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Sierra Leone News: “School Yard” Football

In a column last week, I discussed my experiences playing soccer since I arrived in Sierra Leone, but this installment of Jack’s Journal will discuss my first time watching an official football match.
Last Friday afternoon, I went with some friends to a place they told me was called “School Yard”. This space was a large dirt field, mostly flat but with a slope on the southwest end, and a handful of makeshift structures around the perimeter. These tarp-covered structures housed mostly food and alcoholic beverage venders, but there were also some bleacher-type seating arrangements mixed in. On the dirt field, as you might guess, was where the football match was played.
There, two teams (Koroma Gate and Congo Market) representing different communities around Freetown sent out six players, five field players and a goalkeeper—to compete in a football match. In addition to the smaller-than-regulation field and teams, the game lasted only 70 minutes, with two 35-minute halves. While there were no linesmen, or even offside’s from what I could tell, there was at least one referee who I thought called the game fairly accurately.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at School Yard. The level of play was higher than I expected going into the match and I enjoyed watching, particularly since there was a definite change in strategy in this alternate football format. With fewer players, each team essentially employed one player to cherry pick at the opposition’s backline, playing a traditional Number 9 role, and another player anchored the backline, serving as the last line of defense before the goalkeeper. Between these two players, each of the three remaining players generally shifted about the pitch in supporting midfield positions. Even though these players often tried to push the ball forward, shooting often but unthreateningly, they were also more than capable of passing backward and trying to build their offense out of the back. I appreciated the occasional patience amidst the usual barrage of quick attacks.
The uneven surface and the smaller playing area likely contributed to the rapid style of play. The players hardly kept the ball for more than a few touches, and seldom for more than two seconds, which led to an entertaining, fast-paced match.
While the first half ended in a scoreless draw, the second half saw plenty of scoring action. Around halfway into the second frame, Koroma Gate opened up the scoring. Although they hadn’t looked like the more dominant team to that point, their quick counterattack was enough to give them the lead. A few more minutes went by before they tacked on another goal. Seconds after the second tally, a goalkeeper error allowed their third point of the match. Shortly after that, Koroma Gate scored another. I was glad to see Congo Market get a goal of their own just before the match ended, but although they looked the more ball-dominant side, they ended up going home with a 4-1 defeat.
Another exciting aspect of the game was what occurred in between the two halves. Near the end of halftime, a handful of police armed with long wooden sticks were needed to clear spectators from the pitch. Waving their weapons in the direction of any fans that were slow to vacate the area, they paraded around the sidelines until order was restored to the pitch.
The general energy level of the audience was quite high and rowdy, especially compared to games I’m accustomed to going to in the US. The intense support of the fans cheering on their neighbours was nice to see, particularly since there didn’t seem to be much of any veracity between the two teams. Plus, as per usual, everybody that I encountered at the grungy site was quite nice.
For Le2,000 a ticket, I couldn’t ask for better price of admission to a surprisingly entertaining sporting event, and I definitely intend to return to the Yard for future matches. JR/31/7/2018
By Jack Russillo
Tuesday August 01, 2018.

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