Growing up we just played football every opportunity we got, sometimes with a real ball and sometimes with an old tennis ball. It was not uncommon walking back from school to kick around a stone between ourselves. There was also a real, lived history that linked us to the game; it was very much a part and parcel of our everyday lives
HARTMAN DE SOUZA
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] only knew there was something called the World Cup courtesy an eccentric mother who kick-started a thick scrap book dedicated to football, to get me to start reading the newspaper. I was 10 years old, and lived in Mombasa, on the coast of Kenya.
In it, my mother had gummed various newspaper and magazine articles and features on football. In 1960 when she handed it to me to continue, the last entry was her exhaustive coverage of the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, with reports of every one of the qualifying rounds and all the internationals friendly matches leading up to it. The very last clippings were news-items and commentaries talking about the next World Cup in Chile, in just two years time.
My tasks were cut out. Armed with a dictionary, I may have been one of the first ten year olds in Kenya if not the so-called Commonwealth, to discover Brian Glanville, a very bright and daring football columnist; a man who still writes about the game as if it was the only pleasureworth pursuing with passion.
I spent days and nights reading and re-reading my scrap book. I replayed countless matches in my head so that I could tinker with them and change the results. I always changed the results in my head, so logically the teams I supported always won.
I kept that scrap book going with gummed clippings denoting anything and everything to do with football in Kenya and anywhere else in the world if it appeared in print and caught my beady eye. No magazine or newspaper was safe from me. The executive committee of the library and reading room at the Goan Institute, Mombasa, for instance, was never to find out who mysteriously cut out articles and news reports on football from the local papers – and then, to cap impudence, chop up the football-related pages of papers and magazines from England that came a good week or so later…
That scrap book was duly pasted and updated and read and analyzed until 1963 ended, and I was uprooted from Mombasa and moved to a small town called Embu in the foothills of Kiri Nyaga – ‘The-Mountain-where-God-Lives’, a sacred tribal space that the British for reasons best known to them, listlessly named ‘Mount Kenya’.
The town of Embu banished the Indian Ocean from my head. I saw the mountain every single morning that was free of cloud, standing tall and gray-black with its sharp, jagged, gleaming summit. We lived in a house with a huge lawn. The only saving grace was the formerly ‘Whites Only’ Embu Sport Club with its wood-panelled bar, two dart boards, a table tennis table, 3 tennis courts and a squash court. Life was shit for a thirteen year old. I remember having no friends my age to play football with. I ended up kicking a ball against the side of the house; and in sheer viciousness, used it to bomb my mother’s rose plants…
The point of this pre-ramble is to note that life has ‘changed’ to the point, where in these post-merchandized days of comfort, children have no need not take a circuitous path – regardless how virtuous – just to know that something called the World Cup exists.
Some ten days or so back for instance, as the media began its calculated and fevered countdown to Brazil 2014 – ten minutes of old badly curated clips of matches regurgitated in a studio in Singapore or Mumbai, followed by fifteen minutes of ads using football to hock whatever product imaginable – I stood on a road in Pune that epitomizes the way life has ‘changed’.
It helps to remember that not even fifty years ago, Pune itself was part of a poor, pretentious socialist-inclined ‘Third World’ country that rubbed shoulders with other ‘Third World’ countries like Kenya. You will recall that countries in the southern hemisphere those days, banded together against the hegemonic tendencies and threats they perceived coming from the prosperous Western or ‘First World’ as it was called.
Now that everyone has agreed such divisions either do not exist, or, if they do, then do not matter, whether the world has actually become less polarized, more inclusive and more equitable is neither here nor there. What one does know with some certainty, in 1967 Pune was very much a ‘Third World’ town.
This part of the road I was standing on was so far outside city limits, you had to catch an ST bus from the railway station, and travel a large part of the distance on a mud road. College students came here for picnics on a Sunday because the area was known for its guava plantations, its vegetable and rice fields, and its many streams and springs.
These were yet to be either choked under garbage, or allowed to deteriorate into open, festering concrete-lined canals to carry waste water and sewage into one of the two main rivers that flow through the city with thick, frothy, foul-smelling dark water, their passage checked with small islands of floating refuse.
The hills on the southern side of this broad road were once actually covered with trees, and below them villagers, with excellent irrigation facilities, were still growing and harvesting one or more of five grains twice a year. None of the hills had been cut and hacked to make space for block after block of concrete buildings with a “hill view” – all, ironically, three quarters empty because they’ve been bought as a ‘second’ or even ‘third’ investments by people only too willing to wait out the time when rates will go through the roof; and as a result of which, they will be able to lead even more comfortable lives.
Today, this area is an integral part of Pune and has, well, ‘changed’. It is a part of a scenario with its attendant pimples, warts and waste we will all get to see as we head towards making “a hundred cities bloom”. In front of me, is a stretch of concrete layered over what was once just good farmland with the rich, almost black soil so native to this area.
In some stray plots here and there, a farmer waiting for the prices to go still higher before he too sells to buy SUVs for his two sons, still ploughs his field with an old tractor and sows yellow maize, brinjal, onions, tomatoes and bhindi; which his wife or children then bring to this very same road to sell.
This entire area and more was part of the dream project fuelled by the infamous Suresh Kalmadi, well-known politician turned freelance ‘infrastructure consultant’. It was Kalmadi, who brought the Youth Commonwealth Games to Pune, cutting a highway through here to bring in ‘development’. Hand in hand with the powerful real estate lobby he opened out another part of the city to link it to the highway between Bangalore and Mumbai. This was his ‘dress rehearsal’ you could say, for what he was later to do when he took the senior, more prestigious Commonwealth Games to New Delhi in order to milk them.
On this broad ‘bypass’ that Kalmadi created, is now a slick ‘delicatessen’ that sells you Parma hams, varieties of Kenyan and Australian beef, lamb from New Zealand, dark roasted Colombian coffee beans, Heinz products and any one of twelve different ‘organic’ pasta sauces from all over the world to go with an equally stunning array of Italian, Turkish, Greek and Israeli pasta. Vegetarians get to choose from different types of frozen, flavoured, marinated tofu made from soya bean curd that’s been tempered with a touch of Monsanto. There’s a selection of soft sticky Japanese rice; seaweed in four varieties; and sauces, marinades and several flaming wasabi mixes that set your nostrils ablaze just looking at them.
You want something you see or read about in the glittery pages; like at any one of ten or twenty or whatever outlets, you ask for it, they’ll get it for you, ordering it on the net even as you provide the details. At the kerb, outside, on any day of the week, you can see any one of fifty really swanky cars that cost anywhere up to 5 crore rupees.
The change is predictable. On Sunday morning, relishing the dhoklas, fried chillies and sweet-sour-hot tamarind sauce, the right-wing columnists will come out to bray the same old platitudes: So good for the GDP, encouraging of entrepreneurship, driving the middle class to be have more aspirations, to dream, to buy more, to keep the wheels turning, our chance to wave the flag and rule the world…
The only amusement I get when I walk past with my dog is that he gives a hoot about either class or aspiration. He’ll pee on the pavement and just as easily pee on the 150,000 rupee right rear tyre of the new Indian-owned, English-made Jaguar.
That particular day though, ruminating on life, I saw, coming out of the swing-through glass door of this posh multinational grocery shop a young, prosperous, and somewhat breathless Indian mother, in her late twenties, early thirties. She was as good an example as any of those young Indians who welcome the ‘change’ we see around us – even though, oblivious to all but her, she needed some serious walking on footwear other than the four inch heels of the patent leather designer shoes she tottered on.
She carried an eco-friendly shopping bag in her right hand, even as she struggled to lift her smart-phone to her ear, ending the call whining, “What could I do yaar? He sent the car for me ten minutes ago…I know…and I told him ten times at least this morning. I’ll be there, na? Soonyaar”!
She blew a loud kiss at the phone and switched it off after she rapidly read her messages, and replied to one. She stood there, swaying like a badly loaded skiff, listing badly leeward to keep her crafted leather bag from slipping off her right shoulder even as she dangled the shopping bag. With her left hand, fingers and wrists sparkling with jewellery, she tried to pull her small son towards the rear door of her swish car, where the door was being held open for her by a chauffeur in gleaming white uniform, and peaked cap, wearing what looked like her husband’s white hand-me-down Adidas tennis shoes.
Her son, maybe three years old or so had a small Nike football gripped under his left hand, while he tried to free his other arm from his mother’s grip. He was tough this kid. He made her do a crazy dance; one tottering step towards the door of the car, two tottering steps back to him.
“I want to kick my ball,” he insisted. He wasn’t shouting or throwing a tantrum. He was articulate, confident and firm; a kid who knew what he wanted. “Just one kick, I promise…”
“No”, she replied, “I’ve told you ten times already, we’re late…you can’t understand English??”
Even as she said this, she stole a glimpse of herself in the tinted glass of the door the chauffeur held open, bending a bit and turning her head from one side to the other to see if her hair was in place. She yanked the kid, but he stood his ground with a side-on action, one foot in front of the other – and leant back transferring his weight, pulling her forward even as he struggled to wrench his hand away and grip his ball. A very balanced kid, you would say at first glance.
“Oh fo,” she whined. Given her high heels and ballast, she was anything but steady and wobbled in a semi-circle around him. By now there were at least ten pedestrians who had stopped or slowed down to watch the kid and her so I willed her to have a gentle but indelicate fall – not to hurt herself or anything, just collapse like a large air mattress, gently falling to the ground with a great whoosh of air.
Instead, she yelled to her driver to take the shopping bag and her phone which he promptly did. Now she’s going to thump him I thought, so I willed the kid to kick her on her shin – which, taking me totally by surprise, he did quite stunningly – taking a tiny step back and letting her have it just above the ankle. There was no doubt in anyone about this kid’s ability to kick a ball. His mother almost but not quite toppled back, drawing a high-pitched squawk that stuck between shock and anger in her open mouth.
Before I could will him what to do next, she recovered to give him an almighty thwack on his head with her meaty palm, a clout alas, that took the fight out of him. His tiny ball dropped to the pavement and bounced towards me. The kid was beaten and the poor guy knew it. He was so concussed he couldn’t even cry. I gave him back his ball.
“Say thank you uncle,” his mother said sternly, her voice nasal and grating, her finger waving like a teacher’s stick. “Thank you uncle,” he whispered between tears.
Loudly say it she screeched in Hindi. “Thank you uncle,” he promptly repeated. He caught my eye before she poked him through the door telling him exactly what she was going to do to him if he ever did that to her in front of other people.
With his eyes the poor kid said to me: “Just look at the shit I got to go through when all I want to do is kick a ball”.
I shrugged my shoulders, turned my mouth down, and looked him straight in his tear-filled eye.
“Welcome to the real world kid” I told him telepathically.
Who knows, maybe he’ll even get to play football before he sits for an entrance exam to join some level of useless schooling or the other. He wore blue shorts, tiny little matching Adidas sneakers with three white stripes slanted down, and a bright-yellow Nike-embossed Brazil top with green-and-blue trim, the number ‘10’ and the name ‘Neymar Jr.’ on his back.
What I can say with some certainty is that in 1960, on the ghastly playground of the Goan High School, Mombasa, where we played, there was no merchandise either surrounding or influencing the game played by ten year olds.
That was to come from 1
961 or so onwards when Coca Cola, as part of its sponsorship of the game in Africa, for a good two years began to send free cases of their brew to school football teams to gulp after practice – in return for stocking it, at supposedly discounted rates, in school canteens and tuck shops. That’s where they first rehearsed for the moment they were then ready to trumpet to the world in the 90s, that they were doing us a favor and we were actually beholden to them for drinking their bottled cola.
In less than two weeks of doling out free Coke to school football teams who made drinking it sexy, this global behemoth had hooked thousands and thousands of school kids to associating playing a strenuous game of football with quenching your thirst. They were so good at it, by the early 60s, on the British Services Radio Station that beamed from Nairobi with a very popular announcer called David Dunlop, they had Ray Charles and then Diana Ross and The Supremes singing “Things go better with Coca Cola, things go better with Coke” in four part harmonies that made our hair stand. We played football and we drank Coke…life was simple.
The insidiousness of soft-drink strategies apart, in 1960 none of us had boots in primary school. We played with bare feet, if it was on grass – like at the football ground of the Goan Institute, Mombasa, or with Bata canvas shoes if it was on the muddy, sandy, stony surface of the school ground. Best were Sunday picnics to the beaches outside the island of Mombasa, where sons played in teams with or against their fathers.
The boots for younger people were also part of a merchandize that emerged in or around 1962, when Bata in East Africa began to produce them: leather boots with studs made from round bits of leather nailed. Periodically, players filed off bits of nail where the studs had worn out.
(This style of boot was not unlinked to a major revolution that had taken place two years before we turned ten, and which all of us were blissfully unaware of. In the early 60s we were not to know that the first boots we ever saw in the Bata shop window were replicas of English football boots that themselves were modelled on heavy hard-capped army boots that came past the ankle. Two years before that, unknown to us then, a magical team of Brazilian players was to discard these for dancing shoes).
We just played football every opportunity we got, sometimes with a real ball and sometimes with an old tennis ball. It was not uncommon walking back from school to kick around a stone between ourselves. We were all sweaty and dirty and scuffed our leather shoes and tore out shirts and got whacked for it, but life was all very simple, uncomplicated, passionate and totally class-determined at the primary school level. The guy that brought the ball along got to be captain and pick the side against which the others could play.
More importantly perhaps, there was also a real, lived history that linked us to the game; it was very much a part and parcel of our everyday lives. Every school I can think of while growing up in Kenya had a large playing field and there were always kids playing football. When I was in primary school, we had a games period every single day and even stayed on after school to play. The sacred cow called ‘homework’ only beckoned after six and before dinner. Between the hours of 2.30 and 6, we were either reading a book because we were not allowed to go out and play, or we were playing. We badgered our mothers for money to go to a film, but harassed our fathers to be taken to a football match.
Kids like us played the game as we tried to imitate the moves of local players we actually saw playing every week-end in Mombasa. This may have been a far more symbiotic process than having the game first ‘endorsed’ by a nondescript Bollywood actor with muscles in his mouth selling the game with the aid of a deodorant spray or whatever. Football was still football. It hadn’t yet become a game that could be cynically sold.
Taking lessons from Madison Avenue in the 60s, today’s advertising agencies have perfected the spurious art of selling to ten year olds and taken this to many levels. Today, consciences as clear as bottled spring water, they now target privileged 16 year old kids with stubble and give them the balls to pretend they’re 18 so that they can chill out, quaff a few beers ‘responsibly’, andwatch a live telecast of a game played in Brazil beamed to them because it is ‘powered’ by a bad whiskey posing as mineral water; ‘sponsored’ by a deodorant; and ‘in association’ with fibre-rich biscuits or peach-flavoured face bleach, or whatever it is that people need to buy to keep this economy booming.
As the 50s ended and the 60s began, football was real for us…
A few years before Kenya got its independence, at a time when many Goans like me still thought of themselves as ‘Portuguese’ subjects and not ‘Indians’ – because that’s what they were prior to the December of 1961 – there were about six to eight teams in the First Division league in Mombasa. Matches were played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa. It was about the size of the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi, but and bigger and better than the pathetic football ground Mumbai lays claim to. It had a football ground that to any ten year old appeared as beautiful as the lush baize of a billiard table.
If you were ten years old and knew your football, you supported one of two teams that topped that league every alternate year. The best team in Mombasa as the 50s were coming to an end was undoubtedly ‘Feisal’, a team that played with dark blue shirts in league games, and with all-white with a blue trim when they reached the finals. Feisal was supported by those Kenyans of West Asian origin who had intermarried and settled on the coast, and who were mainly Muslim by religion.
Over time, they were known as the Swahili, and for all practical purposes, as they showed when they contested Kenya’s first elections as an essentially ‘coastal’ party. The Swahili people had no problems being Kenyan, given that its national language in fact, was born and nurtured among them and those who lived on the islands off the East African coast. They just wanted to be seen as ‘different’ and football gave them more than enough opportunity to play in a style distinctly their own and construct their own identity.
There were some great football stars in Feisal and they all featured in my scrap book:
Ali ‘Sungura’ or Ali ‘Rabbit’, a fleet-footed winger working from either flank, who danced his way down the wing, then cut into the penalty area and headed for goal, darting and wiggling and jumping till he rounded the keeper and bulged the roof of the net with the ball. Then there was Ali Kajo who played at the center, who had no dribbling skills whatsoever, because as everyone knew, he was lazy and hated to run.
The rest of the team just fed him the ball as he grudgingly ran to the edge of the penalty area, where if it was given to him on the plate, two to three feet from his right leg, he could kick it so sweetly it would fly five feet off the ground and even burst through the older fraying parts of the net. The crowd would go wild even as the ground staff rushed to darn the net.
Both were products of the mixed marriage Swahili found along the coast, Muslim by birth and faith, but dark-skinned and with crinkly hair. If Ali Sungura won the penalty, hacked down in the area as he danced his way through, it was Ali Kajo who took the shot because the whole world knew that the goalkeeper would quake. Between both the ‘Ali Boys’ as they were called affectionately, was a player who was their fulcrum, who created all the chances and space for them:
His name was Jimmy Linden, an expatriate manager from Denmark in his late twenties who worked as a technical manager at the local cement factory at Bamburi, bang next to the big and very popular public beach now jam-packed with resorts that have divided and colonized it. Same place we once played football at picnics.
Jimmy Linden was short, had blond spiky hair, and was very nimble playing as a right-side forward, drawing every one’s breath with the felicity of which he placed the ball ahead and jumped over the beefiest of tackles. He came for every match driving a now defunct German two-stroke car, the DKW (a car made by the Auto-Union company that many years later, after declaring bankruptcy, was to morph into the Audi).
He drove it into the stadium always accompanied by his blond-haired wife and their blond haired son, and was a great hit with Feisal supporters. His nickname in Kiswahili was ‘Baberu’ or ‘White Goat’, a term commonly used to describe a white man, but in this instance used with great affection and love restricted as it was to his football skills.
Linden was also an exception because he was the first player in Mombasa to wear the new, light Brazilian-inspired, better studded boot that Puma had started manufacturing. Barring a few players who had moved to lighter English made Gola boots with leather studs, all the other players were barefoot, using thick white elastic anklets that left the toes and heel free and protected the soles. These were stitched onto stockings that were folded just below the knee.
Ali Sungura, Ali Kajo and Jimmy Linden were given the freedom and space to move by a great half back called Ahmed Breik, a tall, gangly, fair skinned player of Omani origin with a squeaky voice who could make the ball stick to either of his feet. Six and often seven players of the Feisal team, including the Dane, Jimmy Linden, made it to the Coast Province team to play the Remington Cup, the trophy pitting Kenya’s provinces against each other. Jimmy Linden, Sungura, Kajo and Breik were also capped by Kenya in internationals of that time.
Interestingly, Linden was not the first white-skinned man to play for Mombasa or Kenya: that distinction went to Mauro, an Italian who played goalie in a team of expatriate Italians from Mombasa and Nairobi (families of those who stayed behind in Kenya after they were captured in North Africa and Ethiopia and held prisoner in Kenya). They called themselves Juventus and even played in those familiar black and white stripes. The ‘All-White’ Kenyan ‘Juventus’ were given training facilities at one or the other of the posh ‘Whites only’ sports clubs in Mombasa and Nairobi that played more rugby and cricket.
Just after Kenya’s independence in fact, one more person without color was to play for Kenya. His name was Duncan Erskine, a fantastic goalkeeper who may even have played professionally in England. At that time he was serving in the Scots Guards regiment stationed just outside Nairobi to ensure the natives didn’t stage a leftist coup or whatever…
I supported Feisal for very clear reasons. They had a fabulous goalkeeper called Dodoma, who was a very big hero of mine; there was a girl I was sweet on at that time who was also a Feisal supporter; and my sworn enemy at that time in the 5th Standard, supported Feisal’s fierce rivals, the number two team in Mombasa, ‘Liverpool’.
Like their English counterparts, Liverpool wore red and white uniforms. They were a team owned by a consortium of local businessmen of West Asian, Indian and Pakistani origin who just loved the game and wanted nothing more than to win the local First Division league and crow in the bars with their many supporters how good their team was. One of the distinguished players of this team was a Goan, Albert Castanha, nicknamed ‘Paka’, Kiswahili for ‘Cat’, who was capped by Kenya several times. He joined two other Goans from Nairobi who made it to the Kenyan team: Oscar Remedios, an amazingly athletic goalkeeper, and Lucas Noronha, an elegant and commanding midfielder who also captained Kenya.
While my mother taught me to think about football, my father showed me what it actually meant. He had played football for his school, college and university in India, but was also a very well-known football referee in Kenya. He was president of the Coast Province Referees Association, and later something or the other in the Kenya Referees Association and worked closely with the Kenya Football Association.
So there was quite a bit of him in my scrap book too, given that he organized the first ‘strike’ of referees demanding protection against crowd violence after one of the referees was attacked after a match. Those were pre-yellow and red card days with matters left to the discretion of the referee. When the strike was resolved he still had the balls to kick out four players, two from either side, in a match between Feisal and Liverpool to stamp out as he said violence on the field of play that then goes into the stands. The next day’s sports pages carried the headline in bold: “Mombasa’s referees will not tolerate rough play,” says Referee de Souza.
Thanks to him, I got to see just about every 1st Division match played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa, including the Gossage Cup when it was held in Mombasa. This was a British-instituted trophy competed for by Kenya, Uganda, and the former Tanganyika and – since the revolution hadn’t happened yet that would create a new country in East Africa called Tanzania – the then tamed and disembodied island of Zanzibar, once the summer capital of the Kingdom of Oman, and in the early 60s ruled by Prince Jamshed Abdullah, descendant of a dynasty that once ran a flourishing industry trading slaves from Africa.
My father refereed quite a few international matches, the most memorable being in the early 60s, when the Ghanaian national team, the famed ‘Black Stars’ (so named because they had a black star on the back of their yellow shirts) played Kenya at the stadium in Nairobi, as part of the Republic Day celebrations. By now everyone played in stylish Puma or Gola boots and everyone drank Coca Cola like there was no tomorrow.
The only problem was that the Black Stars hammered Kenya 13-2. At one point of the game, they made a circle of players and had the Kenyans running after the ball. No one in Kenya had ever seen such powerful football juju…
The score ought to have been in excess of 20-0, given it was 10-0 at half-time, but I think the High Commissioner of Ghana had a word with them and they benched their forward line and played the second half at a canter, letting Kenya score two goals in the last ten minutes. The Ghanaians were given a standing ovation and lustily cheered but the police were called in to protect the Kenyan players who were booed and stoned with whatever came to hand. ‘Black Stars outplay Kenya’ is how the headlines politely put it….
“It’s supposed to be a bloody goodwill tour”, my father who refereed the match muttered to me that night at dinner in our hotel, “How are they going to spread bloody goodwill if they thrash us like this??” The Ghanaians may have been spoken to sternly. Two days later, when he watched the second match with me from our special seats, Ghana fielded all their reserve players and Kenya struggled to hold them to a 2-2 draw. Both teams were given a standing ovation and the news made the front page of The Daily Nation and The East African Standard and had a picture of the Kenyan team bus surrounded by cheering supporters. ‘Ghana holds Kenya to Draw’ were the bold headlines.
It helps to recall that before they hammered Kenya, Ghana had already shown spectators in England what they were capable of when the Black Stars toured there after their independence and won and drew against an English amateur team; as did a team from Uganda, just before their own independence. Both teams played without boots, wearing elastic anklets that were part of the stockings they wore, and both said they would have hammered the English if only it wasn’t so bloody cold. Interestingly, to learn new tricks and check developments out, British naval ships like the aircraft carriers Ark Royal or Hermes regularly sent teams to Mombasa. They never beat either Feisal or Liverpool, and often got properly trounced…
So till I was 13, days and even nights for me in Mombasa, were beautiful and innocent. They had to do with playing football every single evening, with watching football at the Municipal Stadium every Friday and Saturday, and dreaming about it as often as I could.
The pride of place in my scrap book in 1963 was my exhaustive recording of the World Cup in Chile in 1962 with commentators like Brian Glanville writing in The Times, bemoaning the impending death of Brazilian football.–Kafila.org