Sunday On The Beach With Sierra Leonean Soccer Players

Jul 25, 2021
Originally published on July 25, 2021 7:43 am

In cities around the world, there are certain traditions on Sunday mornings. Strolling in Central Park in New York. Sitting at an outdoor café in Paris. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, it's soccer on the beach.

Lumley Beach is a long strip of sand along the capital city's western edge. On Sunday mornings it bustles with joggers, walkers and large groups of soccer players. Almost every flat section of beach has been divided into soccer fields.

The goals are a couple of sticks or soda bottles stuck in the sand. The end lines are drawn on the beach. And the playing field gets wider or narrower based on the tide.

"Today the water is full," says 29-year-old Mohmoh Bockari, assessing the waves at high tide. Bockari is warming up with a group of young men. They're passing the ball in a circle.

"So we have to wait for some time until the water turns, maybe around 10, 11, the water will turn again. And we'll be able to play the way."

During the week, Bockari is a bricklayer. Most weekends, he tries to come down to the beach to play soccer. He says there are some talented players.

"This boy with the white shirt," he says, pointing to one player by the water. "He plays for the national team on the under 17s. He's a good player."

Bockari is wearing a red jersey from the English Premier League team Arsenal.

In Sierra Leone soccer fanatics tend to fall into two categories: Manchester United supporters or fans of their London rivals Arsenal.

"Yeah, Arsenal!" Bockari says. "I love my club. I love the team so much. I'm always proud of it."

Kandeh Marrah, 24, is in the opposite camp.

"I'm a Manchester United fan. I love Manchester," Marrah says. "I've been following Manchester and supporting Manchester. Manchester United is the best team."

Marrah writes for a local sports blog. He too notes that some of the top soccer players in the country often show up on Lumley Beach on Sundays to kick the ball around.

The games, however, are casual.

"In this sand you can you can play with your bare foot. So people are very comfortable playing here," Marrah says.

Younger kids tend to play together. There are a few girls mixed in although it's mostly boys.

The matches among the men are quite physical. Players regularly get knocked to the sand or even into the waves.

Everybody who's anybody is at the beach in Freetown on Sundays. "Just stand here and you can see all sorts all sorts of human beings, you know people from everywhere, every walk of life," says Abdul Rahman Swaray, a local professor. "Everybody I can tell you, even parliamentarians, members of parliament, all of them are here."
Jason Beaubien/NPR

Women selling bananas, pineapple slices, drinks and small cakes walk through the players. Joggers sometimes get mistaken for wingers. Dogs are another obstacle.

In addition to the soccer players, lots of people come to the beach on Sunday mornings to watch the games or exercise themselves. Buff young men with bulging biceps lead workout sessions in beach parking lots. Residents of all ages stroll or run on the sidewalk between the sand and Lumley Beach road.

Abdul Rahman Swaray has just finished an energetic walk.

"Just stand here and you can see all sorts all sorts of human beings, you know people from everywhere, every walk of life," he says.

Swaray has stopped at a fruit stand to, as he says, "replenish" his energy. He's a professor at the local university and an executive at the national sports authority. Swaray says even top government officials come out to Lumley Beach in their workout clothes on Sunday mornings.

"Everybody I can tell you, even parliamentarians, members of parliament, all of them are here," he says.

One of the great things about the beach, he says, is that it's free and open to everybody. People come to exercise, but Swaray says they also come because the bustle of Sunday mornings at Lumley Beach is one of the things that makes the Sierra Leonean capital special.

"Our beach is a God-given thing," he exclaims. "We have to make use of it!" And he goes off to buy some bananas and mangoes from one of the many stalls lining the road.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In cities around the world, there are certain traditions on Sunday mornings, and we're going to hear about one of them in Freetown, Sierra Leone. That is beach soccer. As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, young men, boys and even a few girls regularly turn out for pickup soccer games on Lumley Beach.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: The goals are a couple of sticks or soda bottles stuck in the sand. The end lines are drawn on the beach, the uneven surface slopes towards the ocean, and the pitch gets narrower and high tide.

MOHMOH BOCKARI: Most of them will come out in the morning. But today the water is full, so we have to wait for some time until the water - maybe around 10, 11, the water will turn again. So we’ll play the way we used to play.

BEAUBIEN: 29-year-old Mohmoh Bockari is warming up with a group of young men. They're passing the ball between them in a circle. During the week, Bockari is a bricklayer, but he says he tries to come down to the beach most weekends to play. And he says there are some very good players on the beach.

BOCKARI: Even this one - this boy over there with the white shirt having to play for the national team on the 17th. He's a good player, yeah.

BEAUBIEN: Boukari is wearing a red jersey from the English premier team Arsenal. And Sierra Leone soccer fanatics tend to fall into two categories, Manchester United supporters or fans of their London rivals, Arsenal.

BOCKARI: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, Arsenal fan. I love my club. I love the team so much. I'm always proud of it.

BEAUBIEN: 24-year-old Kandeh Marrah falls into the opposite camp.

KANDEH MARRAH: I'm a Manchester United fan. I love Manchester. I've been following Manchester, and I'm supporting Manchester. So Manchester United is my favorite team, is the best team.

BEAUBIEN: Marrah writes for a local sports blog. He, too, notes that some of the top soccer players in the country will often show up on Lumley Beach on Sundays to kick the ball around. The games, however, are casual.

MARRAH: This is sand, so you can play with your bare foot. So people are very, very much comfortable playing here. So they come here to play.

BEAUBIEN: Younger kids tend to play together. The matches among the men in their 20s and 30s are quite physical, with players getting knocked to the sand and even into the waves.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

BEAUBIEN: Women selling bananas, pineapple slices and small cakes walk through the players. Joggers sometimes get mistaken for wingers, dogs or another obstacle.

In addition to the soccer players, lots of people come to the beach on Sunday mornings to exercise. Buff young men with bulging biceps lead workout sessions in the beach parking lots. Residents of all ages stroll or run on the sidewalk between the sand and Lumley Beach Road.

ABDUL RAHMAN SWARAY: Just stand there. You can see - right over there, you can see all sorts of categories, all sorts of human beings, you know, from everywhere, every walks of life, every corridor.

BEAUBIEN: Abdul Rahman Swaray has just finished an energetic walk. He stopped at a fruit stand to, as he says, replenish his energy. He's a professor at the local university and an executive at the National Sports Authority. Swaray says even top government officials come out to Lumley Beach in their workout clothes on Sunday mornings.

SWARAY: Everybody, I can tell you, even parliamentarians, members of parliament, directors of agencies - all of them are here.

BEAUBIEN: He says one of the greatest things about the beach is that it's free. It's open to everybody. People come to exercise and get fresh air, Swaray says. But he adds that they also come because the bustle of Sunday mornings at Lumley Beach is one of the things that makes the Sierra Leonean capital special.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Freetown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLK AND FRIENDS SONG, "GOOD DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.