Back on June 1st, I went to my first professional Liberian football (soccer) game. There had been serious advertising to increase ticket sales, and the match was sponsored by the cellphone provider Comium. There were 4 types of tickets that were for sale—the cheapest seats went for 200 & 300LD. There were 2 types of VIP tickets—one for $20USD and the other for $50USD! With each ticket purchase, you got a scratch card (aka minutes on your cell phone)—a 200LD tickets came with a $1USD scratch card. If you were a big spender, and dropped $50USD for a ticket, you got a free cellphone. Anyway, I was not about to get taken advantage of, so I decided to take the cheap (and greatest possibility to have something to blog about) route, and bought the 200LD ticket. My theory was that for about $3USD, I would get a day of entertainment, at least a few stories to tell in the end, and if it was a miserable time and I wanted to go home, I wasn’t wasting a bunch of money. I also brought along Ian and Amanda, who were visiting us to check out ORR’s ministry…and our chief security guard Momo came along for protection.
For days, our security guards kept asking me about going to the game because they wanted to make sure I was really going to “go around the field”. They kept telling me that I should buy a VIP ticket. First of all, there’s no way I would spend $50USD on a ticket to a stupid football game, but I’m poor and talk about a waste of money—to put it into perspective, $50USD can feed about 20 kids here for a week! And, the jacked up ticket prices exist because of all of the UN/NGO people here, and I refuse to fall into that trap. Everyday, the start time of the game changed too—first it was 7pm, then 6pm, then 5pm, then 4pm. I’m still unsure of what time the game actually started at. The guards also kept telling me they were going to “be on the field” around 11am, which sounded ridiculous to me! I didn’t want to sit out in the hot sun (if I would have paid 300LD, I would have been under a covering), listening to super loud Liberian music, and dealing with the constant “white woman” thing. Oh, and I should tell you, we were instructed to bring nothing with us except for our ticket and a water bottle, because anything else would probably get stolen (so, once again, I have no pictures for you). I did cheat and brought 50LD in case I got hungry, along with my phone…just in case…but I kept them in my inside pants pocket away from the pickpocket posses. I did have to swat away a few hands.
Anyway, we decided to go to church with some neighborhood kids, and then made our way to the SKD Sports Complex around 3pm. When we were about a ½ mile from SKD, the rain drops began to fall—which was a good thing, because apparently if it’s raining, that means that Liberia will win. We got dropped off in front of SKD and it was a total zoo! Lines and lines of people standing in the rain, with the ground flooded with water and trash. Unfortunately, because we were white, we were quickly escorted to the front of the line; I think they assumed we were VIP. I hate it when I get special treatment here, because I’m not here to use my skin color as an advantage…but I have to admit, I was grateful to not have to wait in the rain with the hoodlums. We stood outside the stadium’s main gate for probably 15 minutes while Momo talked with the UN peacekeepers and LNP; all the while, people behind us were either angry that the white people cut, or telling the UN & LNP to let the white people in. Too many people were pushing up against the gate, so they wouldn’t open the gate to let us pass through. A Nigerian UN peacekeeper finally told me that they would let us in, but that Momo couldn’t go in with us. I was fed up by this time, and showed the man that we all had tickets and forcefully told him that we weren’t going in without Momo because he was with us and he was there to help us. The Nigerian guy started yelling back at me…something like “fine, then none of you will go in”…and I told him that was fine. The LNP stepped in and started to push us through the gate…everyone got through except for me…and people started to push to try to get through the gate too. By this point, I’m not liking the situation because I’m beginning to picture stampedes and trampling. Ian and Momo turned around and picked me up by my upper body and lifted me up and I crowd surfed over the gate!
Once we all made it through the first gate, we began to walk around the outside of the stadium to pick a gate to try to find seats (mind you, it’s still raining). We immediately realized that the place was absolutely packed, and that we should have listened to the guys and come earlier. I’m talking so packed that people were climbing the spotlight poles to see the game! We walked all the way around the whole stadium, trying to find a gate that wasn’t completely packed—getting an actual seat inside the stadium was completely out of the picture. We had an offer to sit in the VIP area, if we were willing to dish out some money—but we had 150LD between the four of us. We ended up going to Gate 1, and Momo and Ian stood up with the crowd in the breezeway so they could somewhat see the field, but they mostly relied on the jumbo-tron. Amanda and I stood outside the gate in the walkway. We made friends with a guy who’s a visiting professor at UMU (the only other white guy around), and we unfortunately made ‘friends’ with some really obnoxious Liberians. I spent the whole game turning down proposals, giving marriage advice, explaining why you can’t approach me the same way you approach a Liberian woman (another blog topic in itself), what I was doing in Liberia, why I believe what I believe, etc. etc. etc. They had had alittle too much sweet wine, and were adamant on being in love with me and wanting me to be their wife—I was completely annoyed! We had planned to leave when there was about 15 minutes left, just to avoid any angry fans or possible riots. We ended up staying until the end…the game ended in a tie—1 to 1….probably the most peaceful way for the game to end. After everyone began to file out, Amanda and I decided we should at least see the field, so we headed inside. I saw the field!
We walked home from SKD (15 minute walk), and most Liberians couldn’t believe that the “white people were walking and not driving”. By the time we reached the house, we were told that some people had died at the stadium. The next morning we heard that 9 people had died at the game—the final tally turned out to be 10. Most of the people died from suffocation or from being trampled. The paper also talked about a handrail collapsing on a staircase and people “falling to their deaths”, but I’m pretty certain that is false. I saw the collapsed handrail when I got to the stadium, and there was no commotion around the area or anything. There has been talk that Comium printed more tickets than what the stadium could hold…and also that people had photocopied tickets…not to mention how many people just bribed their way in. Anyway, it’s really sad that people lost their life from spending their Sunday afternoon at a football game. I started thinking about how at home I never show up at Turner Field for a Braves game and think that I might not make it out alive. It’s a pretty crazy thing to think about! There’s another game this Sunday, and supposedly things have been done to prevent over-crowdedness like last time. I’ve also been told that they won’t sell any tickets until the day before, to cut down on counterfeit tickets. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to take another try at seeing a Liberian football game. I’ll let you know!