In 1992, when the Premier League was formed, the clubs began to take advantage of lucrative television rights and broke away from the Football League, which had existed since 1888.
When fans worldwide saw Brian Deane score the first Premier League goal in the 2-1 win by Sheffield United over Manchester United, little did any one predict that this league’s popularity would stretch as far as a small town in East Africa named Rweshera.
For example, Tumwine Bosco, a peasant who earned less than $1 a week, caused outrage in the village where he chased his wife from their marital home because she insisted that Manchester United played better football than Arsenal. After three days of dialogue. The Elders and Bosco agreed to take back his wife on one condition. That his wife apologize to him, acknowledge that Arsenal was better than Man United and, from then on, she must become a Gooner. True story.
There are plenty more stories like that.
But, first, some background. In Africa, it’s a Known fact that an average male aged between 16-25 knows at least the starting eleven of his favorite club in England. Research goes on to show that this same age category may not be able to identify players representing his national team.
A 2008 Target Group Index research study by Consumer Insight revealed that most Africans spend their free time watching television. About 77 per cent of Ethiopians watch TV in their free time, while in Uganda, it’s 60 per cent and 45 per cent in Tanzania. Kenya, Angola and Burundi tie at 45 per cent. This might be one of the causes for the unfamiliarity of their national team players because the local leagues are not shown on television.
The survey further revealed that 61 per cent of respondents said they visit pubs in their free time, and 75 per cent said they drink to socialize and relieve stress. Consumption, the study said, is more prevalent among people aged between 18 and 34 years who account for almost three quarters of the total population of drinkers. That is the age most passionate about soccer. And drinking where live matches are shown is for most, an ideal way of socializing.
Why the attraction to the Premier League and not La Liga? One big difference is the inconvenient start-times of the Spanish league fixtures, which means its league matches are screened at midnight when most fans are already drunk by then and are staggering home, if not asleep.
The popularity of the English Premiership thus rests on media promotion, and competitiveness of the top teams. And realizing the global marketing potential, teams resort to selling jerseys and other kit.
However, the impact of the Premier League in Africa has left many dead. Different countries have had their share of bizarre cases and here are some that caught my eye:
- Just in March 2010, a fan stabbed Abubakar Baishe, 19, in the stomach. The two schoolmates were arguing over league standings during a Manchester United versus Liverpool match that was aired on television in Lamu, Kenya.
- In Ogbo town Nigeria, a bus driver and Manchester United fan ran over fans celebrating Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Manchester United during the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final. Four were killed and 10 seriously injured.
- In Uganda, a Manchester United fan beat his wife senselessly in 2008 because she had washed his prized Man United jersey on the day of a crucial encounter.
- Young Islamist masked militants raided a cinema Hall in Howl Wadaag district of Mogadishu where a Manchester United against Arsenal FA semi-final match was being screened in 2008. Abdullahi Madehey, an Arsenal fan, died from gunshot wounds during the attack. Arsenal is the most popular club in Somalia.
- In the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United, seven fans died in Nigeria after clashes between rival supporters.
- In 2009, Suleiman Omondi, 29, took a rope and hanged himself at the balcony of his house in a Nairobi estate after Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United, according to the girlfriend and neighbors. Omondi could not even wait for the Champions League semi-final match on Tuesday night between the two teams to end before snuffing out his life as Arsenal’s defeat was inevitable after Man United’s two goals during the first eleven minutes of the game. Omondi allegedly expressed his disappointment at the way Arsenal had been outclassed in the semi-final clash.
In Africa, where I live (Uganda to be precise), a typical weekend for a soccer fan comprises of placing his bet for the day and heading to a “sports” bar.
Fans spend hours swilling copious amounts of alcohol, eating nyama choma (roast meat) and pork as they root for what most call “my team.” At the end of the match they slowly walk back home in groups as they analyze the match until the next fixture. The emotional ones stay behind to fight battles on behalf of “their teams”.
For some, Premier League football is the most important thing in their lives. For others, Premier League football is more important than their life.