Thursday, June 14, 2007

Soccer (Football) in Africa

Become an African Football Aficionado
When traveling in Africa, start chatting about football (soccer) to any young African man and you'll establish an instant connection. Football in Africa is followed passionately from Morocco on down to South Africa. You'll know when an important football match is being played in Africa because the country you are visiting will literally come to a standstill. Everywhere you go in Africa you'll see young boys kicking around a football. Sometimes the ball will be made of plastic bags with string wrapped around it, sometimes it will be made of crumpled up paper. As long as it can be kicked, there will be a game.
How to Impress Your African Friends:
African Football Superstars
Familiarize yourself with the current African super stars of football. Some good names to drop would include: Austin 'Jay-Jay' Okocha (Nigeria), Samuel Eto'o Fils (Cameroon), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) and Obafemi Martins (Nigeria). This should impress and please most young men you talk to. General knowledge of other international football stars will also go down well.
European Football Clubs
Get to know the European football leagues. Every African player that's any good quickly find themselves being lured to Europe with the promise of more money and better training (some end up cleaning streets instead). Consequently Africans have to follow European football to get to see their own players. There are currently more than 1000 Africans playing for European clubs. The televised matches and the radio broadcasts from the European leagues is also of much better quality than anything broadcast locally. Plus Africans just enjoy a good game of soccer and it's played awfully well in Europe.
It's a Male Thing
Football is really a male thing in Africa. You won't see a lot of girls kicking a ball around in village. Nor will women be that interested in chatting about the latest European superstars. Women in Africa are usually too busy working while their men are watching or listening to football matches. But women's football is making some strides on the continent. There is an African Women's Championship held every 2 years which doesn't get a lot of publicity.
Witchcraft and Football
Don't comment on the use of witchcraft and football especially in sub-Saharan Africa, it's a bit of a sore point. If you get a chance to see a football match in a stadium you may be surprised to see teams urinating on the pitch or even slaughtering a goat. Witchcraft is a sensitive subject in Africa especially among the more educated people. Publicly witchcraft is often scorned as mere superstition but its use is still very widespread and to many Africans this is somewhat embarrassing. Hence you have football officials trying to stamp out the practice at least at the major tournaments.
Top African Teams and Their Nicknames
The top 5 African teams are: Nigeria (The Super Eagles), Cameroon (The Indomitable Lions), Senegal (The Lions of Teranga), Egypt (The Pharaohs) and Morocco (Lions of Atlas). Nigeria and Cameroon have a long standing football rivalry similar to that of Brazil and Argentina.
Upcoming football events:
World Cup 2006 will be held in Germany. The draw has taken place and the African nations are vying for first place in each of their groups to make it to world's most important football event.
Africa Cup of Nations 2006 was held in Egypt from January 20th to February 10th. The cup is held every two years. The 2004 winner was Tunisia, and the 2006 winner was Egypt.
Africa Champions League is an annual competition for African football clubs (as opposed to national teams). Not quite as popular as some of the European leagues but nationalism takes over during the finals which are held at the end of October and mid-November. The 2004 victor was Enyimba, a Nigerian club.
The Confederation Cup 2005 is a competition for the National Cup winner in each country. The finals take place in November.
World Cup 2010 will be held in South Africa and it's a really big deal for the continent. Many Africans felt that the world was finally respecting their ability to hold an event of this magnitude. Mandela was brought to tears on the news that South Africa won the right to host the event. If you are planning to visit South Africa around this time book your flight and hotel well in advance.
Colonial Football:
Around ball and a square goalSuggests the shape of the Yin and the Yang.The ball is like the full moon,And the two teams stand opposed:Captains are appointed and take their place.In the game make no allowance for relationshipAnd let there be no partiality.Determination and coolness are essentialAnd there must not be the slightest irritation for failure.Such is the game. Let its principles apply to life.Li Yu (50-130ad)
Just about every country in the world can trace through their history and find images of people playing with footballs. It has been discovered that Li Yu, when writing this peace of poetry, had written it to be placed on the goalposts. As you can imagine, he may not have been able to teach us about the intricate details of the latest edition of the Off-Side rule that FIFA have been playing with, but it should be noted that most countries had some form of sport in which people had a ball, a net and a few men running around. In Japan in the 5th century, people played Kemari. In Southern Africa, the San people played a kicking game on grass with a ball, in Greece, Episkyros was played mainly by children and women. In Native America in the 17th Century English pilgrims reported of people playing "Passuckquakkohowog", meaning 'those who gather to play football'.
Football has come in different forms from all around the world. In the town of Derby in England, Shrove Tuesday was a popular day, not for religious reasons but for a football match played between the parishes of St. Peter and All Saints. It was a game that was played to the bitter end, both teams giving all they had for the glory of their parish, this was later to become the birth of 'local derby', a phrase that has been used in every language in every country to describe the passion in a local game.
The first note of people playing football with regulated rules and guidelines can be tracked to the Normandy and Brittany area of France, a game called La Soule. This and Calcio, a form of football played in northern parts of Italy would be the oldest recorded forms of a game that would change the world. To this day changes have been made, some good, some bad and some really big decisions that FIFA are still pondering over, but football has always kept people watching, playing and adoring. The main stream of Football as we know it started in Cambridge in 1846, with a set of rules that had both handling and kicking rules, these were reformed in 1863 by the newly created Football Association. This started in London with 12 clubs, Barnes, Blackheath, Blackheath School, Charterhouse, Crusaders, Crystal Palace, Forest, Kensington School, No Names of Kilburn, Percival House, Surbiton and the War Office. From here on other forms of the sport were formed, Blackheath who split with the FA at the time went on to form what was known as Rugby Union. With the spread of these rules came the first FA Cup tournament. It was started in 1871 and finished in 1872 with Wanderers beating the Royal Engineers 1 - 0.
So to follow suit was the formation of a Football League. With only 12 teams deciding to take part the league it was a rather watered down event but the start of something big none the less. None of the teams that started the FA wanted to take place in the league and it was, Accrington Stanley, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rover, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers to be the pioneers. Preston were the lucky winners of the first league season and soon enough other teams would follow to make the league what it is today.
From all this history more was to be made. When the industrial revolution took off in Great Britain people where looking for more ways to relax after a long hard days work. Football grew and grew within the islands but it was with the travel and work that British men went on that the game spread within Europe very quickly. Many of the teams we watch week in week out in the Champions league can be traced back to English steel workers, Ship builders, Miners, Railways workers and traders. It was an English group of people led by Alfred Edwards that created Milan FC, it was originally a cricket club and in 1908 members of the club that did not like the dominance it was under by English owners decided to make its own club, Internatzionale, or Inter Milan. Inter had a brief spell as a joint club with US Milanese and were called Ambrosiana-Inter, but changed back to Internatzionale and regained their position as a top club by coming Runner-up in 1949 to Torino. Inter and AC have been serious rivals ever since the split in 1908.In Spain, football was to grown by the influx of English Railway workers, Miners and expatriate traders. The first football only club, (others were athletic and cricket clubs), was Athletic Bilbao, an extraordinary club from the Basque region of Spain, it was founded by ship builders from Sunderland. The club was to take on the original colours of Sunderland, red and white stripes, and kept the name Athletic, and not the Spanish translation of Athletico as to honour the formation of the club. What makes the club so spectacular is that only people from the Basque region can play for them. Your mother or father must be from Bilbao or you could not play for them, it is a strict rule that they have stuck to ever since, and they have never been outside the top league in Spain, a trait that some teams have dropped, namely Barcelona.
All over main land Europe you will find stories very similar to these, from Holland and Belgium to Greece and Germany. People from all over the world have been responsible for the spread of this game, Irish priests bringing the game and the religion to Hibernian in Scotland, but who know which came first. English students from Oxford University bringing the foreign game to Germany but it was considered to be a foreign sport and was only played by the lower-class. During the Second World War it was banned and only after the ban was lifted did the sport take off.In France the game had spread with the same results, although we do have to be thankful for French football. France was the founding member of FIFA and its first president, Jules Rimet, was the founder of the World Cup. Also we must extend our gratitude to Gabriel Hunot who was the editor or the sports paper, L'Equipe, and the inspiration behind the European Cup, the now UEFA Champions League.
The flow of football can mean more than people travelling and bringing the game to other countries. It can be more than one team winning and another losing. It can be what shapes a country, what makes thousands of people spend millions of euros, and can make grown men cry. This can be said for Brazil in more ways than one, no other country has more people playing football, no other country can account for more World Cup Final Appearances, or Winners Medals. No other country can say that without football, the country would not be the same.
Brazil has been the home for Five World Cups, the home of the worlds best players, this country's only export bigger than football? Bananas! Brazil has had more players leave home and move to Europe than any other. They are the conveyor belt of football players. Over 350 players have moved to Europe from Brazil in the last 50 years. But the history of Brazilian football started with Charles Miller, a Brazilian born of English coffee-merchant parentage. He studied in Hampshire in England and when he returned to Brazil in 1894, he brought his love and passion for football back with him. He has been remembered by the Brazil football Association by naming the street that holds the Maracana after him. He is the reason that so many of us are engulfed in the style for football that Brazil gives us. The Brazilian National League was not formed until 1971, before then existed two city leagues, the Rio league and the Sao Paulo Championship. Both starting in and around the start of the 1900's, with an inter-city tournament starting in about 1930's.
Unfortunately Brazil was to be troubled by racial issues. There was a lot of teams that were only playing with white players, they had tried unsuccessfully in 1920 to form an all white league in Rio after Vasco de Gama had won the Rio Championship with a team of both black white and mixed races. Thankfully that has since gone from Brazil, with the emergence of foreign clubs buying the top players from Brazil and bringing them to Europe, the teams could not realistically continue with an all white league. Professionalism put the final nail in the coffin and also helped to bring about the start of inter-city cup tournament. Unfortunately racism has followed some of Brazils top soccer players. Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid is the most common case of Spanish football fans being constantly racist towards black players, although most of the teams that have racist supporters also have players on their team who are black and come from Brazil. It is a culture that has tarnished the sport that so many are in love with. Things were to improve in Brazil again in 1971 with the introduction of a National League to take place between the City Championships. Since the Brazilian team first won the World Cup in 1958, it has been a hub of talent and ability. It has shone in the eyes of other countries and shown them the beauty at which football can be played. Nowhere in the world will you find the samba rhythm of football that many people believe is the reason why Brazilian football is so good, they think of it as an extension of their lives.
The African Football Association (CAF) has only been in existence since after the Second World War. Before this time the rule of football, along with everything else, was under the French, British and Portuguese. The hold on the majority of countries that these Colonial administrations had was to be one of the reasons football crossed the Mediterranean Sea. The northern countries of Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria where the first to start up leagues in Africa with the spread of football becoming progressively southern, with the exception of South Africa which was started around the time of the northern countries. Players from these countries in the north were to be the most dominant and skilful, Egypt had been in the 1920 Olympic Games.After the Second World War and the de-colonisation of Africa the CAF was started to govern the African football nation, it was to have new members on a regular basis when each country gained its independence and in 1957 Egypt won the first African Cup of Nations beating Ethiopia 4 - 0 . This was to continue to this day as one of the premier National Tournaments in the world. Soon after this the CAF had set up an equal to the European Cup and with the winner of each national league playing in the African Champions Cup. The first to be held in 1964 with Oryx Douala of Cameroon winning the first. South Africa was to be the only case of racial discrimination in African football, they were banned from competing in international competition soon after the CAF set up. It was allowed back into the CAF in 1992 with the abolishment of apartheid.
All over the world we see the love for football growing. The scene of players from Iran and USA in the 1998 World Cup posing together for a team photo will be one that many people will look to as what football can do, football can be what brings people, cultures and nations together. It can also be used as a tool for destruction, ignorance, violence and hatred. But if we look closely at what the game has shown us over the past hundred years or so, it is that football is a game of passion, respect, love and dedication. Over and over again in history we see signs of fair play, sportsmanship and camaraderie. Bobby Charlton shaking the hand of Eusabio after he scored against England in the '66 World Cup semi-final. Brazilian players praying to God in thanksgiving after winning the 2002 World Cup. These are the signs from history and today that football is more than just a game, it is an art that is loved everywhere and is a passion that brings us together and unites us under one heading, lovers of football.

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