Nangadeff tout le monde! The opportunity to improve my French by living in a Francophone country was one of the initial attractions that led me to Senegal but during February this same cultural factor made things difficult. I popped into a local bar one Friday night for a quick beer and was surprised to see a match on the telly. My inner monologue ran as follows: “Friday night football? Oh yeah, they play on Fridays in French Ligue 1 don’t they? Oh, it’s Paris. Oh, that was a decent pass. Oh, he looks familiar. Oh…” And there I was watching Cabaye’s first start for PSG. Subconsciously I’d been duped into doing the football fan equivalent of self-destructively flicking through the facebook photos of an attractive ex-girlfriend frolicking happily abroad with her newer, bigger and better-looking boyfriend.
In real life you’d log-off and remind yourself that you’re better off without her and she’ll regret it sooner or later. Unfortunately we’re all living in Newcastle United mode where there is, as much as we’ve all tried, no ‘log-off’. Anyway, I bet Yohan’s already unfulfilled by passing to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and secretly yearns for the good ol’ days at Little Benton with Shola. Who wants to be winning 4-0 away from home in the Champions League anyway?
Since the last blog I’ve been attempting my own midfield string-pulling impression in a couple of staff v student games with the lads from work. The matches took place at Dakar Sacre Coeur, a really impressive private complex which was quite a discovery considering the general hubbub in the media here about a lack of footballing facilities. Such is the quality of the astro-turf and grass pitches at DSC that apparently visiting international teams have used it when facing the Senegalese national side. Following our matches there I’ve began organising training for our lads at school and began with a 5 a side competition. While their football skills are excellent I had been privately unimpressed yet unsurprised by the narrow focus of their football knowledge and their appreciation of just the Sky-Sports-sponsored elite ‘Ronaldo, Messi, Real and Barca, City and United. And Chelsea’. So during our tournament I put them in teams named after sides I have admiration of or friends who support them (or both). This saw Bilbao, Napoli, Everton, West Brom and Bordeaux face-off in a series of frantic matches. I am happy to report to Tony Higgins and The Real Spain that the Bilbao boys triumphed, playing beautiful pass and move football! It was warming to hear the boys talking about researching their new-found footballing identities, where they play, what colour they play in and even (in the case of the Everton lads) what songs their fans sing. It was also a good way of getting them to realise that football isn’t just about the sides in the Champions League and players in the World Cup. One of the cheekier ones told me I had to say that, supporting Newcastle United.
With all that going on I’ve unfortunately missed two relatively high profile matches that recently took place involving Senegalese clubs – the preliminary rounds of the African Champions League. The Senegalese champions Diambars were eliminated on penalties by ASFA Yennenga from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, Diaraf of Dakar, who must have finished 2nd in last year’s LSFP, were beaten 1-0 at home by, wait for it, Essienimpong Cape Coast Ebsua Mysterious Dwarfs. Or, ‘Mysterious Dwarfs’ for short. Sorry. It’s a shame that that ends the Senegalese participation in the African Champions League before the competition has even started really. From what I understand these underwhelming results are typical as Senegal has never produced a winner of the ACL and it’s a competition that tends to be dominated by richer club sides from South Africa, Egypt and recently DR Congo.
In March I was delighted to share my life in Dakar with two of my mates visiting from home. It’s a different experience approaching the city and the country as a ‘tourist’ rather than as someone who lives and works here. At the same time, I did my best to present an ‘off-the-beaten track’ view of the Senegalese capital. Naturally this saw us visit Stade Demba Diop for a spot of top flight football. In the previous blog you may remember me noting the relatively docile nature of the crowd and how the partisan followings we see in England aren’t really replicated here? Well the clash between Dakar rivals Ouakam and Niary Tally a couple of Saturdays ago has certainly seen those beliefs evaporate. Already the antithesis of inconspicuous, us being the only white faces in the crowd, we managed to plonk ourselves right in the invisible frontier between two opposing supporters groups. In my defence it’s harder to know ‘who’s who’ when there are no replica shirts or any police or stewarding to speak of. Anyway, it was abundantly clear where we were after Ouakam went one-nil up and half the lads around us celebrated wildly, half reacted with frustration and then held running battles (verbal and physical) between each other for the rest of the half.
There was an air of real aggro and hostility that I had never really sensed before and so we decided to decamp to behind one of the goals where it seemed calmer and was closer to the exit. At this point I should point out that in the alternative option behind the other goal there was a set of absolute ‘heed-the-baals’, throwing all sorts from abuse to frozen bags of ice cream and then bricks at the Ouakam goalkeeper or the linesmen. Absurdly, we even saw a lad obliviously wearing an England hoodie that read ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’! He fitted in with the bonehead element without even realising it!
The second half began with us feeling much more at ease with the older, wiser chaps around us. That was until we saw the madness unfolding in the large stand where we had come from. Tens of lads charging into the concourse at the top of the main stand, wind-milling at each other pretty savagely. There was literally no sign of the police who sat nonplussed at the other side of the stadium. That was it for us and we elected to get out while we could. It turned out to be an excellent decision as we heard on our way home that the crowd trouble had escalated to an extent where they had had to suspend the match. Fortunately no-one was seriously hurt, at least not to my knowledge.
I’m hoping my next trip to ‘Demba Diop’ is a quieter, affair that shows that experience to be anomalous to the serene tapestry of Senegalese teranga. It certainly was in terms of the rest of my friends’ visits, which passed superbly. I considered going into a bit of the tourism-side-of-things in this update but I’m already hurtling towards my word limit and rather than coming over all Lonely Planet I thought I’d return to classic true faith format and leave you with a Land of Teranga Perfect Ten for tourists, in case any of you reading this fancy a holiday out of the ordinary and with ‘an alternative view’.
Hidden barbecue beer gardens
Saint Louis: Ndioloffene to Guet N’Dar
Thieboudienne, Bissap and Bouye
Inside the Goree Island gun
Any taxi ride
Voile D’Or, beach on the docks
Bassari Country by bike
Mangoes in Ziguinchor