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The hooliganism scare

The most prominent derby in the country’s soccer calendar is a local version of el classico. Every encounter of St. George FC and Coffee FC generates so much enthusiasm soccer craze reaches its peak. Last Sunday was no different. Supposedly the curtain raiser to the new football season, the Addis Ababa City Cup was also there for the asking, and three points. But this particular showdown was not only about soccer skills and team strategies. It was also about tension created by the rivalry between the fans of the two teams. Morning sport shows were calling for steps to avoid any hooliganism; the nearby watering holes were ordered to close.

But alas, like many things these days, it didn’t take long for things to degenerate into scenes of rowdiness and the feared hooliganism. Live transmission on one TV station showed crowd trouble in the section known as ‘Katanga,’ and in real time too. Some questioned the wisdom of airing those rowdy scenes arguing it is like giving legitimacy to the handful of troublemakers. But then, as bitter as the pill might taste, the public has also the right to know where things stand.  The irony of Sunday’s crowd trouble was that there wasn’t any on-pitch event, be it a bad refereeing decision or a hot-blooded faceoff between players of the rival times to make anyone’s blood boil. It was troublemaking for the sake of troublemaking!

Of course, the actual game was one big, ‘Oh My God!’ episode. These are the best teams we could parade in public! A pity that our football has come to this! That wasn’t the kind of football players making fifty, seventy, a hundred grand a month play! Yes, they make a hundred grand and even more than that! No wonder foreign players and coaches are buying their one way ticket to Addis. Something is not right about the way the whole thing is run!

The people at the helm of club leadership are politically charged and the last thing they know is football, so goes the gossip. Just for the record, we heard recently that a newly appointed director of a theater house was asked by the employees to watch plays to which he gave the answer of the century. “I don’t like plays.” I wonder how many club leaders would have said “I don’t like soccer,” if given the chance! 

Oh, there was one other thing last Sunday, during the live transmission they interrupted the game for some ‘Breaking News.’ Yes, we were shocked by the standard of our football; but it wouldn’t t match our shock at hearing the supposedly ‘Breaking News.’ Look, whether we like it or not we are not basking in the sunshine these days. In fact, the darkening clouds are advancing on us and the last thing we can do is stir emotions. I think the media has a responsibility not to cross the red line when it reaches one. The ‘Breaking News’ appeared to be just that -going over the red line. God save us from actions which could push us to over the cliff!

Are we a soccer-crazy nation? How does a soccer-crazy nation act? Most of us seem more worried about the English Premier League than our own. Maybe, that’s all about being soccer-crazy!

At the start was the week I was trying to navigate my way the rough a crowded Addis street. I came across a guy and he looked like Lucifer paid him a visit the other night.

“What’s the problem? Aren’t you all right?”

“We lost!” he said. Lost what!

“What do you mean?”

“United lost.” United lost! What the…oh! You mean that United! The English Premier League club Manchester United has lost to a club considered to be minnows of the EPL at the weekend. And even after so many hours the guy was still licking his wounds.

So much airtime is given the English Premier League that one would think we were on piece of land of an empire where ‘the sun never sets.’ If something happened and there is no EPL, I wonder how many bank accounts would dry up. The EPL isn’t about only football, it’s about business. Surely sponsorship would dwindle to drips and drops.

Talking about home affairs once again, these days hooliganism worries us more than our football standard does. With tensions high and tempers on edge over a multitude of problems, the last thing we need is football hooligans going berserk. There have been nasty scenes during games; Scenes we couldn’t brush aside and which, if unchecked, could prove the undoing of our football. What happened to the CCTVs so much was talked about? They should have been all over the place by now! Addis Ababa Stadium isn’t even a stadium by modern standards. Is it that difficult to install a few cameras!

Look, we seem to have more sports journalists than any other particular field. There are some wonderful hosts you couldn’t have enough of. But generally speaking, like our football, our soccer reporting and analysis leaves much to be desired. Many are accused of cut and paste journalism. During the days when internet was down the chill around sports programs showed on the quality of reporting.

I have said and would say it again; the problem with English Premier League managers is they don’t listen to our sports programs! Who do they think they are? Some untouchable royal family! Arsene Wenger has only himself to blame. He is being given detailed advice by our all-knowing sportscasters on the kind of strategy he should use. He has been advised who to sign up and who to give the boot. But the man is not listening! The fan who flashed the sign ‘Wenger Out!’ at the Addis Ababa Stadium a few months back said it all.

The players aren’t listening, too! If Mesut Ozil wasn’t sitting on his ears and listened to the advice of our sports media he could have scored an average of three goals a game! Ha! Well, many sports journalists, indeed, know which side of their bread is buttered. That is why there is so much EPL talk. Isn’t it, all about business!

But I think more attention should be given to this hooliganism thing. Safety standards during matches both in Addis and in the regions should be upgraded. Ethnic abuses are thrown with impunity, and disturbing frequency, too. We can’t act it isn’t happening! Not while we’re suffocating in such scary mess these days! Insulting players because of their ethnicity, or insulting their parents isn’t only undisciplined but also dangerous. Remember the head butt of Zinedine Zidane son which floored that Italian player?  It is not still clear what he said to him. Some reports suggested it had to do something about his mother. We have heard of local players showering rival team members with insults, insults which could drive the most emotionless person to act like some Conan the Barbarian.

Some people ask, “Why do we need so many stadiums? Aren’t there pressing social problems that need more attention?” Yes, there are. It should be simple. This nation has pressing priorities and football isn’t that high on the agenda, peace and security is. If hooliganism tends to continue disrupting games either hold the games in empty stadiums or just abandon the whole thing until the air clears, if it does so anytime soon. Oh, they are putting up a sixty thousand seat stadium around the Bole area. Nice; at least the Bole crowd would find out that life is not only about ice creams. Ha!

And finally, one can’t talk about the passage of Ethiopian football without mentioning Yidnekachew Tessema. How the sport misses him!


Contributed by Ephrem Endale
Contributed by Ephrem Endale