The suspicion that there is madness among football fans may be justifiable, but it becomes even madder when it is mixed with a sense of exaggerated nationalism.
In one instance in 1969, El Salvador and Honduras even fought a brief border war over a disputed football match.
We are not there yet, but what we are witnessing gives food for thought. It’s about a young man who made good in a soccer career.
It seems like just yesterday when Mbwana Samatta was kicking balls for Simba Sports Club in Dar es Salaam before he was spotted by scouts for Moise Katumbi Chapwe’s Tout Puissant Mazembe of Lubumbashi in the Congo, which he helped to continental championship a couple of times, enough to attract the eye of Genk club in Belgium.
Meanwhile, social media was trending pictures of the superstar beside his sleek Mercedes in Birmingham, the dream of many a young man here and everywhere. There were unconfirmed reports that schoolchildren were dumping their exercise books and demanding their mothers buy them footballs and boots instead (lol!).
I have no doubt that Samatta himself was aware of the craze he had stirred up in his home country, and I wonder whether it was that which caused him to be so nervy during the match that he missed an open chance to score.
It’s natural for people to be elated when one of their own achieves big, and Samatta, if he does well at Villa or anywhere else, will be lionised in his country as a role model that every young man will be looking to emulate.
It cannot be for nothing that Kenyan fans count Liverpool’s Divock Origi as a Kenyan though he plays for the national team of Belgium. And Kenya has many more super-achievers than hapless Tanzania.
The inspiring story of Samatta has lessons for all who follow his evolution, especially those wannabe sporting superstars. It takes a lot of hard work, sweat and tears to get where this man has got. He has the Ronaldoesque reputation of getting to the training ground before anybody else and remaining behind when all others have left.
Success imposes the imperative to defer all pleasures until the job is done, that is when the career comes to an end.
It is what is said of the greatest footballer of all time, Edson Pele, the workaholic Brazilian who trained so hard privately that it is said that when he went to Mexico for his last World Cup tournament in 1970 his dashes and hurdles would have qualified him for the Olympics.
Many a promising soccer player fell by the wayside because they were consumed by the intoxication of fame and the lure of pleasures of the flesh. Think George Best; think Dr Socrates; think ‘Gazza’….
It is to be hoped that Samatta will continue to rise, and I think time is still on his side; he could even go on playing to the age of Cameroon’s Roger Milla, the only player to score in a World Cup tournament at the age of 42.
For Tanzanians this is another object lesson pointing to the primacy of effort and concentration to compliment native genius and inborn talent.
Young men and women in our schools, towns, hamlets and villages have to be given all the opportunities to hone their talents to make them world beaters.
For far too long we have been a nation of compulsive underachievers, happy to get whatever minimal result that the others leave for us.
There is nothing that prevents us from having our boys and girls competing in the biggest leagues of the world, not only in soccer but also in basketball, hockey, track-and-field, gymnastics, tennis … the whole gamut of available sports.
Still, stardom in sports, just like it is in the arts, is a preserve of the really talented, supermen and superwomen, gods and goddesses of the field, who must work hard to sharpen native seeds of excellence.
For the rest of us mortal human beings, we will not do ourselves any favour by throwing away our books, pencils and erasers. We will need to continue slogging without the world so much as noticing that we exist.
Our lot may turn out to be a mere article published from time to time in a regional newspaper, even if Samatta is too busy to read it.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]