Feature: What has happened to African sub-saharan club football?

Hearts of Oak

Hearts of Oak

African club football was at its best in the 80s and 90s with exciting clashes and packed stadiums all around the continent with Tonnere Yaoundé, Union Doula and Canon Yaoundé in Cameroun producing countless Cameroonian Internationals as well as competing against each other for local and continental honors.

In Nigeria there were the teams of the 70s such as Stationery stores, Shooting Stars preceded by the 80s teams of Julius Berger and BCC lions who all performed well in continental competitions.

Ghana had Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak of Ghana who dominated the continent in the 70s, Ivory Coast had Asec Abidjan and Africa Sports, Guinea had Hafia Conakry, Uganda had SC Villa, Express FC, KCC FC, Coffee, UCB. Kenya had Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, Zambia had Nkana, Power Dynamos and Mufulira Wanderers. African club football seemed to be thriving.

In the early 90s things began to change as most clubs around the continent started losing sponsorships due to the new economic climate on the continent.

With the financially better European leagues calling, African clubs began losing players in droves and it was more apparent in Cameroun where Canon Yaoundé became a shell of the team they once were.

The advent of Satellite TV Stations did not help either as African club football could not compete with the coverage that European teams where given.

Within a few years, Africa was also flooded with European team jerseys as a new generation became more accustomed with knowing the teams in the English Premier League (EPL) than teams within their own countries.

African club football did not help itself much either. Referee ‘buying’, official’s infighting, poor player remuneration, witchcraft within clubs, lack of proper strategy, abuse of club resources, violence at stadiums and many more still affect African club football to this day.

And this is what keeps most African from watching African leagues as opposed to the clean cut and crystal clear image that European football presents.

Football is about perception, and sadly the African leagues present themselves as disorganized and corrupt. Most African football fans would not even waste a day of their time watching such a league. But there is hope.

In the mid to late 90s, a club by the name of Asec Abidjan offered a breath of fresh air to African football. After beating Zimbabwean side Dynamos in the CAF champions League final in 1998, Asec Abidjan sold all their first team players including Ivorian internationals Donald Sie, Guel Tcherrousa and a host of others.

In the African Super Cup facing giants Esperance from Tunisia, Asec featured an under 20 side from their academy featuring players like Barry Boubacar, Kolo Toure, Didier Zokora and Siaka Tiene that would go onto be known worldwide. Asec went on to beat Esperance 3-1. Since then, Asec Abidjan has been seen as Africa’s foremost club in talent identification and have produced countless Ivorian and African Internationals.

The PSL in South Africa also offers a lot of hope with its professional structures and quality of teams that are involved in the league. It also has the benefit as the African league with the biggest sponsorship package. A few African countries are slowly beginning to emulate the PSL.

Lastly Pay TV sports channel super sport’s involvement in the promotion of African football through sponsorship of various leagues has seen more coverage of the Kenyan, Nigerian, Ugandan, Zambian, Ghanaian and Zimbabwean leagues. This has seen attendances during live football matches increase and has also helped with African football fans getting to know more about African club football.

Is this the turning point for African football and are the glory days back? That remains to be seen.

Puncherello Chama

An African Football fanatic from Lusaka.

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