By Joseph Toe
In 12 days from today, 30 countries from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Far East, and the Middle East, amongst others, will commence a 30-day competition for the World Cup Championship title in the world's most famous sport-football- in South Africa-come June 11, 2010. Of the 30 countries competing, six are from Africa. Namely, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroun, Nigeria, and host country, South Africa.
To us Africans, we are in a state of frenzy that for the first time in the history of this every four-year-competion , it is being hosted on an African soil, while for us Liberians, it is disappointing that our country did not qualify to partake in said competition for which chances are so remote for it to be hosted on African soil again after this one.
Liberia did not qualify because the power that be is not doing enough in the area of football not to mention injecting the necessary financial resources to have adequately prepared the national team, Lone Star, and be one of the six African countries that are presently in Pretoria to kick off the game. In my opinion, Liberia would have been in South Africa today only if Samuel Kanyon Doe was still president of Liberia. I know this personal opinion of mine will open a Pandora ’s Box on this air wave again. But majority of Liberians will agree that's a fact.
Yes, I said Liberia would have been in Pretoria today under a Doe government predicated on the footprints the butchered former president left on the sand of time in Liberia's football history in the last four years of his 10-year-reign in the country.
For example, it was during the Doe reign that a football icon, called George "Opong” Weah was born who, in return, put Liberia on the world map of football during his hey days in the sport when he played professional in Europe. Doe's interest and support in football was immense and immeasurable evidenced by the huge sums of money he dished out to Lone Star as a method of encouragement to the players.
Here is how he started. I remember there was a game for the World Cup qualifier in 1984 between the Black Star of Ghana and Lone Star with Liberia playing host. Players like Philip Klah, Anthony Gray, Joseph Forkay Nepay, Sarkpa Nyanseor, Ezekiel Doe, Waka Heron, Oyearsu Saar, among others, were imported to Liberia from the USA in order to add more vigor and talents to those existing ones like Mark Gibson, Edwin Morgan, William Gray, and the late Boye Cooper, among others on the ground. Back in the days we all knew Lone Star was no match for the formidable Black Star that always beat our team for common. A draw with Ghana was a victory for Lone Star in those days.
Prior to the start of the match in question, Doe's presidential motorcade arrived at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium which was the battleground. He ceremoniously greeted every player of both sides with a handshake. When that was done, Doe turned to the players of Lone Star and made the following statement: "Anyone of you that will score the first goal will get $1,000.00 from me today." Even though thousands of Liberians at the stadium and those in both television and radio land were of the fear that such pronouncement by President Doe would have opened the door for selfishness by the players because each of them might have wanted to score the first goal to get those thousand bucks, it, however, was a way of encouragement to the players. However, in contrast to our fears, the Lone Star players were professional until the golden opportunity came to Edwin Morgan who scored the first goal-the only goal for the Lone Star who was defeated by 2-1. Morgan got the money.
Following that game, President Doe continued pumping money into the national team for more results. Another game this time he gave each player $100.00 at half time, and went on an all out spending spree on the national team to the extent that Lone Star went to the final with Black Star in 1986 in the six-nation tournament including Togo, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. In the end, Ghana again defeated Liberia 1-0, but admittedly, it was the tournament that set the tone for Liberia's competitiveness in football as players like Weah, James "Salinsa" Debah, Joe Nagbe, goalie Pewu Bestman, Gibson, Friday Roberts, Washington Blay, Mann Saar, Jr., and Kevin Segbe, among others, convinced their Ghanaian and other foreign football colleagues that when it came to football, Liberia under Doe, is not an easy but hard nut to crack anymore Liberia started to defeat Ghana, Egypt, Malawi, Togo, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and the list goes in major international competitions.
Doe was so ever determined to ensure that Liberia went to the World Cup while he was president. But little did he know that he had to ask Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Amos Sawyer, and Harry Greaves, Jr., for their permission first because they had a different plan for him that would require Prince Johnson to "cut off his ear" and butcher him to death before his plan for Liberia going to the Word Cup under his leadership was realized.
We all know that football in Liberia is "dead." Barely are there football games on the local level at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium or the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex, Football is now reduced to the video max where lovers of the game en masse to watch European leagues. Monrovians will rather pay a US $5.00 or its Liberian currency equivalent and cluster in those shack houses to watch a Chelsea vs. Manchester United game than going to a Barrolle and IE game free of charge. That's how bad football has come to in Liberia nowadays all because it is not a priority to the power that be unlike Doe back in the days.
The price we have to pay now is for us to glue ourselves to our television sets and sit in the comfort of our living rooms to watch the World Cup live or recorded from either Johannesburg, Cape Town, Nepal Province or the capital, Pretoria in South Africa beginning June 11 as those 30 countries including the six African countries representing our great continent compete for the prestigious title of World Cup Champion.
Once again, I am quite sure Liberia would have been in the World Cup 2010 if Doe were still president of Liberia today. Meanwhile, while George Weah who put Liberia on the world map of football fell short of ensuring that Liberia entered the World Cup before retiring from the game that made him a political convert will be another subject I will address in due course.
Hamilton, New Jersey