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SIERRA LEONE’S COMMENDABLE AFCON FOOTBALL JOURNEY

BY Andrew Keili

January 24, 2022

It’s all over, but it was good while it lasted. For the past two weeks, the whole nation stood still to witness our arduous and breath taking journey through the AFCON tournament. Nothing unites this nation like football and to a man (woman as well!) we supported our team. There was some respect shown us internationally and certain players stood tall. Many people were understandably and rightfully gaga about our goalkeeper but I have had great admiration for Steven Caulker- so calm! How many full backs would anticipate that a seemingly simple back header to the Ivorian goalkeeper was going to involve a wrestling match between the goal keeper and some ghostly demons that would take the ball off his hands and get it into Caulker’s path. How did Caulker anticipate this and be there at the right time? How did he have the calmness of mind not to panic but to simply pass it into the path of a panic stricken Alhaji Kamara who hit the floor before pushing it in with his left leg. It must be the Shenge fish-after all he is a Caulker!

The Sierra Leonean public have been marvellous and support for the team has cut across gender tribal, regional and political boundaries. The President has been marvellous and effusive in his support. Opposition leaders joined the chorus as well. Long may this unity continue! After the initial two games during which I was constantly on edge with “cut heart”, I could not miss the Equatorial Guinea match for anything. Not even a long drawn out meeting just before this would deter me. And so I ended up in a bar in Wilberforce amongst a throng of supporters, half of whom were live commentators, drowning the voice of the real commentator. One kept barking instructions and invectives at the Egyptian referee as if he could hear him. Coach Keister and Kei Kamara came in for some roasting. They kept suggesting tactics and who should be replaced. By the time the first goal came, I was a nervous wreck. The penalty miss by Kei elicited some additional cussing and when the die was finally cast, many drowned their sorrows in the bar.

Kudos to the four Kamaras who performed admirably and have caused Kamaras to be the butt of many people’s admiration and jokes. At first it seemed the Kamaras could put no foot wrong and some people even started touting their Kamara heritage. That is, until Kei Kamara’s penalty miss. Come to think of it, the Kamara’s have always been famous (or sometimes infamous). The longest lines at elections are normally reserved for Kamaras. They probably have the largest number in prisons as well. OMG, I nearly forgot Hawa Tombo. A star is born! So devoted to her husband, Musa Tombo, with a show of love by kissing his feet that went viral. Her prayers, speeches, gyratory movements, followed by devoted admirers have been spell binding on social media.

It is especially good that at this time of incessant political tension there were very few politically laced comments, with the Ex-President and Opposition Leaders all cheering our boys. Some people however could not resist the temptation of bringing in the political- like the posting I saw which said, “Kamaras for AFCON 2021, Samura Kamara for 2023”. Another said “Sierra Leone 2022: Kamara everywhere. No Kamara in Cabinet”. They were shot down as soon as they came on the scene. Our hope is twofold. That the government continues to support sports right from the grass roots level. We should also hope the national unity engendered by football would be replicated into other areas of our national life so that we can move towards being a peaceful and cohesive nation. And lest I forget, thanks to the Sierra Leone Police for apprehending some youths who threatened to burn down Kei Kamara’s house at Hill Station.

But let me close by telling you about people’s infatuation with players. In the 1990s when Cameroon had that dream team at the World cup, we only had one TV in the Community Center at Rutile and we would all crouch round the screen with our beers bottles in our hands, transfixed to the screen. The old company Doctor was so infatuated with Cameroon’s Roger Milla that he was always the first in the TV room. He sat near me when two European teams were playing. I could tell from his demeanour he appeared confused. He pinched me and asked half way through the first half-“Andrew way Roger Milla?”. Astounded, I replied, Norto Cameroon day play Sir”.

So much for football.

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