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Ponder My Thoughts

2 February 2019 at 15:08 | 1153 views

Ponder My Thoughts

By Andrew Keili, Freetown, Sierra Leone

It’s football time, Tatan Angate!

Move over, Lions and Blackpool. Your football rivalry will never be as intense as that between my mother’s village, Mobai and my father’s, Baiima, three miles apart in the Kailahun District. This was during the days of Gbos. Gbos was the nickname for the Baiima full back, Gbogboto, a six and half foot, well built, muscular hulk of a man whose abiding mantra was- “If you miss the ball, don’t miss the man”. Mobai forwards would not dare approach him in the goalmouth area which he had made a no-go area. Gbos was rumoured to have nails in his boot studs. At times he would appear to kick the ball high in any direction as long as it got away from his “territory”. This meant the ball could sometimes end up hitting the top branches of palm trees in the vicinity of the field-inevitably, palm wine tappers would cease operation whenever Gbos was in action. Forwards of the opposing team had to make sure they kicked from afar and hope the goalkeeper made a mistake. Even referees were in awe of Gbos for what he could do to them after the match. In one particular match, on blowing the whistle for an apparent penalty as Gbos had handled the ball, he shouted in Mende “Gbehe?” (what?). The referee replied, “Gbeogbe” (nothing), and the game continued.

Well, with all what I have said, it was obvious in the days of Gbos that Baiima always won. Players and supporters would sit in Sao Kondor’s Bedford vehicle and take the three-mile drive back. But first they had to go round Mobai town singing the conquest song “kombofele”.

“Kombofele mu kombua tieya, kombo fele mu kombuaa tieya. Foe ya fele mu kombua tieya, kombofele mu kombua tieya. This translates as: “Kombofele, we have scraped it from their hands, kombofele we have scraped it from their hands, for two years we have scraped it from their hands, kombofele, we have scraped it from their hands”. I am humming the well known tune now as I write.
Whenever we went on holidays, my siblings and I would play no part in this annual event as we had divided loyalty. Such was the passion in these village games. Football could bring an entire village together in victory or defeat.

Those of you from Bo, which has so many schools and where the passion for football was just as vivid as in Freetown would know about the rivalry between CKC, Bo School and Ahmadiyya. I recall the ones between CKC and Bo school better because as CKC boys this always affected us as schoolboys when we were beaten by the “dreaded enemy”. We sometimes had to depend on “unsavoury spiritual means” -very unchristian for a Catholic school to help us in our quest to overcome Bo school (the least said about this the better-I hope Father Lambe does not read this!). Suffice it to say however that this did not work most times. At one particular time we thought the instruction given our players to rub lime on their legs and jump over the Coronation Field fence, instead of through the main gate did not yield dividends, as Bo school scored two goals within the first fifteen minutes. The man we depended on was obviously a fraud. Our defeat was not surprising as our coach had no strategy during practices. His only advise to our players was to ask a rhetorical question and answer for himself. “When you get the ball, what do you do? He would answer back- “You wire”. -whatever that meant!

CKC’s match against St, Paul’s secondary school, Pujehun (Yes they play football in Pujehun!, quite unlike Bonthe) was a David versus Goliath Affair for me personally. I will expound on this. We played at their field in Pujehun-more of a minefield than a field! Our coach had me as a sub but advised me I may be upgraded because of injury to one of our forwards. I was truly enthused and in Pujehun decided to take a tour of the school’s Boarding Department. I noticed a huge man (yes it was a schoolboy-man) lying on a dormitory bed with young boys massaging his legs. One leg of his was about the size of my skinny body. Curious, I asked,” who is that? “. The answer from one of the boys was “This is Ajaya Bombei”.

Well, my heart missed a beat. I will tell you why. Ajaya Bombei was a giant of a man whose fame went beyond Pujehun into Bo. He was a “backman” in the mould of “Kendeka, oneback” (I will leave that for another day). Well, Ajaya Bombei instituted a “scorched earth policy” around his goal area-anyone that played around there risked his life. He was also reputed to say, “If you miss the ball, don’t miss the man”. So this was the famous Ajaya Bombei I was going to confront? I developed malaria and diarrhoea at the same time and went to my coach to tell him I was indisposed and could not be available for selection.

It is good that both the previous President and the current one are avid football fans. I know President Koroma supports my team, Arsenal-We, Arsenal supporters are reputed to be patient people. Only recently did I know President Bio is a Manchester United supporter. I don’t however subscribe to what one detractor said about him- “He only started wearing a Man U vest after Mourinho left and Solskjaer started winning games”. I warned him not to disrespect my President
One however has to congratulate Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai ( my cousin and a native of Mobai, who, because of his youth does not know about Gbos) and his Premier League Board for organising the new league. There is little doubt the first match between East End Lions and Blackpool was a resounding success. The attendance was solid and the passion displayed by Sierra Leoneans unrelenting. For once, politics, tribe,. I saw old QRS, Annie Walsh and Harford girls that had never even played netball in football jerseys supporting their teams-how they had a team, I don’t know. Some even thought that Blackpool won! gender and all the factors that divide us as a country were put aside to witness East End Lions play Blackpool

“There is always a winning side and a losing side but some people find it difficult to accept defeat like the angry Blackwood supporter who wrote on social media:
“Disgrace to the PLB for appointing a Ref from the East with a one-sided match in favour of East End Lions....How u dae go appoint eastern man pa crucial game lek dis.... . Look at what happened.
• A very clear penalty was not awarded to Blackpool
• Stupid and baseless yellows against Blackpool
• A premeditated red card to kill Blackpool off
• Fouls in favour of Lions were partially awarded
• In summary, the referee was a disgrace and disappointment to a much anticipated football match like this...

As far as history kin prove... Di Referee for Blackpool Lions match always don dae komot upline...I’m proud of my team "The Tis Tas Boys" with 80% ball possession and with the majority of chances being created. We did justice to good football but we were very unlucky. Lions bin jus dae play bum bam bum with no formation.”.
Ouch for the poor referee!

The Premier league Board Chairman was however pleased with what he saw and waxed poetic:
“The die has been cast... the Rubicon shall be crossed. Thank you Sierra Leoneans for coming out in tens of thousands yesterday. Thank u SLFA and my colleagues on the board. Amazing. Awed! I was just speechless. Thank you, Government of Sierra Leone, for your support. Unity in diversity around football shows we have far greater values that unit us. Let’s keep rolling the ball.”
Already social media is agog with support for one team or another by Sierra Leoneans- “I support Old Edwardians”.” I support Diamond stars”. Kudos also to the government for providing the needed support for this venture of up to Le 2 billion. I understand instructions have been given for another Le1.2 billion to be added to this figure by our famous Man U supporter. Football can be a great healing force for our nation and certainly bring the youth together. Everybody should be thanked-even our commentators, who despite their faux pas managed to convey to us what went on in the field, We all understand “chapping”, “baranta”, “bentail’,”bazz” etc. It is hardly their fault that the English language may not appropriately describe such for us.

One request I have is for our players to start using their names. I am tired of hearing about Tamba goat, Junior parade, Gallon pan, Tastao, Ronaldo and the rest of the nicknames. Someone needs to tell our players they don’t need to be named after some personal trait or after a famous footballer. Who knows-they may also be famous one day Besides there is no way you could put the name “T goat” at the back of a jersey.

One regret I have though is that my team does not seem to be involved this time. My local team? -Yes, Wusum Stars, of course. I got to like Wusum Stars because of “Tanan gate”. Let me tell you about “Tanan gate”. Makeni has passion for football and Wusum stars supporters don’t like losing on their ground especially when it is done unfairly. Nor do they take kindly to unruly visiting team supporters. Rumour has it that when they want to give the opponent supporters a good hiding they give orders- “Tanan gate” meaning “Close the gate”. Whatever is done to them is done behind a closed entrance gate.

The story I like most involving Wusum stars is directly related to a friend of mine who is now in the UK (OMG-I hope he does not read this). He was the referee in a match between East End Lions and Wusum Stars and had awarded a penalty to Lions just before half time to put them ahead. Wusum stars supporters got livid and started shouting, “Dis na roguement, tanan gate”. My friend, sensing what would befall him after the match if he does not redress the situation in the second half made his way to the toilet, forced himself through a small window and made it to the street. He hailed a taxi and headed for Freetown in his referee’s jersey. Come second half, they discovered he had absconded.

Kudos once more to all involved with the Premier league. We hope that the problems with football in this country will be addressed and that we go beyond this stage so that football becomes truly pervasive. For now, let us forget our differences, “tanan gate” and enjoy football.