Political Ping-Pong is a term most of us have become accustomed to in the virtual space in recent times whether as players in the game or mere spectators operating on the sidelines. These days in Banjul, debates and even online fights by proxy have become an integral aspect of our sociopolitical dealings.
However, on a night when one of football’s powerhouses came crumbling in one of the game’s ultra-intimidating caldrons somewhere in England, the narrative on social media, at least for few hours, took a nosedive for something even more refreshing. There was the ceaseless outpouring of banter, caricature, I-told-you-so arguments, mockery and mickey and of course the return leg of the great depression for our mutual friends that have the Barcelona DNA in their veins.
Admittedly, the online frenzy did debunk my own notion that Liverpool are all about 50 or 60 year olds still clinging on to the heydays of Kopp icon Kenny Dalglish or those old timers who up to this day couldn’t part ways with English rock band Beatles formed in Liverpool in 1960 . Nay! I got it wrong. But what I couldn’t be wrong about is the fact most of those writing the obituary of Barca are Gambia-based Real Madrid fans.
Not even the rigours of Ramadan could dampen the buzz that had punctuated the titanic encounter between the world’s best, England’s finest and Senegambia’s rep if you throw into the mix Sadio Mane, who on current form is Africa’s golden boy.
Such has been the unifying power of football that people who would rather sidestep certain conversations on our polity had to agree for once that the footballing god that is Messi is in fact a mere mortal. With all the superlatives that were used to describe the genius of the mesmerizing Argentine, the harsh reality dawned upon every follower of football that when a people of lesser power put their act together buoyed by a never-say die attitude, they are bound to prevail even if it is against Hercules as told in classical mythology.
Matter of fact, this goes beyond football as recent political developments in our part of the world would suggest. Personally, what I find telling in the Barca debacle is that no single individual albeit his/her sheer brilliance or imperious abilities can bring forth meaningful development singlehandedly; that it takes collectivism as opposed to egotistical tendencies to do what might have initially looked like mission impossible. For us here in Jollof, the lessons are manifold: whether one looks at the rags to riches story of Anfield live wire Sadio as a benchmark for our own brothers angling to cut it at the top end of the footy business, Liverpool’s assembling of a team that have an academy product at the heart of everything good about them or the virtue sacrifice for the common good as amply demonstrated by Fabinho, fondly referred to by a friend of mine as Brazil’s version of a certain Mamadou Wurri.
In truth, not even a die-hard Liverpool fan like Baboucarr Senghore could have foretold the manner in which the footballing beast had been tamed out of Messi based on the way he had cowed Virgil Van Dyke earlier at the Camp Nou. What no one could however take away from Baboucarr and co. is the self-belief they appeared to have shown even in the face of adversity. In hindsight, one could be excused for taking their stance as blind loyalty or a blatant show of foolery.
Despite being an emotive sport, football can be such a wonderful thing. It’s the panacea for a boring soul. It can as well result in serious mood swings for some of us.
Looking at the fun which football generates I still cannot fathom why some of our petit bourgeois see it as a matter for those without serious matters on their plate. That used to be the stance of my own grandma too Juju Manneh, who would often remark “I don’t know why you will kill yourself for people who do not even know that you exists – as if they are gonna give you a portion of war booty.” Ironically though, she was the same languid grumbletonian who nearly vomited her heart out in one particular bout between two Senegalese wrestling giants.
In the end, the spine-tingling encounter between two of Europe’s footballing monasteries might have played out thousands of miles away, but the notable take-aways it offers to a country still wallowing in the abyss of the beautiful game should never be taken lightly. Attention to every petty detail, discipline, team work, humility in the wake of defeat, respect for one’s opponent as well as belief even when the odds are starkly against one are some of serious issues that came under sharp focus amidst the fanfare that greeted demolition day at Anfield.
Famara Fofana is a freelance journalist, an ardent football fan and a communications specialist with Child Fund International. He’s the author of ‘When My Village Was My Village’ and ‘Reflections of an African Village Boy’,