Day Twenty-Eight: Football in Passy

Training on Saturday, the day before the big game

Soucouta supporters letting loose

The match before Mamadou’s Soucouta team took the field


In this part of the world, “football” means soccer. It’s a universal game, with many decades of heroic exploits. Yesterday, I got to experience the passion that Senegalese folks have for their team.

Youssoupha and Mariama invited me to go with them to Passy, a town thirty kilometres away, to see our friend Mamadou play for the Soucouta team. We’d travel by bus. I’d likely be the only white person at the game. Of course I said yes. A new adventure.

The teens promised to take me only if I “behaved”. No going off on my own. Passy was a town where my safety wasn’t guaranteed. I agreed to be good, to follow their instructions.

As we walked to the bus, Mariama asked for my phone, and promptly put it into her fanny pack. I figured it was a test … guess I passed.

The bus was absolutely crammed with human beings, drums and cool hats. Soucouta would rule!

Each row had two seats on the left and two on the right. After the back filled up, a middle seat was flipped down for a fifth person, blocking the aisle. As we rolled from Soucouta to Passy, the din filled the air. So many loud conversations coming from everywhere. It was the noisiest trip I’ve ever had.

At the stadium, Mariama lined up for tickets. I took in all the words flying around, very few of which I understood. The world was hot and dry.

We climbed the steps of the bleachers with Mariama and Youssoupha pressing close. Eyes turned as we took our seats. Another game was in progress and the fans were rip roarin’ into it. The skills on the field were amazing … subtle touches, long passes, dust rising with every dribble of the ball. I was in awe, and I was so close to prime football.

Our drummers started their frantic beat as soon as the first game was done. Our cheerers cheered. Some danced. The frenzy was building. The drumming hardly ever slowed. The girl in front of me, wearing a red shawl, rocked and rolled.

And here comes Mamadou and his friends, decked out in powder blue. They dance in formation to warm up, as did their opponents at the other end of the field. We had our end of the bleachers and supporters of the other team had theirs.

In the game, we roared with great Soucouta passes and defensive gems. The energy on the field and in the stands was sky high. Back and forth, lifting our spirits and then crushing them, moment by moment. The whistle sounded and the first half ended 0-0.

Youssoupha and I went down onto the field at halftime. We greeted Mamadou and kicked around a ball with him and some of his teammates. My skills didn’t really show up, but who cares?

The second half blasted into more fevered play. The other team was controlling most of the action. They had a penalty shot deep in our zone, and their players rushed the net. There was a save and a rebound and … an opponent lofted the ball into the net. Goal!

Suddenly the sidelines broke through onto the field. A hundred fans rushed the prancing goal scorer. The other end of the bleachers was full of bouncing humans. Powder blue players lowered their heads.

The sides played on. At one point, I saw someone on the other team start fighting with a teammate. Huh? Fans invaded the field once more. Everyone was running every which way. What was happening?

I looked around and saw spectators clambering down the steps of the bleachers. Mariama was reaching for my hand. On the field, Soucouta supporters faced off with those of the other team. They were throwing rocks at each other! My God, I was watching a riot.

People were running for the exit. Mariama was moving me briskly to the safety of the bus. We scurried inside, with seemingly half the population of Soucouta piling in on top of us.

Soon we were zooming down the twilight highway back home. The referees had called the game because of fighting. It will have to be replayed to determine the semifinalists for the national championship.

This was all new to me. It was so alive, so passionate, so eye-opening. Life is certainly bigger than my history has imagined.