MONROVIA – Soccer fans have been packing into cinemas in Liberia’s slum communities, where low-income earners do not have access to private satellite television at home, to watch European league matches.
The emergence of satellite television services has drawn the top stars from the world of soccer closer to fans living in the African nation.
“I do not like watching football in isolation, so when I am in the viewing center, watching with my friends and others, like Chelsea, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, Arsenal fans, it give me lots of joy and happiness, shouting, arguing, cracking jokes, and all sorts of fun,” said Tamba Jusu, a Manchester United fan.
It was at a time when local soccer legend George Weah was hitting the headlines in France, Italy and the United Kingdom that the marriage between Liberians and watching European football via satellite television began.
Satellite television gave many the chance to watch Weah showing off his skills among soccer’s best playing in the English Premiership, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A.
Many fans went to watch European soccer in the Monrovia slum community of Clara Town, where Weah was abandoned by his mother as a baby.
The retired international star – who played for a string of top European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d’Or prize – went on to become Liberia’s president, with the youths who packed into cinemas in slum communities to see him play in the European leagues casting their votes for him.
Before satellite television, soccer fans used to go to the Antoinette Tubman Stadium, where former Liberian players, including Weah, Christopher Wreh, James Debbah, Kelvin Sebwe and Joe Nagbe began their careers.
Liberian soccer had pulled in the crowds in the 1970s and 1980s, when the likes of Weah burst onto the scene before heading for greener pastures in Europe.
Attempts by the local soccer governing body to attract fans back has proven fruitless, as the invention of satellite has stolen the excitement away from local stadiums, which are stuck with poor quality players.
“I only watch international league now because I don’t enjoy the local matches. We are used to watching international football now and you know it is a known fact. European football is better than our local football,” said Osman Tulay, a Chelsea fan from Clara Town.
Due to the unavailability of a regular electricity supply, cinema owners run generators in order to screen the games live, though without air conditioning.
Huge turnouts normally result in poor ventilation, so viewers remove their shirts as they sweat profusely.
Many fans of European clubs confess to watching Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona matches at soccer cinemas with friends.
“I like the game they play. I like their style of play, their ball possession pleases me,” said Arsenal FC supporter Samuel Tarr.
On a daily basis, the latest goals, controversies, and transfers in Europe are the subject of passionate debate and discussion on the streets of Monrovia and roundabouts.