physical harm, we should instil such fear in their hearts that tears would run down their eyes during and after each game. When have we ever received humane treatment at the hands of our hosts? Haven’t we complained time and time again about the way we have been maltreated whenever we play away? Where our opponents have mastered the art of intimidation, we have mastered the art of cowardice. I do not mean to advocate for violence, I only mean to ask a question; When has intimidation ever counted as violence? Boo and Boo all you can. That “ganalex” attitude must go!
The Selfish business “moguls”
Yes You! I will only ask questions on this one. When was the last time you supported our grassroots footballers? When was the last time you supported the National team? When was the last time you sponsored the league? When was the last time you saw a young talent and thought it wise to contribute to his development? Ok I lied. No more questions.
You have created such an atmosphere of hypocrisy that has shown your true colors. Your contributions are only forthcoming when the President of The Republic is listening or is present. Such hypocrisy is only important when you sit with your boards and your business partners. The Gambia before anyone! You need to invest in your young people. No one needs to remind you of that duty. How can you dream of milking your own people dry and yet refuse to invest in the one thing that we all share a love for? When H.E Sheikh Professor...Jammeh shows a concern for a project you quickly dish out hundreds of thousands, yet has it ever occurred to you that he might not enjoy having to ask you to do it? Can’t you do it just because it feels right? They say, “defal ngirr Ya’Allah”. Yen gomulen dara wai!
Many people believe our football system needs a complete overhaul. I have decided not to talk of Mr. Peter Bornu Johnson. His first game in charge came a little too quick for me to pass judgement. However, if he has no answers for our football’s question, the honourable thing to do would be to resign. If he feels he has those answers, I wish him and his technical staff good luck. I also advise; do not be intimidated by so called “big name players” and so called “technical experts” that will never be given to take charge of our national team. You were chosen for a reason...
We need many things. We need a new league...new and better. We need better grassroots football without having to depend on over aged players representing our under-17 team. We need a serious injection of passion. But most of all we need to see that we are all to blame...even though some more than others (Yes you know who I’m talking about). So, the next time you participate in one way or the other, remember that The Gambia is bigger than any single individual. Who the cap fits.....