23-05-2020 by Freddie del Curatolo
It is often said that football is an opium of the people and especially of poor people.
A healthy opium (except for the fools who take advantage of challenges and parochialism to beat the shit out of each other) and also relatively expensive, because to enjoy it all you need is a subscription for a few euros on TV or even a beer at the bar.
In Kenya, and how can we fail to understand them since we Italians have been masters of "bar sport" behindlogy, football is an authentic passion that brings thousands of playful and dreamy souls who see in those who throw two casts at a leather ball in an exemplary way the revenge of a life often one-way. When I arrived in this country thirty years ago there wasn't even a television.
The small screens with cathode ray tube were very few and often locked up in the homes of rich locals or mzungu. The only national network did not broadcast European Championship matches, rarely the World Cup and only on special occasions the final of the then Champions Cup.
There was no mention of the Kenyan championship either: except for the Nyayo stadium in Nairobi, the other fields were clay rectangles with tufts of grass more or less green and extended depending on the season. Yet everyone knew the English Premier League champions, and on the peeling walls of barbers or taverns there were posters of Manchester United or Liverpool's gunners and everyone, without thinking that it was a blasphemy to get excited for the Albion Land that had subjugated them and that had reigned for almost a century at home, chose the team that attracted them the most. The winning ones, of course.
When the television began to arrive in the homes of many and even an employee, a cook or a driver made the installments for one, magically the deeds told by radio or print media took shape and the footballers became half gods in the flesh.
In the mid-nineties we Italian residents on Sundays were also attached to radios that broadcast on short waves, with a bridge in Saudi Arabia and thanks to kind friends and charters of tourists who arrived on Monday evening, we made the videotapes of Sports Sunday to see the goals of Maradona and Platini.
At the beginning of the Millennium the introduction of South African pay-TV meant that every pub or nightclub had screens showing all the matches of the British league but also Real Madrid and Barcelona, with the effect of a proselytism that didn't stop at teams in London, Liverpool or Manchester. The rest was done by the German and Italian tourists who wore and gave away the tunics of their favourite teams on the coast, with the unexpected fun of seeing a bricklayer wearing the Atalanta T-shirt, a bartender wearing the Borussia Dortmund T-shirt or a fisherman wearing the Ajax uniform. The bicycle taxis were called Klinsmann, Zenga or Donadoni. The beach boys were either Roberto Baggio or Rivaldo. But Negritude and African pride meant that the most coveted memorabilia were the jerseys with the names of Weah, J.J.Okocha, Eto'o and the other great players from the Black Continent who had made it. Then came MacDonald Mariga, the Kenyan antelope who, despite playing handfuls of minutes, had won the Triplete with Mourinho's Inter and who until a few months ago was the testimonial of opium sports in the slums of Nairobi.
As in the iconography of Third World countries, in every sand or concrete area, like at the gates of the Savannah or in front of a landfill, there was a ball to roll and a door to deposit even just a tangle of rags that passed between bare feet of jugglers without a precise tactical idea, but with a great desire to launch the breath and imagination beyond the obstacles of hopeless existence.
Attending the world championships in a bar, especially the matches involving African national teams, was a spectacle within a spectacle.
If we Italians are all technical commissioners of the national team (hence our vocation for everything) the Kenyans are also all goalkeepers, triplets, masseurs and warehousemen.
Their transport during a match is total and their commentary made of howls, sighs, incitements and expletives is worth the best commentary by Bruno Pizzul or Fabio Caressa.
In the Tenties then, among the many distortions amplified by globalization, sports betting arrived here too.
Betting on the almost non-existent savings of ordinary people, giving the opportunity to play even just 50 cents with the idea of winning up to 10 million, have been created monsters of addiction and compulsiveness that have also led to episodes of violence, especially in slums or poor neighborhoods where winning ten results in a row can really mean going back to the American dream of the sciuscià who won the lottery and disappeared from the radar of any family member, friend and creditor. The Kenyan chronicles have repeatedly highlighted who rented his wife because of the defeat of Manchester City at the last minute or who committed suicide after the Real Madrid Scudetto.
For a little more than two months now, with the world football blockade due to the Coronavirus, for the Kenyans there is no longer opium smeared on various days of the week or even the dream of turning a life grama. Among the boda-bodas in the street or in front of the kiosks with disinfectants there is no more talk of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no more talk of Mohammed Salah and Kalidou Coulibaly. That at the end of the Gor Mahia or Leopard, the strongest Kenyan teams, nobody ever gave a damn about anything. Perhaps even here someone has understood that football is above all a game and that, as a drug, it is not a great withdrawal crisis. Something will change, or maybe not.
You will return to rejoice and get angry about a missed goal, an injury and a goalkeeper's duck.
Or, as Africans know how to do, often instinctively, you will look at the ball as "the last sacred representation of our time" and not as the ball of a huge chicken roulette.
by Freddie del Curatolo
Kenya is a country of fans.
Not just football fans, mind you.
by Freddie del Curatolo
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