Let us change for a bit today and go sport, or may be football; and the madness that English premiership football brings to Sierra Leoneans, including me. Since the collapse of the British Empire, hardly anything has been as powerful an imperialist instrument in the hands of Britain as the BBC World Service and Premiership football, not least to Africa. They have made us see our football and our local radio stations as far too inferior.
The advent of satellite broadcasting has smothered domestic league football in many parts of Africa not least in Sierra Leone. The passion, the craze, the anxiety and the frustration have all become part of us, probably for all the wrong reasons. The other day I was in Bo and a domestic league fixture had to be shifted because the Blackpool vs. Kakua Rangers match coincided with a Liverpool clash with, I think, Chelsea all the way in England.
Furious and bewildered, I spoke with a sports official in the country’s second city. His explanation: the stadium would be empty had they gone ahead with the local fixture. Football fans would have preferred to watch the Liverpool match on TV.
Well with the close of the leagues opened the doors of the European Nations’ cup which ended over the weekend. And the European club football fans shifted their allegiance to one European country or another depending on which one had their club’s players. For example, many Manchester United fans, excepting me, had Portugal as their first team choice because of Christiano Ronaldo. The Liverpool supporters followed Torrez to Spain, Chelsea fans ended up with Ballack and Germany to the final, and Arsenal initially chorusing Holland because of Van Persie, kept shifting and shifting and shuffling until Cesc Fabregas and Spain made it to the final.
With Euro 2008 gone, attention is now shifting to the European leagues again. And to Arsenal I turn, and their daring audacity to always equate themselves to Manchester United. During the recent European Champions’ League, it was stunning how the majority of Arsenal fans I know here, kept supporting every team that Manchester United locked horns with. Without a modicum of hypocrisy, they passionately shouted “Ole, Ole Ole” for Barcelona during their match with The Red Devils. You might think it is the notion of “if I can’t have it let none of my father’s sons have it”. In other words, since they were out, they would rather no other English team won it. But no, they supported Chelsea, another premiership club, at the final.
And hear their reason: Manchester United are our arch rivals. Whoever gave Arsenal fans that misguided impression! They’d better be told that Liverpool are Manchester United’s only “arch rivals” in English football. NOT Arsenal. If anything, the Gunners should set their eyes on Chelsea and see themselves as such.
The breath-taking interest with which Gunners fans are following Ronaldo’s possible move to Madrid, and reading their Bible and Quran to make sure he goes, is shocking. You’d better worry yourselves over the equally possible move to Milan of your top goal scorer last season Emmanuel Adebayor. You may think he said he was staying at Emirates, but what has been happening since he said so on Friday is enough to make Arsenal fans’ stomachs reach boiling proportions. Clarence Seedorf says he has been assured by the Togolese striker that he prefers a move to the San Siro. So why is this not bothering the Gunners fans more than the possible transfer of Ronaldo!
Fans of this 122-year-old club formerly known as Dial Square and later Royal Arsenal are passionate about their club. A very good thing! With a team all of whose players age between 21 and 26 years, they are very youthful. But that should be tempered with some realism.
Ideally I would rather Ronaldo stayed at Old Trafford. But a move by the Portuguese midfielder leaves us where we are! The Frenchman Éric Daniel Pierre Cantona won with Manchester United four Premiership titles in five years and two League and FA Cup Doubles. In 2001, he was even voted the club’s player of the century. When King Eric was leaving in 1997, how many pundits had not said his departure would sink Manchester United to a level they would not resurrect from in a generation? But here we are, having won two European championships and several premiership and League and FA cups since Cantona left. Remember the famous treble in 1999? Arsenal man den nor wan yeri dat oh!
Ronaldo can stay, fine! He can choose to go as well. Fine too! He and the Arsenal fans need to be reminded that it so happened in the cases of Beckham, Ruud, Heinz, etc. All to the Spanish poachers of Man U talent, Madrid! And here we are still, European and English champions. A feat we intend repeating in the coming season, Arsenal willing or not. But be that as it may, Arsenal fans should just be a bit less “BAD HEARTY” against Man U.
In case you are wondering why I did not have a team at Euro 2008, the typical Manchester United fan supports the England national team which sadly slept in their wing, as we say here, and failed to qualify. Another thing a typical Man U fan does is support any English team in a European competition. Barcelona are my second European team, but in a true Man U spirit, I supported Arsenal in their Champions league final in 2006 against the Spanish team.
I hope as another football season approaches, Gunners fans will learn to see Man U as fellow competitors, and NOT as “arch rivals”. That is too presumptuous and pompous. See you on 8 November at The Emirates. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Arsenal and I think they play great football. But their fans, not least in Sierra Leone, should mellow down somewhat and avoid more weight loss on Arsene Wenger, who is arguably the best football manager in the world. By Umaru Fofana