West African Football – Middle School Style

November 9-13, 2011

The time had finally come:  the end-of-the-season West Africa International Middle School Football (soccer) Championship Tournament to be held in Dakar, Senegal.  Our boys’ team, representing the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria is a collection of eleven 6th and 8th graders, of a range of sizes and abilities that is typical of this age group.  These 11 boys will be accompanied by myself (the coach), and AISL school official (Donald), and two 6th grade moms.  Our trip starts with a Wednesday overnight flight from Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Lagos to Dakar, Senegal, via a stop in Cotonou, Benin.  We are joining a plane already full of 2 boys and 2 girls’ teams from Accura representing Ghana.  After arriving in Dakar at 2:30am, and settling the players down on mats on the host school’s gym floor, the players fell asleep by 4am. 

The Eagles at the Airport

After a brief breakfast that Thursday morning, we board buses and head to Gorée Island.  Dakar is clean and modern, hugging the coastline with resorts, beaches and perfect waves (remember “The Endless Summer”). 

We take the passenger ferry to Gorée Island where our guide takes us on a tour of the infamous place.  The island was originally settled by the Portuguese and later turned into the key transportation hub of the West African slave trade.  Slaves captured up and down the West African Coast were brought here to be shipped to the New World.  As an island, escape was nearly impossible, since the regular supply of infirmed and deceased captives kept the local waters teeming with sharks. We visited a slave transport house, of which ~15 operated on the island, where the cells for men, women, and children were preserved, and then the players got an opportunity to stand at “the Door of No Return” from which 10’s of 1000’s never set foot on African soil again.

Island mapDoor of no return!AISL Eagles


Door of no return!

After the tour of the water’s edge, we climbed a steep hill to the highest point in the island where we ordered lunch at a restaurant, and while waiting for lunch, visited a set of ~6-inch guns on a turret built into the hilltop (e.g. “The Guns of Naverone”).  These were emplaced by the French but were only actually fired once before they were disabled by strategic torching of the barrels.  Today, the encampment, tunnels and trenches are home to a vibrant art and crafts community.  The boys watched with interest as a sand artist plied his trade with nothing but glue and colored sand.  Then we returned to the restaurant for lunch.

AISL Eagles
Guns left by the FrenchSand Sculpter


Sand Sculpter

After the ferry ride back to the mainland and buses back to the host school, every player met their host parents and dispersed with them for their home-stays, under instructions to arrive early tomorrow for the start of the tournament.  The school administrator and I stayed at the Principal’s tri-level flat, where we were splendidly hosted and delighted in a home-cooked Ziti meal.

School gates

The next morning, Friday, began the Football Tournament at the school where the full-sized field was divided in half, and we played 8-a-side across the field with smaller goals.  There were 8 boys’ teams and 4 girls’ teams and every game was 2 x 20-minute halves.  Today, we would play 3 bracket games against Dakar’s second team (a 5-0 win), a strong Ghana Team (a 2-0 loss), and Burkina Faso (a 5-1 win), which was enough to advance us as the 2nd place team in the bracket.  In the other bracket, Abuja, Nigeria advanced as the 1st place team and Dakar’s 1st team advanced as the bracket runners-up, setting us up for all Nigerian semi-finals on tomorrow.

Pep rally in preparation of the tournament

That night, the adults’ walked to a Teacher’s birthday party, where a local teachers’ Rock Band played live “oldies” and everyone talked, ate pizza and danced.

On Saturday morning, after a morning jog along the oceanfront, I met the Team at school, where the Lagos boys subsequently played an excellent game and beat their Abuja rivals 5-2, while the other semi-final went to penalty kicks, which the host Dakar won.  The finals were a tense affair with ~200 spectators and great crowd noise.  Our Lagos team scored ~15 minutes in on a penalty kick, for a player fouled in the box and we held that 1-0 lead throughout the half.  The host school was strong defensively, and other balls put into their net by the Lagos boys were called back in the second half.  However, the 1-0 lead held up and we were crowned “West African Champions”.

The Champions - AISL Eagles!

From the field, the boys went back to their host family’s houses, showered and packed, and returned to the school for a Middle School Dance in the gym.  While the kids socialized, Donald and I walked to local Italian restaurant where we ate caprese and spaghetti.  We returned to school in time to shut down the party at 10:00pm, organize the boys, and transport them to the airport for a 2:00am flight back to Lagos.

Monument of the African Reaissance - 160 foot tall bronze statue that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and dominates the horizon of Dakar

Unfortunately, our plane was delayed in arriving in Senegal, and we didn’t leave Dakar until after 4:00am.  With a stop on Cotonou on the way back, the team arrived back in Lagos at 11:00am, tired, but with their trophy in hand.

All in all – an excellent trip.