Soccer legend George Manneh Oppong Weah (Ambassador Weah) was a lot friendlier with sports writers than many of his contemporaries during their career development in the 1980s.
Soft spoken and humble, Weah was always prepared to listen and to speak to sports writers. It was perhaps he was aware that his growing popularity was because of what the media, to a large extent, said about his prowess on the field.
Even before he joined Tonnerre Klara Club of Yaounde after the Liberia Football Association’s 50th anniversary in 1986, under the vice chairman Cletus Segbe Wotorson, many of us sports writers believed Weah had a future, though we could not lay our hands on the kind of future it was.
At the time, James Salinsa Debbah had won the heart of all Liberia and sports writers had coined a phrase: The Most Celebrated Player, as a complement for his remarkable work on the field, whether it was his team Mighty Barrolle or the national soccer team, Lone Star in action.
The lanky Weah on the other hand was like a growing yam tuber, fresh and bursting out with enthusiasm, and marching with time that waits for no man. As Weah’s talents grew we began to find words to describe what he could do on the field, and we little effort we (sports writers at the time) centered on
Weah’s wizardry with the ball when it is between his legs against trembling defenders.
So we coined the phrase: the wizard dribbler’ and it was the wizard dribbler he came to be identified. Please note that at the time soccer fans showed their appreciation to their heroes’ worth.
I remember the best out of three classic game between Invincible Eleven and Mighty Barrolle, the two greatest soccer clubs this country has ever produced and yet to be rivaled. It was in the 80s and the tournament was the Hydro Tournament, engineered by the late Samuel Burnnett (May God rest his soul).
Burnnett was the managing director at the Liberia Electricity Corporation and he ensured that many footballers got their stipend for just kicking the ball.
To get to the point, two of the three games had ended in draws at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium and the final was set at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex. The whole of Monrovia was agog with gossip as to whether Oppong Weah could inspire Invincible Eleven to defeat Mighty Barrolle.
As the games proceeded sports journalists were busy at work. The print and the electronic media filled the city with the remarkable abilities of players of both teams, with particular reference on the skills of Debbah and Oppong in the end.
Oppong Weah, James Salinsa Debbah and the rest of the players came to know sports journalists and recognized their ability to help them grow. Everything was not perfect at the time though; much was done that cemented the relationship between footballers and sports journalists.
It was no wonder that as the above picture indicates when George Oppong Weah conquered the world and during a visit in 1996, he took his precious time to socialize with us. However, the relationship did not grow afterwards, since politics is a different animal, we keep our friendship with Weah and co with deep respect, aware that we did all we could.