The year, 2022 has been a lot of things to the field of football and Sierra Leone was not left out. When the small nation touched down in Cameroon after having qualified for the African Cup of Nations for two decades, the national feeling of pride shot right through the roof.
Our team had gained qualification and the nation had erupted in unprecedented joy and the thought of travelling to the match venue crossed many minds. How the economy and the dollar rate reacted to our thoughts is a discussion for another day.
However, we went, we played and we did our best. The town was bubbling with excitement and hidden anxiety, many gamblers stayed clear of placing a bet against the seeming giants we were grouped with.
A god dressed in red robes called Mohamed by his parents and Fabiansky by his peers touched down. As every Catholic Pope does, he must have kissed the ground and owned every square inch of it. Appearing omnipresent, oversized and towering over others even when his physical stature was the least scary can only be attributed to a man with the spirits. That goalkeeper was the key inspiration on the national football team Leone Stars.
Joyous anguish, the David versus Goliath fairy tale plays right before our eyes. The tenacity to dream dreams that would only be left in the stomach of a dog. The first game was over and we felt like the stars had a chance. By the second game, general belief had grown about the ability of the team. When the Leones Stars could not qualify to move to the next round, tears flowed. Our collective hopes crashed, but after a few seconds we dusted ourselves and the dull feeling of pride slowly returned.
The team returned and sadly politics and seeming capture of planning and execution saw them return in the dark with little fanfare. Then it was time for the sagas. The sharing of gifts from the people of Sierra Leone through the president went on for a while and all sorts and conditions of issues sprouted up. Upon conclusion, we entered another phase when the team was asked to return travel bags they had considered gifts. An untidy moment for a nation that had budgeted some USD 7Million.
The Leone Stars of Sierra Leone have been the major beneficiary of the sporting budget of the nation. Many times performing abysmally but never lacking funds. Teams like the Cricket team and karate would beg their way around and bring medals home. Some disciplines do not see any support from the Ministry at all. Qualification rounds would commence soon and the team has returned from a trip that saw the play friendlies, which have made a football ranking improve.
Our Stars do not twinkle enough because football has always suffered interference from state and political players. From oversized teams and padded lists to appointments of officials to delegations that add no value. Little has really changed about the way many things happen in our country.
Leone Stars cannot be exempted aside from the fact that the quality of the game has improved over the last few years and we are now able to attract players from outside our struggling national league.
Football, however, continues to be a largely political tool because of its rallying ability. It is most probably the only subject that gets every tribe and political affiliations to take a back seat…..at least when we are doing well.