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Soccer Cinemas

Photographer: Ahmed Jallanzo


At a time when Liberian soccer legend George Weah was hitting the headlines in France, Italy and the United Kingdom, the marriage between Liberians and watching European soccer began.


Via satellite television services, many young people had the chance to see Weah show off his skills among soccer’s best players in the English Premiership, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A. Many went to watch European soccer matches in the Monrovia slum community of Clara Town, where Weah was abandoned by his mother as a baby.


The sport no doubt boosted the political ambitions of the retired international star, who has since gone on to become Liberia’s president, as the youths who packed into soccer cinemas in slum communities to watch him play in the European leagues voted for him. Weah played for a string of top European teams in the 1990s, was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA, and won the coveted Balon d'Or prize; becoming the only African to achieve this. In the absence of modern satellite television, locals 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.


The emergence of satellite television services has drawn the top stars from the world of soccer closer to Liberian fans. Attempts by the local soccer governing body to attract fans has proven fruitless, as the invention of satellite has stolen the excitement away from local stadiums, which are stuck with poor quality players. One fan residing in West Point, a slum community where some retired Liberian players grew up, argues that the birth of satellite has taken away the feeling people had for the local league, especially when fans can watch the likes of Lionel Messi on the TV. “It is not that I don’t have a satellite but I hate to watch the game in isolation. 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," Tamba Jusu, a Manchester United Fan, told epa.


There is a high demand for soccer cinema facilities in slum communities, as they provide services to low-income earners who do not have access to private satellite television at home. 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. Liberian soccer pulled in the crowds in the 1970s and 1980s, when the likes of Weah burst onto the local scene before heading for greener pastures in Europe.


“I like the game they play. I like their style of play, their ball possession pleases me,” said Arsenal FC supporter Samuel Tarr. Many fans of European clubs are watching Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona matches at soccer cinemas with friends. “I only watch international league now because I don’t enjoy the local matches. We are used to watching international soccer now and you know it is a known fact. European soccer is better than our local soccer,” said Osman Tulay, a Chelsea fan from Clara Town in Monrovia. On a daily basis, the latest goals, controversies, and transfers in Europe are the subject of passionate debate and discussion on the streets of Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, and roundabouts.