Delightful West Africa – The Tinikunda vs Manufeng Knock-Out Soccer Match in Jarjuville, The Gambia
In a district football tournament, Tinikunda village plays against Manufeng, a village some kilometers away. In the rental car, I drive to see the match with Lamin and some other twens from the Tinikunda Lodge (more about the car and Tinikunda in West Africa 18 and 20). We float five kilometers on a narrow one-track sand piste through high savannah grass and reach Manufeng.
But the match isn't in Manufeng. We continue on another narrow sand track ten more kilometers to Jarjuville; only there you find a football ground that's approved by the Gambian Football Association. The sand piste is full of supporters of either Tinikunda or Manufeng. A few travel by bicycle or motorcycle, most walk.
I hear that the Tinikunda team will go to Jarjuville on a rented mini-van. "That's great", I muse aloud: "On their way to the football ground in Jarjuville, they will pass through Manufeng and they can share the ride and the costs with the Manufeng team."
"That's not possible", shout the boys excitedly, "there's too much rivalry. They could never share one car."
In Jarjuville we park the car in a family compound some hundred meters away from the football ground; I am told that riots are possible around football matches.
There's still time for a village stroll. Jarjuville seems neater than Tinikunda. It is full of shading mango trees with public seating platforms, so called bantabas, underneath. The school and the teachers' houses look decent, the family houses are proper, the people carefully dressed and seemingly at peace with the world. There is no public electricity though.
The local children shake my hand in disbelief, then break into laughter. According to the lodge boys, "the children here see a white only about every five months". Very notably, and very different from Tinikunda, in Jarjuville nobody asks for a present. When I share these favorable Jarjuville impressions with my companions from Tinikunda, they quickly inform me that Tinikunda was better off than Jarjuville. Now Jarjuville is a village of Jola (Diola) ethnicity, while Tinikunda dwellers are from the Mandinka tribe; but I am told that makes no difference at all, except for the language.
The mini bus with the Tinikunda team arrives. It is also packed with supporters. They burst out the windows, stand outside on the running board and sit on the roof, ducking away from all the low mango trees along the village road. I hear that the mini-van is insured for 20 people, but I guess there are at least 40 passengers. Now I had trouble with the Gambian police because in my rental car I took just one passenger more than the insurance allows (see West Africa 18). And the dangerously overcrowded bus steers directly towards the police car next to the football field.
Lamin: "Yes, the mini-bus is overcrowded. That's not insured. But police accept that for football events. They won't disturb anybody. That's Africa, man."
The football field consists of sand and dead steppe. The goals have been hammered together of rough wooden planks. The outlines are furrows like in a rice field. The teams line up and each player is called by name, as in a classroom. An organizer admonishes players and onlookers in English to behave nicely. The supporters get separated to different sides of the field.
After this knock-out match, only the winner will be in the next round. Everybody is most serious, including the referee and his linesmen in sandals. The match starts on time at five p.m. (there are severe punishments for teams arriving late).
"And if the match ends in a draw", I ask Lamin?
Lamin: "Well, normally then we should have 30 minutes extra time, like in the international matches. But there won't be much sunlight after 90 minutes; so after a draw, we will immediately move to a penalty shoot-out."
Hans: "Oh, I'd love to see a 3-3 and then a penalty shoot-out. 8-7 for Tinikunda. I find that very exciting."
Lamin: "You are very crazy, you know. You shouldn't say something like that. Tinikunda will win 3-0."
Five sexy teenage girls also support Tinikunda. They even brought food for their team. They comment the match with funny, African-sounding songs. When a Manufeng footballer goes to the ground, they chant "Leave him there to die…" They see my camera and demand that I take their picture. After a short look on the monitor, they ignore me.
Five minutes into the game, Tinikunda scores 1-0 against Manufeng. All Tinikunda supporters storm the football ground jubilantly and create a dust storm. After that, the match continues fast and concentratedly, but without any aggression. On their sprints, the footballers leave dust trails in the air like a race car between Paris and Dakar. Stewards and even the two policemen patrol the outlines to prevent onlookers from standing inside the playing ground. Manufeng has the upper-hand most of the time, but fails to score the 1-1.
A big party in the Tinikunda block breaks loose as the final whistle seals the 1-0 for Tinikunda. People dance and hug each other while the sky reddens. Ready to return to Tinikunda, all people in the overcrowded mini-bus sing aloud. I am asked to take more pictures of the happy after-match party. Local children see my camera, they demand to be photographed too. And not one single request for sweets, money, bicycles or mobile phones.
We make it back to Tinikunda in my rental car. In Tinikunda village, kids dance on the sandy main road. They have heard about the victory by mobile phone.
Only four days later, Tinikunda has the next knock-out match. Neither me nor the lodge boys are present, and maybe that's the reason: The regular match against Kadonka match ends 0-0, and in the penalty shoot-out two Tinikunda players fail to score. Tinikunda village is devastated.
According to receptionist Lamin, Kadonka obviously used witchcraft, or African magic or, worst, voodoo: "One of our boys passed out during the match and only gained consciousness after the loss. Witchcraft."
Lamin himself exercises with the Tinikunda football team, but never takes part in village tournaments: "There's too much witchcraft in this rural area, I don't want to become a target." Cautious Lamin only partakes in tournaments on Gambia's much more developed coastal strip – witchcraft is less powerful there.
That would have been an excellent experience!