Tortuous Tournament

13th February

I helped organise a football completion. 5 villages, 4 teams, 7 matches, 1 improvised trophy made out of a bowl and a can, and what felt like 600 meetings later, it ended in mayhem.

The final of the competition descended into chaos. The school cluster monitor who had dropped by from the regional education office strolled up to me as the school was invaded by a baying crowd and offered me these words of wisdom

“You should have invited the army. If there were two men here with guns we would not be having any of this madness.”

Truly depressing sentiments.

Where did a small intervillage event turn into mass shouting match? I won’t explain all the slight misturns we took in setting up the final but I take a large proportion of the blame for the resulting shambles – I was naïve in my understanding of how money was involved, and I was particularly foolish to referee the final after being implored to by the teachers and team coaches. It was a poisoned chalice and I took a big swig.

But as Sanna Mballow, one of the teachers at the school, so eloquently put it “bygones they are bygones and we learn and live”.

The day after the shambolic final we were talking at the school about what had gone wrong. The teachers are decided. The final was cursed. One teacher saw a lady go to the pitch before the match and shout some things. This, along with the fact that a powerful Marabout had visited the village the previous week confirmed it in the teacher’s minds. Cursed. So maybe I wasn’t to blame.

But every cloud – a week after the final I received this letter –IMG_1164

Dear Sir,

It’s our junty to thank you, For that Wonderful job you do to the community. Mbolbuck and SareNyanga team and the coach Is here thanking you For your intenction to the community. We cannot pay you, but We can congrajulate and pray For you Mr Njie.

For the team and coach and all the supporters are her congrajulacting you. Remember We are African and many of them those not respect time and law Is that why we are back warded always.

Thank’s mr Njie, since the tonament sarted We our team have only one yellow card that allow can sure that We Want only peace and united amount our self.

Thank’s your Faithfully


It seems that football doesn’t just bring out racism in white shaven headed blokes. I heard a few people blame the chaos of the final on it being Africa or it being because the participants were black; these accusations came from black Africans. I’m not sure if they were saying these excuses to me because they thought it was what I wanted to hear (I didn’t want to hear it!), that they thought that as a white man I would appreciate a bit of racism, or if they truly believed the troubles were inherently caused by the continent and skin colour. It is a sad state of affairs when a white boy is trying to convince a black man that a failed football tournament had nothing to do with the participants skin colour. It crystallized for me the lack of self-confidence much of this country holds in itself.

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