“I have typhus, not today.”
“Cool, come and watch the match then.” The first message is from Jacques, implying we will not be playing our usual game of tennis at the Ocean View compound at Mamba Point today. The second message is from Gilberto after finding out that I no longer have any plans.
Rousseau said that life is a contract where you have to make choices every day: I am off to the match.
I leave the house and there’s Gilberto surrounded by Liberian scarves inside his Nissan Pathfinder. As always, the music is blaring out and you know that today is going to be one of those days again, with all sorts, all sorts! The match is about to start and as always, we are late. Who cares, man, who cares? I get into the car and we make our way towards Monrovia to the sound of Bob Marley. Every so often, the phone rings rather persistently. It’s Frankie. He’s already at the Samuel Doe Stadium and he warns us to get a move on.
Monrovia has risen, brother. This is the decisive and classifying football match for the Africa Cup, and you can tell. The traffic is more colourful than usual, a trail of rainbows. You can see it in the waving Liberian flags and in the fluttering scarves. You can feel the growing rush of adrenalin.
I don’t know why, but sometimes I get carried away into the past, bursting with euphoria, and I am somewhat baffled, thinking that I am eight, nine or eleven years old again. Fifteen at the most, you know man, that feeling you get when it’s five o’clock in the afternoon and you can leave home to go and meet up with your local mates…
You know man, when you’ve finished school and are off to play the match of the century against a rival school that we have to crush… You know man, when you’ve tied your shoelaces at the speed of lightning to dart off…You know man, when you start sprinting well before the last bell rings, letting you know that lessons are over for today…All of that flashes through my mind and takes over my senses. And, I just can’t help it man, I can’t help it. I smile.
We finally get to the stadium in Gilberto’s arrogant Toyota Prado, as it forces its way through the crowd, dodging the hordes of crazy people that are rushing forward in an asymmetric and almost drunken fashion. As Frankie gets into the car, he raises his hands in protest. We make our way forward and reach the gates that mark the boundaries of the grounds, then we flaunt our “magic ID card” and a policeman opens them. We hastily head to the VIP parking lot. We can hear the whooohs from inside the stadium – a people’s powerful voice that dips as it’s drowned by the echoes – demanding as much respect as a take-off would. This really feels like a take-off, brother. A turbulent take-off.
Now we have to enter the field. We don’t have any tickets, but we don’t care, we know we will get in, just because. We get out of the car and start walking as if we were in the film Grease, man, because we’re worth it. At the first accessible door we see dozens of heads trying to get in, banging each other, as if fervently praying. Several policemen nail their protective plastic helmets into your forehead, while the other guys in jackets can’t cope with the avalanche of heads about to bury them. “Let’s go to the other door,” says Gilberto and off we trot like John Travolta until we plonk ourselves in front of a glass door guarded by a guy in a cap that keeps shaking his head and mumbling scolding words. Scolding in the air, man.
Frankie points towards a guy in the corner: “I know that cop.” We turn to look. He’s a very large guy wearing sunglasses. We manage to convince him and he walks us over to another guard to try and convince him to let us in once and for all. Whooooooh. “Shit, they’re about to score.” But the guard is holding onto the door for dear life, the way guys on the hunt hang onto their drunken prey at six o’clock in the morning.
He firmly grabs the door handle with one hand, making sure that not a soul can get in. Motherfucker. We, argue, go round and round the mulberry bush, talk shit, talk politics, intimidate, someone mentions something about money, but we turn around shortly after and start fighting against the praying heads again. Whoooooh, aaaaahhhhh; the sounds from inside reach us. We sense that we’re really missing out on something; we feel that bittersweet taste that we’re late for the film.
At last, we can make progress amongst the heads, but Frankie, in a woolly hat that is just out of context – out of context! – is lagging behind. He looks like a hoodlum thug in those sunglasses – out of context! Pushing and shoving, a few slaps here and there and Gilberto and I finally pull through to the front and once again show the policemen, the guards, our “magic ID card”.
Following a brief dialectic and heated exchange, we finally get in, just because. But Frankie has stayed behind, just because. Only after a hard battle starting at the rear end, as if they were opening the way for Joe Montana, man, looking for Jerry Rice, man, is he able to wiggle his way into the masses of muscle that surrender to the Liberian tornado and reach the threshold of glory. At last! He is in. But only thanks to our timely mediating. That’s the way it works here.
The Samuel Doe stadium, man.
To walk down one of those dingy corridors and suddenly find yourself within the stadium. With a stadium packed with one colour. And the sun. You can see everything so clearly. So clearly. We easily find a place and take a seat amid the revelry and high spirits. It’s all about football and high spirits here.
Liberia is playing well, they’re on the attack, opening up many chances on the right. Whooooooh. “You asshole of a referee, motherfucker, what are you blowing your whistle at?” Gilberto and I yell out of context, for the sake of it – long live speaking for the sake of it!
Watch out! Corner for Liberia.
Number seven parsimoniously approaches the corner. He takes a couple of steps back in order to get a running start, then initiates his harmonious sprint forward and kicks the ball in the air. The ball slowly and gently flies to the area where suddenly a head with braids pops up, striking the ball with his forehead, which then sharply goes down, down… and the leather is heading towards the left post like an infiltrated torpedo, almost a submarine… and then… dead silence. And…