Football is incontrovertibly the biggest unifier in our country and, to a larger extent, plays a bigger role uniting global citizens. No wonder FIFA has demonstrated that the only universal language we all speak is football. My grandfather told me that during the 60s & 70s, this game was so popular that it became a national predilection where the entire citizenry would pulse for moment glue to their radio in firm anticipation for the team of their likings to triumph at the sound of the final whistle. On the streets, young men and women kibitz about the match of the day and the prospects of winning the league, while in the offices, it was impractical to hold a discussion without mentioning or an overture about the beautiful game.
National zealousness about the game didn’t only provide satisfaction to the denizens from where a particular team originated, but to its many jubilating and die-hard fans. This was the single, most desirable, and nationally appropriate approach for reconciliation and recreation. Growing up in the late 80s, I remembered vividly when Invisible Eleven (IE) or Might Barrolle scored a magical goal; their lunatic fans went wild, roaming the local streets. As a little boy, I would join the crowd just for the fun of it not realizing that such excitement would be cut off from my teenage life or made seasonal only when the national team is “lucky” enough to display spectacularly. Was it the civil war that completely eradicated this enthusiasm from the game or it was poor management of the league and the local teams? The answer may be found in another paper.
Fast forward to the status quo, the only games with attractive power to pull thousands of Liberians to the SKD and millions glue to their radio are the national county meet and, minimally, the senior national team matches. For the purpose of this paper, focus is on the national county meet. I commend the administrators who decided that the county meet would only feature non-top-flight division players. Based on my personal experience from the games between Nimba and Grand Gedeh and Bassa and Bong respectively, I couldn’t agree more with pundits that there should be a national discussion on how to extend the league to ensure that we don’t miss out on this national buy-in and zealousness associated with the tournament.
No game develops without the support of the fans and our biggest opportunity lies clearly within the county meet. In most parts of Europe and elsewhere, the game evolved and developed from the communities establishing strong sense of ownership and social bond. That is why you have traditional clubs in most European cities today including Real Madrid (from the Spanish Capital), Barcelona (from Catalonia), Liverpool fc (from Liverpool), Manchester United (from Manchester), New Castle United (from New Castle) etc. Although the focus of the game has shifted to profit making (economic), those traditional teams still maintain their bond; even our local league has adopted the economic model. I have listened to ideas about apportioning each national league club to a county for the purpose of establishing the bond which is seen in Europe and other parts of the world. Sincerely, I disagree with such approach because it won’t yield the expected results. The reason is simple. If we apportion each team to a county, do we have the authority over these clubs to assign counties? Will the county authorities have control over the management of the teams or its original owner? Wouldn’t FIFA frown against “nationalizing” club football in the country? I think we already missed out (from 1960-1989) to adopt this approach when the game had a different focus other than economic benefits.
Improvement Tips for the Competition
If you ask any football lover about the extension of the county meet, considering the huge euphoria, mouth-watery and eye-catching performances, and exciting display of talents associated with the games, the answer will undoubtedly be yes! The Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS) must definitely start a conversation on how to restructure the competition since our best opportunity to develop the game is glaringly shown within the tournament. Currently, the teams are organized in different zones based on region and the top two teams qualify for the quarterfinal which is played at the SKD. Although one of the primary objectives of the tournament is to develop (promote) talents within the county, this process only last for 30-40 days.
As a recommendation, authorities at MYS can adopt a new model wherein the league is extended over an eight-month period. The model follows similar approach in the LFA first division where all counties will play each other in a round league. That means each county will play 28 games on a home-away basis. The team top eight counties on the county meet table will automatically qualify for an eight-team quarterfinal showdown at the SKD.
One would argue that this model takes away the essence within the LFA 3rd and 4th division league. Definitely, that will be the ultimate goal. If a county can put its 22 or 30 players on salary (even 1000LD per month) for the entire 8 months, many young players will be extremely willing and audacious to play for the counties. Let’s make this point that predominately, only 3rd and 4th division players are eligible to play in the current tournament in addition to 1 (or 2) 2nd division player. The LFA doesn’t require 3rd division clubs to pay their players so the 1000LD salary will be a big boast for the young players. Ultimately, the idea is to make the county meet a facsimile 3rd and 4th division league where all the excitements will be experienced. Players will even be compared to reside in the counties thereby abolishing the concept of choosing Monrovia-based players for the current tournament.
While this idea may not be the only option to improving the game, a national discussion should be opened with all football stakeholders as a mean of reviving the game in our country.
Indeed, this is our beautiful game!