“Come on you Taxmen!”

The Taxmen will on the Bankers this weekend in the first round second leg of the African Champions League on Saturday. The first leg between Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and  Zambia National Commercial Bank ended 1-0 in Kampala.

Some of the best teams in African leagues tend to be linked to a government department or a big company. The team URA pipped to the title in Uganda was Kampala City Council. Many of the clubs in the Nigerian premier league are directly owned by state governors. In the Kenyan Premier League the post office (Posta Rangers), the police (Red Berets) and the electricity board (Western Stima) all have their own teams.

But while the clubs can rely on a steady stream of income they have few links to their local community and therefore don’t have many committed supporters. How the Kenyan police, for instance, manage to get anyone to cheer them on I have no idea.

The man behind Africa’s biggest club

Congo’s TP Mazembe won the African Super Cup last weekend, beating Stade Malien 2-0 in Lubumbashi. The trophy is as meaningless as the European version, but Mazembe’s owner, Moise Katumbi will be happy.

TP Mazembe president, Moise Katumbi, watches his side in the African Champions League semi-final against Al Hilal (Photo: Frederic Courbet)

Katumbi, who is also governor of Congo’s Katanga province, wants to turn Mazembe into Africa’s biggest club. Last year his budget for Mazembe’s African Champions League campaign was $5m. When I met him in Harare ahead of their group match against Zimbabwean champions Monomotapa he told me his players would share $250,000 if they won. To put that in perspective, Monomotapa’s budget for the entire season was $200,000.

Katumbi’s money helped. His side won the Champions League, beating Heartland of Nigeria in the final. They didn’t fare so well in the Club World Cup, though, losing in the first round to South Korea’s Pohang Steelers. Katumbi wants another crack at the Club World Cup. His dream, he says, is to take on Barcelona. So this year he’s doubled his budget to $10m in the hope of retaining the African Champions League. It will be a lot harder second time around. Last year Mazembe avoided most of Africa’s giants, including seven-times winners, Al-Ahly of Egypt.

Katumbi is not prepared to just invest his money and take a backseat. When I traveled to Lubumbashi to watch his side play Sudan’s Al-Hilal in the semi final of the Champions League, Katumbi was furious with Mazembe’s first half display. He marched into the dressing room and interrupted coach Diego Garzito’s team talk to share his own thoughts with the players.

Katumbi gives the half-time team talk. The coach, Diego Garzito, is sat in the background looking glum

All photos by Frederic Courbet

Death in Somalia

The national stadium in Mogadishu (Photo: Farah Blue)

Ali Abdi Mahmoud, one of the best young players in Somalia, has been shot and killed. According to his coach, Salah Farah, Ali was attacked by three masked men as he walked home after a training session earlier this month.

Ali was 16 and a leading member of Somalia’s under-17 team. He is not the first Somali footballer to be killed during the last two decades of violence in the country. Nor is he likely to be the last. Footballers in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, have to deal with the sort of challenges that footballers elsewhere can’t even begin to imagine. They have to navigate gun battles and road blocks just to get to and from training. Recently Al Shabaab, the Islamist militia group which controls much of the capital, has begun targeting footballers. The sport, they claim, is ‘un-Islamic’.

Despite all this the Somali Football Federation have somehow managed to keep the sport alive. Every year they put together a squad of players, some from Mogadishu, others from the diaspora, and compete in the East and Central Africa Cup. They rarely win any matches but this is one of the few occasions it really is the taking part that counts.

The full story of Somalia’s attempts to form a national football team amid the chaos of war forms one of the chapters in my book.

“Come for the football, stay for the women”

So you’ve forked out close to £1000 to fly to South Africa, plus several hundred pounds on top of that for match tickets to see your beloved national team, not to mention the eye-wateringly high amount you shelled out for accommodation… and then you give your tickets to a bus driver and go on a date with a random girl you just met.

Football not soccer

Not football. (Photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images)

I’m learning to say ‘soccer’ not ‘football’ when I talk about the game to Americans. My first US interview was on NPR in December. Thankfully it was pre-recorded as I kept on saying “football, oh I mean soccer”.

Although many of us in the UK mock Americans for calling it ‘soccer’ they aren’t the only ones. Australia and South Africa do too. In South Africa the top division is even called the Premier Soccer League.

Much as it pains me to admit it, Brits used to call it soccer too. The word comes from Association Football, the original name for football which differentiated it from Rugby Football. It still doesn’t sound right, though. Football is football.

The US version of Africa United will replace the word ‘football’ with ‘soccer’ – a change I’ve grudgingly accepted. Here on the website though, it’s football and football only.

Throwing the Beninois baby out with the bathwater

Will Stephane Sessegnon ever play for Benin again? Probably. (Picture from www.MTNfootball.com)

Some countries react to bad results by sacking the coach. For Benin’s FA that wasn’t enough:

Benin have sacked their entire coaching and playing staff following last month’s Africa Cup of Nations. In a statement, the country’s football association cited indiscipline and unpatriotism in Angola as the reason for dissolution of the national team.

I have a feeling that by the time Benin play their next match the players will have been quietly un-sacked.

“Nationalism, tourism and sport”

As Sean Jacobs points out over at Africa Is a Country, “no one mixes nationalism, tourism and sport in a feelgood cocktail quite like the South African advertising industry”.