Tomorrow, Saturday 7 July, is an important day in Tanzania. TANU was formed on Saba-Saba Day, 1954. Sixty four years. Tomorrow might be someone’s birthday. Tomorrow is significant for the English and Swedish team as they square off each other –at this World Soccer Cup Russia 2018. Seven-Seven is also thirteen years since London experienced a 2005 horrific terrorist attack.
7 July 2005.
But let us pause- on the football.
We are aware not all reading this are so fond of what Brazil’s legend Pele called “the beautiful game...”Not all. Even as euphoria and joy and zeal and suspense balloons around our ongoing fun and sport, you still hear those: unfazed, unconvinced and unmoved.
“I am not bothered by twenty two idiots kicking a ball around and earning millions of cash...”
Like it or not.
Believe it. Do not believe...
Football brings people together and is the most popular sport on earth. Period.
Last Tuesday I was mesmerised queuing to enter a huge bar in East London – to witness Columbia versus England match. At the door we were thoroughly checked by two muscled security fellas. No risks. No repeat of Seven- Seven, 2005. Inside were yet more and more long queues for drinks and food. Once you bought your drink and bites you shuffled around to find space to watch the match. Several screens littered the backyard and various rooms. It was like being in a mini indoor, stadium. The white with a red cross England flag decorated several points. Folks were excited. Men and women. Security chaps walked around, discreetly, watching us watching the match....
Colombia was of course eliminated on penalties.
Captain Harry Kane, becomes superstar instantly. Pic snapped from Metro Newspaper
And this is the theme of our column today, dear reader.
During the last couple of decades - England has always been eliminated on penalties. It has become a national tragedy, an expected dreary song, almost. Wait. National tragedy as far as this sport is concerned. And one of the victims or casualties of missed penalties. Or missing an international tournament “penalty” shoot out was a young player called Gareth Southgate.
Rewind to 1996 Euro -Semi finals.
Against old rivals.
Germany. Thirty years earlier, England thrashed Germany and won the 1966 World Cup. It is the most repeated football tale in this country. But in 1996, Gareth Southgate missed the penalty. German goalie, Andreas Moller, saved the weakly taken ball.
All we remember was an image of Gareth Southgate with hands clasped around his head. All we remember is Southgate being consoled. Being told it is alright. But it was not alright. Southgate’s name came to be associated with failure and national trauma. Many years later, he has become the national coach. A new, reformed man.
Now England is winning and on Tuesday they defeated Colombia on penalties. A miracle. One famous sports journalist here, Martin Samuel (Daily Mail, Wednesday) quipped:
“Southgate is coming off like Yoda at this World Cup. Even when he loses he wins...”
What the hell is Yoda?
Yoda is a fictional character in the 1970s “Star Wars” film who dies aged 900. That says alot.
What award winning Mr Samuel implies - is a re-fined Gareth Southgate- kissing redemption.
In 1996 he was the loser, in 2018, an upbeat possible winner. England’s 2018 World Cup is about turning adversity, agony, trouble and failure into glory. I am not sure if Mr Southgate had to undergo therapy (or anything similar) nevertheless, the former national footballer has turned his country’s youthful team into believers.
A lesson for whom?
All African teams have been eliminated. Not a single one passed through the 2018 elimination stage.
I was reading blogger Maggid Mjengwa’s positive mini essay on Instagram where he professes that Africa is “coming up” and that- one day Africa shall scoop the championship. I agree with Maggid that we should be optimistic. Yet, I have no words for my African brethren at the moment. Like crabs, we are not matching forward but sideways.
Why such a silly statement?
28 years ago we had Cameroon mesmerising everyone with the exciting Roger Milla at the helm. In 1996, Nigeria actually lifted the World Olympics Cup. How many remember this? We Africans have actually won or shown potential to glory. We have witnessed Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) reaching quarter finals. In the past though.
Lately: 2014 and 2018- total shambles. Stuff should not be getting worse but better.
I am certain English coach Southgate had to work hard to overcome his trauma of losing in 1996. We too need to do alot of self examination and psychological analysis. It requires honesty and integrity- not blame games. Genuine cross examination and more self cross examination.
-Published in Citizen Tanzania - 6 July 2018