Freetown, Baby!

The Game by mabrajeux
November 30, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: entertainment, photos, public life, society, travels | Tags: , ,

The first time I visited Moyamba, I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to stay in the recommended guesthouse, which also doubled up as … a stadium! It’s hard to explain the feat of architecture that allowed this amazing combination, but basically the rooms are underneath the steps which overlook the gamefield…

As I’m sure you’ll understand, I was therefore incredibly excited when, on my second visit to Moyamba, I managed to bag myself a room at ‘The Stadium’! Although the TV wasn’t working, the place still provided a predictable entertainment for my evenings in town: the national Sierra Leonean football tournament involving such talented teams as Bo, Bonthe, Moyamba, etc…

All three nights I stayed in Moyamba, I was greeted, as I came home from a day-long workshop, by hundreds of locals, cheering, shouting, sucking cough drops and oranges – you don’t eat oranges in Salone, you suck the juice out of them, this being the end result:

The atmosphere is hard to describe so I’ll let the shots do the talking…

Sign of the times by jc2010sl
November 26, 2010, 6:43 pm
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The one upside of having a limb immobilised in plaster is that you can get people to sign it for you. We had a visitor last week and here is the message he penned:


Health and safety gone mad by jc2010sl
October 26, 2010, 11:26 pm
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Chaos is a pretty common state of affairs in Salone. Host a qualifying match for the African Cup of Nations at the rusting National Stadium against South Africa, and its pretty much guaranteed. I’d been looking forward to the game for weeks and had asked my driver to pick up tickets when they went on sale. Each day I’d ask if they were out yet, and each day he’d say “not yet”.

The reason for this delay was apparently security concerns. Tickets are printed on simple coloured paper so release is delayed until the morning of the game to stop photocopying of tickets and over-crowding. Sensible enough in theory, but rendered utterly redundant by the actual “policing” of the event.

We started queueing in one of no more than 4 entrances to the 30,000 seater stadium about 3 hours before kick off. At the front it became apparent why we’d been told to get there so early. The queue degenerated into a ruck of 30 or so people – many without tickets – barging towards one single file gate. A fair bit of shoving later and we’d made into the stadium. From here it was not too difficult to make it to our seats in the mid-priced, covered, stand. Looking across the pitch we could see scores of people who’d climbed through razor wire to get a view from the floodlight pylons.

Not long after we’d taken our seats the gate to our stand was closed by a small group of policemen. From our seats directly above the entrance to the stand we could see them desperately trying to keep the rickety gate closed. They resorted to locking it with a pair of handcuffs.

After 20 minutes of concerted pressure from the crowd outside, the gates were smashed off their hinges and in the people flowed.

For half an hour they streamed in as the stand became ever more packed. Visions of Hillsborough flashed before my eyes and we decided to get out of the stand while we still could.

Feeling pretty disgruntled we thought we might be able to play the “lost white guy routine” and wangle an upgrade to the Presidential Suite. A policeman said he would shepherd us in, but as we came near it was exactly the same story – thronging crowds and a thin blue line manning the door. That was, until a huge surge smashed through the glass doors and swept into the suite. At this point we thought it best to cut our losses altogether and headed out of the stadium.

As we left the police allowing still more people in. I explained what we’d seen and one replied “yes, there are too many people in there,” seemingly making no link between the overcrowding inside and the streams he was letting in.

Frustrating as it was to leave away after such a wait, we made the right decision. Nonetheless, I did allow myself a slight smile when we heard the result on the radio later: nil – nil.


That Sunday Feeling… by mabrajeux
September 26, 2010, 7:27 pm
Filed under: photos, society, travels | Tags: , , , ,

When I first moved to England, I loved the fact that shops are open on Sundays. I mean, what could be better than going shopping on a quiet Sunday when you haven’t had a chance to do in the week, not to mention the fact that you would never have to go milk-less again…
I never really bought the argument that Sundays should be saved up for family time or, in a more general way, non consumerist activities… But then I have to admit that there is something really amazing about the centre of Freetown on a Sunday afternoon.
We wondered there a few weekends ago to check the first church established by settlers in 1792 (that is one of the hazards of living with a historian…) and were completely shocked at what we saw, or rather didn’t see… The pavements, which are bustling with all sorts of vendors and peddlers in the week were entirely deserted and the streets, which are normally rammed full of cars, motorcycles, poda podas and the occasional livestock (check the photo on the home page for an illustration…) were empty but for a group of children playing football!

For the love of the game by jc2010sl
February 27, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: society | Tags: , ,

It’s a truism that football is a world game. More than that, it’s a world religion. People gather to play anywhere vaguely flat enough and large enough for 2 people to kick a ball. “Pitches” are hewn out of the steep side of the hill I live on, goal posts fashioned from a couple of sticks, and 3-a-side games played continuously. Where the sea levels the sand you’ll see locals making sandcastle goalposts and starting a game.

A hillside pitch in Freetown

Bureh Town FC

I got my first taste of action today with the “Expat All Stars”. The name is something of a misnomer since the majority of the players, and certainly the best, are all Salones. Amongst the team were a current top division player and a former Sierra Leone international – the latter is brother to Mohammed Kallon, one-time Inter player and business moghul of Freetown. The sun is so ferocious that games kick off at 8:30am. Today’s venue was the training pitch beside the National Stadium – one of the best pitches in the country. There was not a blade of grass on the entire pitch, which is essentially compacted sand.

The Training pitch in the "shadow" of the national stadium

Because the grip is so poor, and the surface so abrasive, there was no chance of my bringing my typical combative “style” to the game. Just as well as our opponents were the Armed forces team. Within 5 minutes of warming up I was utterly drenched, and by the end of my 20 min substitute appearance, utterly wrecked. I may not make it every week, but I hope to play more often than not.

In the late 1990s, Nike ran an advert in the UK featuring Eric Cantona et al turning out to play on Hackney marshes. “Your stars are like you” it implied; “they play for the love of the game.” I can’t imagine today’s Premiership names turning out for a park side at 8:30am on a Saturday, but here the love runs deep.