Last weekend’s London derby in the English Premier League between Chelsea and Arsenal was a very English affair. On a late December afternoon in driving rain and fading light the two bitter rivals fought out a 1-1 draw. It was physical, fast and in your face. Everything English football is world famous for.
It was classic contemporary English football for another reason: where were the Englishmen?
Chelsea boasted England captain John Terry, Frank Lampard and Arsenal turncoat Ashley “Cashley” Cole. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was a collection of young foreign Internationals. Not a Pom among them.
The stars of this match came from France, Belarus, Portugal, and Germany. Arsenal was led by Brazilian Gilberto. Chelsea were hoping their Ukrainian star Andriy Shevchenko would find the form to justify his £30 million transfer fee.
And while it finished in a draw, there was one winner to emerge on the night: African football.
Both teams boasted some of most exciting footballers from Africa. Chelsea’s Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast terrorised Arsenal’s defence. He is Chelsea’s top scorer this year with 14 in the back of the net.
Similarly, the Gunners boasted their own African strike menace in Emmanuel Adebayor from Togo. At the back for Arsenal were young African stars in Ivorian Emmanuel Eboue and Swiss International and Ivorian-born Johan Djourou.
They were both helpless when Ghanaian superstar Michael Essien found a late equaliser with a scorching shot from 30 yards that will ensure its status as one of the goals of the season.
The game was further proof African football is on the rise. With South Africa set to host the World Cup in 2010, an African World Champion is not out of the question.
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South Africa faces monumental challenges in hosting the tournament. Crime rates are still high, infrastructure inadequate, hotels need to be built and security guaranteed.
Some in Australia have started a whispering campaign to try to poach the tournament from South Africa. New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma said he was “salivating at the prospect” of Australia picking up the pieces if South Africa stumbles.
The hypocrisy in that attitude is breathtaking. Asked if he believed in relieving African poverty and disadvantage no doubt Iemma would say yes. So how does hoping for the failure of Africa’s first World Cup sit with that?
The enormous economic, political, cultural, psychological and yes, spiritual dividend afforded to all Africans by a successful World Cup in 2010 would be lost.
A helping hand rather than a grasping one is what Australia should be offering.
Francis Leach is a mad Arsenal fan and has asked Santa for an Ashley Cole dartboard for Christmas…