Leone Stars 1995
Sierra Leone Football.com will publish a series of articles from its’ vaults during this COVID-19 period to keep readers entertained.
By Leeroy Kabs-Kanu
Sierra Leone has produced soccer legends in her time , like M.Turay, Ormassa Kamara, Tommy Rowe, Foday Bangsu Bangura, Amadu Okroh Kamara, Gbatieh Davies, Boye Johnson, Sylvanus Morris, King Kama Dumbuya, Amadu Kargbo, Tommy Manneh, Manneh Peters, Christian Cole, Jebor Sherrington, Kawuta Sorie Dumbuya, Umaru Din-Sesay, Amadu Rappel Kamara, Goalkeeper Patrick Dangawallie, Ishmael Dyfan, Augustus Lawson, Abioseh Manning, William Sango (Domingo ), Bai Kabia (English Footballer ), Conton Sesay, Lady Left Saidu Mansaray, Abdulai Garrincha Sesay, Abu Syrian Bangura, Brima Mazolla Kamara, Sentu Johnson, Leslie Allen, Aki Noah, Pa Sama, Paul Kpaka, Sheriff Suma , Mohamed Kallon, etc.etc who were among the best players in West Africa.
But the question that has dogged even the most senior sports commentators is : Why have Liberia and Sierra Leone failed to shine in African and World soccer ?If we have adorned the African soccer stage with such a glittering array of soccer stars, why have these two Mano River Union sister states never really excelled on the world stage ? Neither country has ever won the African Nations Cup or qualified for the World Cup final competition . Both countries can boast of crack clubsides like Mighty Barrolle, Invincible Eleven, St. Josephs Warriors ,NPRC Oilers (Liberia ) and Mighty Blackpool, East End Lions, Ports Authority , FC Kallon , Old Edwardians and the one-time great Real Republicans ( Sierra Leone ) , but none of these has ever won any international trophy. The best they have achieved are being beaten African Champion Cup Quarter-finalists (Mighty Blackpool) and defeated WAFU Cup finalists (East End Lions ) .Sierra Leone, of course, has won the subregional Zone 2 Trophy three times but that is not enough for a country of our calibre.
I think the main reason that the two nations have been underperforming is the poor incentives provided our players. Sports requires heavy infusion of funds to train and motivate the players and provide them with top-class coaches .There is no way that we can build a formidable national soccer team in Liberia and Sierra Leone without investing huge sums of money into the players and their coaches.
Both countries are just coming from devastating wars and are strapped financially so it would be unfair to accuse them of not committing a lot of money into soccer when they are already burdened by the demands of reconstruction and rebuilding the lives of their citizens but they could encourage multi-national and mining companies operating in their countries to invest in sports. If the companies help governments by providing lucrative salaries and incentives like insurance and housing for the players and also foot the bill for world-class coaches from countries like Brazil, West Germany, Argentina or Italy , there is no reason why our players would not aquit themselves brilliantly on the international football stage. These companies are reaping heavy dividends in the two countries and should be encouraged to invest some of their profits into sports. They could help to send indigenous coaches abroad for specialist and refresher training while the players could be made made to benefit from foreign tours and more training abroad.
When the late Jamil Sahid Mohamed adopted the Republicans Second Division team that gained promotion to the First Division in 1978 and absorbed the players into the Sierra Fishing Company and personally sponsored the side , we knew what the Sierra Fisheries Football Club achieved. They were the one Sierra Leonean club that could have easily won the African Club Champions Cup eventually if they had continued to receive the kind of support they got from the late Jamil. Real Republicans too became a fantastic club under the sponsorship of the late Police Chief , Bambay Kamara. In Liberia, IE was a tough nut to crack when Archie Bernard supported the team. Also, Kenema District won the National F.A. Cup many times under the sponsorship of Demba Arch and produced famous clubsides like Torpedo, Mercury and Kenema United.
The Lebanese were particular outstanding in those days in the area of sponsoring sports in Sierra Leone. A Lebanese sponsor , the late Billy Bamin, gave Sierra Leone Arsenal Football Club, which was one of the terrors of the late 1950s and early 1960s .It was this team that produced the likes of Amadu Kargbo , Salifu Robinson, Komboh Bundu, Wallace Kargbo, the Sasso brothers and Allie Teet Bangura. The side became even more accomplished when it changed name to Santos . They also supported Freetown United which came out of the ashes of Bolton Nationale .Another Lebanese man, Adib Basma , was at the helm of Mighty Blackpool when the club won successive League and F.A. Cups in Sierra Leone in the 1960s snd early 1970s.
Today, things are even better for Sierra Leone and Liberia in that many of their players are showcasing their talents abroad where they are receiving the much-needed exposure, training and experience their countries cannot provide them . However, due to lack of funds and moral will , these two countries do not recall all their stars abroad for international matches. If Sierra Leone and Liberia could establish relations with their countrymen playing on foreign shores and get everyone of them to come and bolster the local stars, they will achieve laurels on the international arena. Most of the players who brought fame to Ghana during the last World Cup were professionals playing abroad. Therefore, MONEY , MONEY, MONEY is the answer.
Liberia and Sierra Leone are not doing well also because sports is not being developed from the grassroots. We need a pool of talented home-grown players to create a solid mix with the professionals abroad. Sierra Leone used to have one of the best league competitions in Africa, modelled after the then English Football league with three tiers, First, Second and Third Divisions , each division having about 10 clubs that competed against each other in their respective divisions, with the first two promoted and the last two demoted every season .The soccer season used to start in May and end in March with the following competitions : The League championship in the three divisions, the F.A. Cup , involving first and second division and provincial teams; the Association Cup ( Our equivalent of the English Carling Cup ) ; the Chellaram Cup etc.etc. In 1968 , a second division team, King Tom Rovers, who had just been promoted to the First Division, won the Western Area and National F.A .Cups that year. They produced the soccer wizard, Augustus Appollo Lawson, who later turned into one of the best left wingers we have ever seen in Sierra Leone, Boyo Maxwell, Samba Potee Kanu etc. There was also the Fourah Bay League at Oxley Street , which provided Sierra Leone with one of her best teams ever, Bolton Nationale, in the 1960s, who won the First Division SLFA League Championship during their second season at the top.They had very strong teams like Tupadies, Alaska, Moscovites . Today, what Sierra Leone has for a soccer league is a pale shadow of the Sierra Leone Football Association once headed by the late A.D.Wurie and later Edward Akar. It is bedevilled by maladministration, corruption, pursuit of self -interests and lack of commitment to the national interest.
A much neglected area in both countries is the hinterland. Many of the nations talents were unheralded players in the provinces before they moved to Freetown where they became gems, like Umaru Din-Sesay ( Kenema ) ,Borbor Mansaray, Amadu Deen ( Possible) , Max Macauley, Allie Ngayenga from Bo and Franklin Kalokoh, Raka Rakson, Alusine Terry , Falleh Kamara, Abdul Mukni , Foday Bodywork Sesay, etc from the North. Sierra Leone and Liberia must build strong league competitions in the provinces which will feed the Premier League with promising stars.
Mention should also be made of the annual Secondary School league which was a feeder league for the SLFA . It was the school league that produced players like Manneh Peters, Tommy Manneh etc from St. Anthonys .
For our players to excel like Ghana, there has to also be national consciousness to motivate the players and teams.The role of good journalism in this respect cannot be overemphasized. In the good, old days when at least our national team and clubs were very competitive, though they did not win trophies, sports was heavily promoted by newspapers and the radio. The dearth of sports-writing in Sierra Leone, of all countries,( a Sierra Leone that was once the Fleet Street of West Africa ) , is a shame. Take up any Sierra Leone newspaper today and not a single one provides any serious coverage of sports in the country.Irritatingly, all you see in the back and sports pages of these malnourished newspapers full of adverts , is plagiarized sports stories from the internet. Aren’t the editors and publishers ashamed of this blatant stealing ? Where have all the sports reporters gone ?
In the good , old days, the SIERRA LEONE DAILY MAIL was the only nationally-circulated paper but its sportswriting was magnificient. There was first , the legendary Zac. Humphrey , who made some of us into soccer fanatics ,with his excellent coverage of the SLFA League , with previews every Saturday and blockbuster reports on Mondays, all accompanied by action photos. When he retired, Khalil Kamara stepped into his shoes and he was a fantastic sports editor, who used to capture the action with his incisive, descriptive reports of matches played at the Association Grounds, Kingtom. You fall in love with sports just from reading Khalil’s reports. I did not like athletics and cricket until Khalil Kamara started writing about them. These men were later followed by the John Kolossa Kargbos of WE YONE , Wurie Jallohs and the Junior Johns, before the late Fode Kande returned from the U.S. and pushed sportwriting to the height of excellence . Even though the only national newspaper was the Daily Mail, the APC’s We Yone and the SLPP newspaper, Unity , then edited by Sam Metzger , also provided interesting sports coverage . Basiru Savage and Emeric Abeid Thomas were also splendid sports writers .So also was Eddie Polloe , the pen name of journalist E.B. Wallace-Johnson . The SLBS was the only radio in the nation but it was unmatched for its coverage of sports. It had brilliant commentators who placed you right on the scene , like the phenomenal Willie Pratt, Edward Akar , Ronald Malamah-Thomas etc, not to mention the regular Sunday sports review , TALKING SPORTS , which young people cherished in those days. The media alone was an unrivalled motivator of players and teams. King Kama was said to have been an unlettered man but even he himself bought the Daily Mail just to see his name and photo published in the paper.
One also wonders whether our players themselves are not suffering from inferiority complex when they clash with other nations in international competitions. I have seen both the Lone Star and the Leone Stars lose matches at home or abroad that they completed dominated and had no business losing. When I lived in Liberia, I saw teams like Blackpool, East End Lions, Fisheries and Republicans compete there against Liberian teams. The Liberians themselves were full of admiration for most of the names that featured in the Mighty Blackpool team that played there in 1978 Christian Cole, Kama Dumbuya, Amadu Kargbo, Umaru Sesay , etc.Our then very powerful media ,newspapers and the SLBS especially used to lionize these players and Liberians who had never seen them before but had been listening to live commentaries from Freetown whenever they played, thought very highly of them. I heard people whispering or openly expressing admiration : Wow, that’s the famous King Kama Dumbuya we have been hearing about . That is a great player O. Also : Wow, that is the meh called Christian Cole . That meh good O ! ! ! . However, when Blackpool’s match against Bame, who that year were almost at the bottom of the table , started, I was disappointed to tears to see these big names I have also admired in Sierra Leone , play like novices who had never kicked a ball before. They were obviously suffering from inferiority complex on a foreign soil and they underperformed so badly Liberians could not believe that they were beaten 1-0 by Bame. We the Sierra Leoneans present at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium that day took our anger out on the players by booing them .I had just left Sierra Leone and I left Mighty Blackpool being idolized as the unbeatable Quadruple Champions of Sierra Leone. They were Blackpool , The Mighty and Magnificient , as Zac Humphrey had christened them in the 1960s. But that day, I could not help joining people to boo them off the field. I wish I had eggs .They could have wiped some off their faces too. Where was the Mighty power ?
Blackpool however redeemed themselves the next day by playing like the real Mighty Blackpool we knew and held the Liberian champions and league leaders IE to a goalless draw. But losing to Bame , who were one of the least teams in Liberia after enjoying a great history of supremacy , sullied Blackpool’s reputation.
Then came East End Lions and they performed worse . Only Ishmael Dyfan, Lyndon Thomas, Abdul Rahim and Abdul Mukni, who transformed himself into a fantastic schemer that day playing midfield for the first time, instead of the right wing where he had incurred abuses from the crowd at Kingtom for not doing well, played anything like the Red Roaring East End Lions I had known in Sierra Leone. They lost all their three matches to IE, Barolle and National Ports Authority. What a disappointment to Sierra Leoneans living in Liberia .
You can provide all the incentives for the players but if they have inferiority complex, they will never perform to expectation. We saw evidence of this from most of the African teams during the last World Cup. INFERIORITY COMPLEX and LACK OF SELF-CONFIDENCE may be among the factors denying us glories in international sports.
However , then came REAL REPUBLICANS first and then SIERRA FISHERIES. These two teams redeemed Sierra Leones respect and prestige in Liberia and made us the Sierra Leoneans living there proud. The Liberians saw the different side of Sierra Leonean soccer. I got into arguments many times with Liberians who were describing as foreigners some of our local players like Sentu Johnson ( To the Liberians, Sentu looked like a handsome Foulah boy from Guinea .One Liberian was even calling him Jalloh ) , Brima Mazzola, Albert Conteh ,Ibrahim Jalloh . Because they were too good, the Liberians were saying These guys can’t be Sierra Leoneans.
The Republicans/St.Josephs Warriors match saw one of the best displays I had ever seen from Sierra Leone footballers. Spectators were gaping throughout the game at the teams speed, ball control, excellent short passes and intrinsic combinations. They made the Warriors look like sailors on horse back and the match ended 1-1 . The next day, it was Republicans against the Liberian Champions IE. Again, Republicans dominated from start to finish , throwing away lots of golden opportunities and forcing a 1-1 draw with Mazolla, like a jaybird, soaring to beautifully head home a Sentu Johnson corner kick at the buzzer. FISHERIES ofcourse had the best record of Sierra Leonean clubs in Liberia , beating DOUGBOR USALiberian professionals playing abroad 3-2 and Mighty Barrolle 2-1 , drawing with IE 1-1.
When I lived in Freetown, I saw the Liberian national team and clubs like Barrolle, IE and Bame play there .There was not a single match in which the Liberians were not dazzling .In fact, it was in Freetown that I fell in love with the Lone Star and these Liberian teams . They were very good on the pitch .
Thus, Liberia and Sierra Leone are also talented in football .Our problem is not the lack of talent. We have brilliant footballers in abundance but until we do what is done by countries whose national teams and clubs excel , we will always underachieve.
Article published in Sierra Leone Football.com on 4th October 2010