Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In which the local team drops out of the Nawetaan

My local team, F.C. Revelation lost to Digi Daambi in the hotly-contested, very prestigious semi-final stages of the Nawetaan - the local football tournament - today. (OK, maybe drop the prestigious part, but the Nawetaan still is the Gambia's most attended sporting event, beating the Gambia Football League tournament itself by an order of magnitude). We lost in a penalty shootout, the team we were playing coming back from trailing one behind us at half time to equalize in the final minutes of the game. Right now, every single person in my neighborhood has a theory about why 'the boys' lost, and you only have to mention the word 'football' to anyone you pass on the street (or even, as I discovered to my chagrin today, look like you're going to mention football) before they launch into a detailed analysis of the game, including not only what the coach did wrong, but also what the person giving you the analysis would have done which would without a doubt have ensured that we won the match today. It's so simple, they always say at the end of the explanation (which leaves you feeling a bit cross-eyed), all he had to do was... and then they go off again, repeating word-for-word everything they just said. I nod, with a fixed smile in place, desperately looking around for an excuse to leave, whilst at the same time the would-be-masculine-unto-pain-of-death part of my brain tries to say something intelligent, and pretend that I know the difference between "centre-forward" and "pointing half-back". [1]

The Nawetaan is popular for two reasons:

1) it allows anyone with a D1000 and enough stuffing to play through the grueling, soul-sucking, completely unforgiving (and I mean completely - you lose a single match you're out, waiting for another chance next year) qualifying rounds to get to the main tournament. This means that teams are usually made up of people who live together in the same neighborhood, or at least know each other enough to trust each other on the field, where they become closer than brothers the more they play [2]. It then becomes a matter of doggedly ploughing on year after year until you make it past the qualifying rounds (it took my team - Revelation - three years, of sweat and blood and tears, and an unbelievable amount of mud, to get there).

2) Because the teams are neighborhood products, the supporters tend to support their home teams, going to matches, sticking up flags on streets when they win trophies, hugging each other on the streets and dancing after each match won, etc. This does not happen with the more commercial, more impersonal professional football league. The Nawetaan does teams-as-community-collectives. The professional football league does teams-as-businesses.

It also helps a lot that the Nawetaan matches are held at local football fields in each region, instead of at one of the few stadiums in the country - people are willing to walk a few streets to go watch Alieu from next door play goalie, but generally only die-hard football fans will pay to go to the stadium in Bakau to watch League matches. Hence the bigger turnout.

So yeah, this (in the end far more long-winded than I thought it would be) post is to say we lost today, but we got as far as the semi-finals, which is a record for us. Maybe next year, maybe the trophy...

[1] A few hints if you're ever caught in such a situation: 1) Blaming the coach is always safe. 2) Blaming the goalkeeper, whilst not as safe as blaming the coach, is also not a bad gambit, and should save you most times. 3) Blaming the changes the coach made (if they made any) is a good idea. You don't need to remember the names of the players changed - just talk vaguely about how the changes happened 'at the wrong time' - say this with conviction. 4) A few stock phrases might help - football has quite a lot of these. Be sure to repeat them to add weight. 'when you're leading, you should concentrate on defense'. 'the best defense is all-out offense'. 'the game was ours. I'm telling you, the game was ours'. 'we played much better than them. if it wasn't for that defensive error'. 'exactly! exactly!' 5) if all else fails, ask the person you're talking to where they think the game went wrong. The trick is to ask it not as if you don't know yourself, but as if you are testing them. "So you think the game went wrong when the coach took out one of the defenders?". Then stand back, and get ready to listen for a long, long time.

[2] there's something about mis-timing a tackle and feeling your heart sink deep into your mud-covered boots because you are sure you have just given away a goal, and then turning around to find out Modou has saved you, diving in front of the attacker with such perfect timing and recovering the ball so spectacularly right before it entered the (muddy) space between your goalposts, that will make you feel a sudden rush of bonhomie which you would not normally feel, say, only saying hello when you met him on the street, prompting you to run up to him and give him a heavy swipe on the back, both of you grinning like mad (which is the footballing equivalent of a hug and a kiss).


  1. kxwipcvihey mate, the passion for sport is the same here in Australia as well. We are a sports obsessed nation... except now other than soccer (your football), we have Australian Football, Rubgy League, Rugby Union, Cricket, Swimming, Surfing, Motor Racing, Netball, Volleyball and a few other individual sports like Tennis to get us supporting the local teams and national teams.

    AFL (Australian Football Leauge) is the big one for me, i love it, and can understand the general 'talk about it in the streets' thing you mentioned. I struggle sometimes because I support a team from Melbourne but live in Brisbane... not supporting the home team can cause dividedness sometimes.

    I also love this idea of a community based sporting comp. it sounds like it's really working there in the Banjul area.

  2. I never was a soccer/football fan, but nawetaan was always one of those cool social places... Ahh the nostalgia!

  3. Great piece bro. I'm almost ashamed to admit that after 7yrs of absence to live and study abroad, the Nawettan is the what i miss most!!! You brought back lots of memories and emotions; from being the youngest kid on the team donning the captain's armband, purposefully delaying my slow jog to the ref when he called captains for the start of the game (of course i wanted to heighten the anticipation and amplify the cheers when the "lil kid captain" shows up), to scoring a free kick against our rival elders...aaah, the gud ol dayz!!! (I'm still trying to repress the memory of missing that penalty kick in the finals after talking a lot of smack to the goalkeeper right before sending the first spot kick narrowly wide).
    One more solid phrase for your conversation armoury....BLAME THE REFEREE...can't believe u forgot that one!!! That's always a sure bet when u lose. "Daf nyu jai". Glue that pen to your fingers and gud luck to your team next year.