Liberia's Love for Soccer is
its Silver Lining
July 5, 2001
Of its many pastimes, soccer has always been not only near and dear, but has served as a rallying point and center of gravity for bringing Liberians from all walks of life together. Other less popular sports such as basketball, tennis, volleyball and kickball for women, have been important but soccer has been the "people's sport." Even amid its war legacy, its deteriorating political and economic situation, and its international isolation, soccer has become the country's only silver lining. With the country being cast with a pariah status by the international community, the United Nations, for Liberia's role in fomenting the civil war in Sierra Leone, and bringing grief and suffering to the people of the West African sub-region, its only shining light on the world scene has been soccer.
Wherever Liberians have gone - fleeing war and seeking refuge in foreign countries, soccer has always served as the glue that holds them together. In refugee camps in Ghana, Nigeria and other places Liberians have settled, soccer has played a crucial role in connecting Liberians irrespective of their status in life. Even here in the United States that has become home to tens of thousands of Liberians, many seeking permanent status, they have found a way to come together and celebrate through the annual July 26th I. E. Vs. Barrolle Soccer tournament. Historically, the two leading soccer giants with their extended fans and supporters here in the US, have established this annual tradition to bring Liberians from all parts of the US together to celebrate in the spirit of unity and nationhood.
Once considered a form of entertainment for the rich and the poor in Liberia, soccer as a sport has undergone a transformation. More than just being a sport for entertainment, by the late 70s and early 80s, soccer provided a professional outlet for those endowed with the talent. Many a talent sought international exposure and were recruited by some of the major European teams in Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, among others. Many who played the sport coming from poor backgrounds, saw an opportunity not only to develop their talent but also improve the lot of their families.
But with the country's image tarnished by a regime that has been engaged in the most nefarious acts since its ascendancy to power four years ago, the Lone Star - Liberia's much adored soccer team - has become the "new ambassadors" giving Liberia a more positive image which it well deserves.
Yet still, while the country suffers under the cloak of the "Big Man in Africa," it breathes life into a "Good Man in Africa." These two contrasting images portrayed by the Newsweek and Sports Illustrated magazines, shows Liberia both at its worst and at its best.
Liberian soccer, which now projects the best image of the country, has had many unsung heroes who deservedly belong to a "Hall of Fame" for their contributions to this sport, but are yet to be appreciated or be awarded an accolade, but who nevertheless have paved the way for others to follow.
In this respect, we pay tribute to Wannie Botoe, a master player and fount of a talent; Maas Sarr, a powerhouse; Borbor Gaye, a great defender; Alexander Peal, a great goalkeeper; the Sackor brothers, George and Garrison; John "Monkey" Brown, a soccer statesman; Santos Maria, a great midfielder; Anthony "Teacher" Gray, a scholar-athlete and playsetter; Albert Nah, a goal-getter; Sarkpah Nyanseor, a colorful defender, and many others we cannot name, but who have left their mark on the sport of soccer in Liberia.
If there is anyone who has perhaps raised the bar even higher and taken Liberia to admirable heights, it is none other than George "Oppong" Manneh Weah. Weah has achieved enormous personal success in his soccer career, but his success is also a Liberian success story. In 1995 alone, Weah was crowned European Footballer of the Year, African Footballer of the Year, and the World Footballer of the Year. Such triple feat is no small accomplishment. This is a testament to the man and his talent.
Strikingly amazing is that despite all of his accomplishments, Weah has not become self-conceited, but have shown an exemplary humility. Above all, he has become a first class patriot and nationalist.
An African Internet magazine said of him:
"He is a man of the people, unassuming at most times his love for his country Liberia tops in his mind: he single-handedly sponsored the Liberia Soccer squad to the last African Nations Cup in Johannesburg, S. Africa. His contribution to his nation heeling out of a devastating civil war is immense and this philanthropic spirit dignifies his love for his country and fellow human.
"The World Best Footballer is a humble role-model worth emulating by black athletes, who loose their souls in pursuit of endorsements and vanity, also, deny their people and heritage for the color of money. With these qualities, George Oppong Weah is definitely the Sportsman of the Year."
With his inspiration and generosity, George Oppong Manneh Weah has elevated a third-rated, resource-strapped national soccer squad to new levels: the Lone Star has qualified for the 2002 African Cup of Nations Tournament (January 19 - February 10, 2002) in Bamako, Mali. And despite its loss to Ghana a week ago (which would have put her ahead in its division with Sudan, Nigeria and Sierra Leone), if the Lone Star shows continued determination and win its match with Sierra Leone on July 14th, it would be very close to qualifying for the 2002 World Cup Tournament in Korea/Japan.
Liberians must continue to show their unflinching support for the Lone Star, our best hope for reestablishing and recovering our lost pride. We should realize that in winning, there is also losing. The hounding, rock-throwing and finger-pointing against Weah and members of team because of their recent loss serve no useful purpose. Such energy should be redirected at confronting a regime that has not only made the country a laughingstock, but has destroyed its social and institutional fabric. We therefore say, long live Weah and hail to the Lone Star!