Film Review: “E18hteam” — Zambia, From Tragedy to Glory

By | October 24th, 2014 | 2 Comments



I settled into my seat at Fresh View Cinemas, Levy Park, in Lusaka, for the premiere of “e18hteam”—the first feature film about the history of football in Zambia—with more than a passing interest in the subject.

With generous funding from the FIFA João Havelange Research Scholarship, I have spent the past several years researching and writing the first academic history of football in Zambia as part of my doctoral studies at Michigan State University.

The cinema audience in Lusaka included football administrators, fans, members of the media, and VIPs like Shallot Scott, the wife of Zambia’s Vice President Guy Scott, and Roald Poulsen, the Danish coach who helped rebuild Zambia’s national team after the 1993 Gabon air crash that killed 18 supremely talented players.

The film is a partnership between Zambian producer Ngosa Chungu and Spanish writer, director and producer Juan Rodriguez-Briso. “e18hteam” focuses on Chipolopolo (Copper-bullets), Zambia’s national team. The narrative begins with Zambia’s famous 4-0 destruction of Italy in the 1988 Olympic tournament in South Korea. Then it turns to the tragedy that defined a generation: the 1993 Gabon air crash. The film goes on to explore the rebuilding of a new team, which (almost miraculously) reached the 1994 AFCON final against Nigeria. The narrative arc closes on an uplifting note as it documents the golden generation that won Zambia its first continental crown in 2012 in Libreville, just a few miles from the site of the crash nineteen years earlier.

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Football For All Event Combats Social Exclusion

By | October 22nd, 2014 | No Comments

FBB_footballforall_flyer copyOn Thursday, October 23, Football Beyond Borders, a London-based non-profit organization, is hosting a panel discussion on the power of football to combat social exclusion. It features author, journalist and tv pundit Guillem Balague, award-winning writer David Goldblatt, Premier leaguer Joey Barton, sports agent Sky Andrew, and other special guests. The event is part of the FARE network #FootballPeople action weeks.

 

Two new documentaries about Football Beyond Borders’ work in the UK and Brazil will also be premiered. Copa dos Povos is about the international Favela World Cup that took place in Brazil in the summer; and All Stars in Scotland: FBB Youth Tour, which follows the first ever FBB school tour to Scotland.

 

The event is at Amnesty International’s East London HQ from 7pm until 10pm, with food and drinks available. Tickets are sold out but you can watch a livestream of the event on the FBB YouTube channel.

 

 

“They Treated Us Like Aliens”: Sierra Leone Team Faces Ebola Fears and Stigma

By | October 13th, 2014 | No Comments

Fans during a September qualifying match between Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Luc Gnago/Reuters

Ivory Coast fans taunt Sierra Leone during a recent 2015 African Nations Cup qualifier. Luc Gnago/Reuters

 

Spectators went beyond the usual gamesmanship at Sierra Leone’s practice in Yaoundé, Cameroon: chants of “Ebola, Ebola” rained on the visitors. “You feel humiliated, like garbage, and you want to punch someone,” said John Trye, a reserve goalkeeper, speaking to Jeré Longman of The New York Times (click here to read the article).

 

Two months ago, Sierra Leone had reached number 50 in FIFA’s world ranking–an excellent result for a country ranked 183rd in the Human Development Index. Coached by Johnny McKinstry, an ambitious 29-year-old from Belfast, the team seemed poised to qualify for the 2015 African Nations Cup before the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

 

The Confederation of African Football decreed that Sierra Leone’s Nations Cup home qualifiers had to be played outside the country. When the team journeyed to Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, to play a “home” match against the DRC, midfielder Khalifa Jabbie reported that “they treated us like aliens.” In Abidjan, the Ivory Coast players opted for fist-bumps with their opponents instead of shaking hands; fans in the stands taunted the visitors with “Stop Ebola” signs and insulting chants (see photo above).

 

Already facing stiff competition in a qualifying group that includes Ivory Coast and Cameroon, the itinerant Sierra Leoneans lost matches and became demoralized. “The players tried their very best but sometimes what the mind’s willing to do, the body simply can’t anymore,” said their Irish coach. Making matters worse, a couple of weeks before Sierra Leone’s away match in Cameroon, McKinstry was fired with a curt email from the sports ministry, which then fought publicly with the country’s Football Association over the selection of his successor.

 

While Sierra Leonans have much more serious matters to deal with than sport, the stigma and fear associated with Ebola is also denying emotional solace to a nation generously endowed with football passion and patriotism. As their new coach, Atto Mensah, put it, “This is the only way we can make people happy. We owe them joy.”

How Football Reproduces the British Class System

By | October 2nd, 2014 | No Comments



“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver explains soccer and society in England to David Letterman.

The rich win. The poor lose. And most Americans don’t care.

Except, of course, those of us who screeched about John getting the number of EPL teams wrong. Enjoy!

Quinton Fortune: World Cup Hosting Has Not Benefited South African Football

By | September 24th, 2014 | 6 Comments

Photo by Marc Fletcher http://imbiza.matrix.msu.edu/?p=173

Quinton Fortune played seven seasons with Manchester United and 46 times for South Africa. On September 23, he wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about a topic dear to me and to many readers of this blog: the impact of the 2010 World Cup on the growth and development of South African football.

Given the billions of rands spent on new and revamped stadiums and transport infrastructure, Fortune asks, was hosting the tournament a boon for the local game? “Judging by the poor attendances at top-flight games not involving the country’s two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who are also by far the most powerful in financial terms, and the poor performances of the national team Bafana Bafana, the answer unfortunately has to be a resounding ‘no’,” Fortune writes.

His concerns are numerous, important, and inter-related. The World Cup, Fortune asserts, did nothing to alter the Chiefs-Pirates duopoly, which continues to capture the lion’s share of the attention from fans, media, and sponsorship money. He points out that the quality of play in the Premier Soccer League is not terribly good, as evidenced by last year’s top scorer, Bernard Parker, boasting a meager 10 goals.

Fortune then notes how the swanky World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Port Elizabeth are now massive financial drains on local municipalities struggling to deal with many pressing social needs in perhaps the most unequal country in the world.

The former Man United midfielder does not spare the PSL’s satellite broadcaster, SuperSport, which bankrolls the South African league while offering 24/7 matches and highlights of European football (such as EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League). This contradiction is another reason why the PSL is “losing fans who prefer to watch the football from the comfort of their homes, receiving high definition pictures, while also having a choice of watching (better quality) football from other parts of the world,” says Fortune.

The way forward, Fortune concludes, requires harnessing South Africa’s world-class infrastructure and abundance of football talent to forge “a well-planned development programme which will develop that talent into realising its full potential.” How this should be done is the challenging part.

Scottish Independence, Britain, and FIFA

By | September 11th, 2014 | No Comments

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With the Scottish independence referendum a week away, Stefan Szymanski of the University of Michigan is thinking about what the outcome might mean for football.

Writing on the Soccernomics blog, he reminds us that the UK is the only nation-state with four members in FIFA and points to a historically tense relationship between the world body and the founders of the modern game.

According to Szymanski, “a vote for independence would change things.” FIFA might gain control of IFAB (responsible for the rules of the game); Welsh nationalism could receive a boost; and perhaps other football nations would call more loudly for the UK to field a single team, as it does in the Olympics.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the New York Times reports that “the country’s stadiums have become key battlegrounds for the yes and no campaigns.”

FC Kansas City NWSL Champions

By | September 1st, 2014 | No Comments



On Sunday, FC Kansas City defeated Seattle Reign 2-1 to win the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League championship. Playing at the Reign’s home ground of Starfire Sports Stadium on an artificial surface, FCKC’s solid tactical organization, relentless collective defense, and excellent finishing proved decisive.

The league’s best teams put on an entertaining and well-played spectacle for ESPN2’s national television audience. Amy Rodriguez’s perfectly calibrated chip shot over Hope Solo opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. In a rare chance, Seattle’s Nahomi Kawasumi shockingly missed a wide open header later in the first half. But overall FCKC frustrated the Reign’s offensive play and effectively neutralized NWSL MVP Kim Little.

Ten minutes into the second half, Lauren Holiday put on a dribbling display of the finest quality in the Seattle box and generously served the ball to Rodriguez. Left inexplicably unmarked, the U.S. national team player slid into her shot to the far post for her second of the day and a 2-0 FCKC lead. Megan Rapinoe eventually pulled one back for Seattle three minutes from time. But it was not enough, as FCKC held on for a deserved victory.

The NWSL crown means that Kansas City now holds both the men’s and women’s professional titles in the United States. For a sport usually associated with the coasts, could this moment represent the beginning of a broader power shift into the interior of the country?

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