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  • Writer's pictureNeal McCleave

"Arsenal FC, I presume?" - A traveller's view on African football fandom

Lead Consultant Neal McCleave on the growth of football in Africa following a recent visit to Tanzania...

I have been regularly travelling to Africa over the past five years and have watched with interest the rise and rise of football across the continent. It is clear English Premier League clubs are winning the hearts and minds of new disciples.

On my first visit to Mozambique in 2008, football was evident but not all consuming. On my next trip to Malawi, I started to see makeshift goals and people wearing threadbare replica shirts. On to Zambia in 2012, and every taxi driver seemed to have a club allegiance with decals on windscreens and an immediate question of what team you support (by the way, Zambia is Chelsea country).

So in September this year I went to Tanzania where football truly is the new religion. Every village has a decent looking football pitch, with some of them better than Grimsby’s Blundell Park. Around 15% of the male population wear replica shirts and many of those are kit from the current season. Games are shown live on cathode ray tube TVs in most corner cafes and a whole range of commercial enterprises are adorned with club crests.

Several things are significant about the mobile phone kiosk pictured – firstly, where it is. The picture was taken by the shore of Lake Tanganyika at a place called Ujiji. The border of Burundi is about 20 miles north and The Congo is 30 miles away across the lake, so not the most accessible location.

This is further illustrated by the fact that only half a mile from this spot in November of 1871, Henry Morton Stanley met Dr. David Livingstone and uttered the immortal words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

This picture was taken around two weeks after the signing of Mesut Özil by Arsenal, with his name already written up on the kiosk as the new messiah.

An unscientific ranking of clubs by popularity in Tanzania;

Interestingly I did not see one Manchester City or Spurs shirt, and from other leagues only Barcelona and Bayern Munich were evident.

Africa has long been governed by country border, tribal allegiances, and religious affiliation and now football has seemingly being added to this mix.

Notes: Africa makes up 7% of the total world internet population. There were an estimated 167 million internet users in Africa at the end of June 2012 - 15.6% of the total population. Facebook subscribers in the continent reached 51.6 million in December 2012.


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