A freak blast of lightning strikes dead an entire team on the playing field while their opponents are left completely unscathed. How do you explain it? Coincidence?Bad luck?Or just plain Bad weather? You be the judge.
German-based documentary filmmaker Oliver Becker, astonishingly witnessed a Tanzanian player anointing the grave of a dead teammate with ‘kuku’ blood so as to possess the dribbling skills of the dead man, for himself. Now this is where the world of weird opens its portal to the land of: Juju, black magic.
In Africa, we understand and adhere to the fundamentals of football: coaching, technical skills, talent development and training. However, we also believe that these essentials are not enough, and that some ‘magical abracadabra’ by a ‘team doctor’ is required to compliment the squad’s strength to stifle the opposition.
Sacked AFC Leopards coach Luc Eymael attributed witchcraft as one of the impediments to his team’s form. And who remembers Ivo Mapunda’s ‘’TOWEL’’ which mysteriously won GorMahia the President’s Cup last year.
If you thought the word ‘miscellaneous ‘ or ‘research’ in a club’s accounting books is a reference to a budget entry then you are in for a rude shock. This is an amount set aside for supernatural assistance.
It has reached a point where some officials hire dead bodies from the mortuary, take them to the stadium to ‘cleanse’ the pitch on the night before a match. This is meant to ‘dilute’ the opposition’s ‘team doctor’s powers. According to one of the local dailies, a well-known Kenya Premier League coach usually forces his players to put on clothes that had been soaked in ‘treated’ urine the previous night.
Witchcraft is usually done in secrecy but it came into light when the former goalkeeper of Cameroon, Thomas Nkono, was caught…wait for it…burying bones under the field and spraying a strange elixir, in order to cast a spell before a crucial semifinal match against Zambia. He was later arrested and detained by the police. However, that was probably a good thing given the numerous death threats he had received from Zambians. This happened during the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.
Ever wonder why the Ivorians haven’t won anything despite the galaxy of stars in their team?
The answer lies in the legendary tale of the 1992 Ivory Coast team, which won the Africa Cup of Nations finalafter a penalty shoot-out. Many attributed the victory to witch doctors who had been surprisingly employed by the Ministry of Sport although they were never remunerated for their services.
They therefore placed a curse on the national team and the ‘Drogba’s and the ‘Toure’s’-however talented they are-won nothing for years. Finally, a decade later, the country's Defense Minister apologized to the ‘team doctors’ on behalf of the nation for the unfulfilled promise. The minister also offered the witchdoctors Ksh 176,000 and asked them to be patriotic and start working for the republic again.
The enigmatic world of superstitions is not unique in Africa alone. Some of the more decorated European and South American footballers have their own beliefs.For example former England defender John Terry, always sits in the same place on the bus traveling to the game. Former Spurs defender William Gallas, insists on being the last player out onto the pitch and sits in the loo until everyone else has left. AC Milan legend Gennaro Gattuso apparently likes to read Dostoevsky in the loo before a match. Ironically, Dostoevsky once said, “Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making. He will believe in witchcraft and sorcery, even though he may otherwise be a heretic, an atheist, and a rebel.”
When it’s all said and done, the supporter on the pitch may not be no more a witch than you are a wizard. It only gives a sense of controlling a situation that is essentially uncontrollable and that is comforting even if illusory, and of confidence.