Thirty years ago, on May 29, 1985, I gathered with a dozen teammates in a living room in Rome to watch the European Cup final between my Juventus and Liverpool. Barely fifteen years old, black-and-white scarf around my neck, there was nothing more I wanted than to avenge our shocking loss to Hamburg in the final two years earlier.
There was reason to be moderately optimistic, partly because four months earlier we had beaten Liverpool 2-0 (Boniek 39′, 79′) to claim the 1984 European Super Cup.
Forty-five minutes or so before the scheduled kickoff in Brussels, I took my seat on the floor. A perfectly unobstructed view of the television screen. Within minutes, disturbing images of chaos at the run down Heysel Stadium started beaming in.
The voice of Bruno Pizzul, a kind of Martin Tyler of Italian football, conveyed bewildering news. Something terrible was unfolding. Death at the stadium? We switched on the radio. Confusion.
Then, slowly, an accumulation of anecdotal reports led to confirmation of an unspeakable tragedy: 36 people were dead (a figure later revised to 39). Almost all Juventus fans. Men, women, and children killed in a stampede and wall collapse in the corner Z sector as they fled a charge by Liverpool supporters.
My heart was in my throat.
Liberi Nantes is the first competitive football club in Italy made up almost entirely of refugees and migrants. Playing in the Terza Categoria—the bottom rung of the Italian football pyramid—the team provides a peaceful space for West African men who survive treacherous journeys from West Africa to Libya and then by sea to the island of Lampedusa.
In this excellent short video, published on The Guardian website, we meet some of the players and Alberto Urbinati, a Lazio fan who founded the club several years ago in response to the plague of racism in Italian football and society. The project has taken on added significance today as Italy struggles to cope with the growing refugee crisis.
Exquisitely timed for release just ahead of the May 29th FIFA presidential election, ESPN aired an excellent E60 documentary on Sepp Blatter’s governance of world football.
Jeremy Schaap’s piercing investigation deftly uses on-camera interviews with whistleblower Phaedra Almajid, ex-FIFA men like Guido Tognoni, Swiss government officials, and others to probe the murky bid process that granted Qatar hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup. The story digs vigorously into a culture of corruption, fear, intimidation, patronage, and politricks within football’s world body.
Watch the entire show by clicking on each link below:
Part 1: Blatter’s power and Qatar’s World Cup
Part 2: Beginnings of the legend of Blatter
Part 3: Controversy surrounds Blatter’s reign at FIFA
Part 4: Criticism in the UK
Part 5: Challenging Blatter’s power
As an after-viewing treat, I would highly recommend listening to this interview by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl with Jeremy Schaap about making the documentary, lessons learned, and a lot more.
And if you still haven’t had enough, then go ahead and enjoy Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver lambast the most powerful man in sports! (click here to watch).
Zambia won the African Nations Cup in 2012. It is a recognized regional football powerhouse. As in most African countries, Zambians are fiercely passionate and knowledgeable about the game.
Yet to this day no academic history of soccer in Zambia exists. Hikabwa Decius Chipande, a native of Zambia currently completing his PhD in history at Michigan State University, is determined to eliminate this inexcusable oversight.
On March 26, the Football Scholars Forum, a fútbol think tank based in the MSU History Department, hosted an online discussion of Chipande’s paper titled “Mining for Goals: Football and Social Change on the Zambian Copperbelt, 1940s to 1960s.” This paper is part of Chipande’s larger doctoral dissertation in African history, which I am supervising at MSU.
The paper was precirculated on the FSF website and then, following the group’s tradition, the author was invited to make brief introductory remarks about the project before ably taking questions from the audience for 90 minutes.
Participants from three continents engaged in a discussion about the changing structure of clubs on the Zambian Copperbelt; sport in Africanist scholarship; the place of Zambia in wider south-central and southern African histories; local fan culture; and the importance of print media and oral interviews to represent multiple local voices and perspectives on the past.
The audio recording of the full session can be downloaded here.
Foreign white coaches’ involvement in African football dates back to the earliest days of colonialism. Beginning in the 1960s, independent African states continued to hire many Europeans (especially from the Eastern bloc and West Germany) and South Americans to manage national teams and player development programs.
This funny BBC video raises serious questions about this long-standing trend, noting the disproportionately high number of overseas coaches at the 2015 African Nations Cup. In a field of sixteen teams in Equatorial Guinea, the only local coaches on the sidelines were Honour Janza (Zambia), Florent Ibengé (DR Congo) and Shakes Mashaba (South Africa).
Filed under: Video
This year’s Africa Cup of Nations is underway in Equatorial Guinea. RFI talks about African football and media coverage with Peter Alegi, an authority on the game in Africa and Professor of History at Michigan State University in the United States. [full text here.]
Click below to listen to the interview. (iOS users click here.)
The Confederation of African Football has announced that Equatorial Guinea will replace Morocco as host nation for the 2015 African Nations Cup, the continent’s oldest and most prestigious international tournament.
The decision followed “fraternal and fruitful discussions” between CAF and Equatorial Guinea’s President Obiang, according to CAF’s official statement. Matches will be played in Malabo, Bata, Mongomo and Ebebiyin. The draw is scheduled for December 3 in Malabo.
The oil-rich former Spanish colony, population 736,000, previously co-hosted the tournament, with Gabon, in 2012.
CAF’s announcement brought a controversial and increasingly tense saga to a close. Morocco’s decision to back out of its commitment to stage the Nations Cup came in the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The North African nation’s withdrawal drew passionate criticism from many fans and observers in Africa and overseas.
Writing for The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Sean Jacobs (the South African founder of the Africa Is A Country website) argues that “a mix of politics, opportunism and self-interest seem to be behind Morocco’s decision.”
The incident, Jacobs explains, is evidence of Morocco’s “difficult relationship with nations south of the Sahara. African migrants, some on their way to Europe, regularly complain about harassment, violence and xenophobia.”
James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog took a similar tack. “Morocco can’t escape the impression that its decision was informed by prejudice,” especially within the context of a long and complex history of economic, cultural, and political relations between North African countries and sub-Saharan African nations. And, of course, fear shaped the decision as well. Fear, specifically, “about the possible impact of an Ebola case on tourism that accounts for an estimated ten percent of Morocco’s gross domestic product.”
Morocco’s seemingly contradictory decision not to host the Nations Cup in January but to go ahead and stage the FIFA World Club Cup next month sparked more criticism.
In the end, Africa’s grandest football show will go on thanks to Issa Hayatou, CAF’s president for the past 26 years, and President Obiang, Africa’s longest serving autocrat–in power since 1979 and at the head of the ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea that holds 153 of 155 parliamentary seats.
This last-minute African Nations Cup resolution reminds me of FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke’s statement during the massive 2013 Confederations Cup protests in Brazil: “less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.” And, in this case, it seems to work for an African Nations Cup too.