After the first two parts of his Wafu Cup of Nations colour, chaos and connectivity trilogy, Ed Dove concludes his memories of the biennial showpiece with part three.
In part one, we remembered the infamous power cut at the State Lat-Dior, and Liberia coach Robert Lartey’s struggles with his smashed mobile phone.
In part two, attention turned to the pre-tournament flag fiasco, as well as a ‘near miss’ involving a Nigerian assistant lineswoman originally appointed to adjudicate in a Nigeria match.
In this final instalment, crises, conflicts and…connectivity…are again the order of the day.
Some of the players were keen to use the stadium facilities for their own personal end.
I suspect, when Cape Verde’s Janito Carvalho — one of several coaches who brought his players to the stadium for games they weren’t playing in, to sample the atmosphere and to scout their opponents — walked his side into the Stade Lat-Dior, he didn’t expect that one of his team would have plug sockets on the mind.
Tubaroes Azuis goalkeeper Kelvy, something of a latter-day Neville Southall, didn’t have a very eventful tournament.
Being his side’s second-choice stopper reduced him to the role of bystander, although after sauntering into the arena in his aviators, bopping along to Ferro Gaita with his teammates on the way into the stadium, he did help out the team doctor and physio on occasion; carrying ice, carrying the injured Hernani Cardoso on another, and generally seeming like he was enjoying his sojourn in Senegal…without a care in the world.
However, it was a different story when Cape Verde turned up to watch Togo’s First Round game against Nigeria, as keeper Kelvy’s phone battery was in a dire situation.
He had access to the stadium wifi, but with his battery down at 6%, the chance to capitalise on the connectivity was likely to be limited.
“Dove, Dove,” he called me over. “You got charge? Electric?”
“Sure,” I replied, taking his phone. “Do you have the cable?”
Ultimately, I didn’t watch much of the first 15 minutes of the Togo-Super Eagles clash…although a cable was located, and Kelvy did get his phone charged up to 28%, it was enough to pull him through.
Before half-time was up, an Instagram story of Cape Verde’s team — including talisman Nuno Rocha — playing Uno at their base in Diambars had been published on Kelvy’s handle.
I didn’t get much chance to watch much of the second half either, after one of the Wafu chiefs took me for some kind of technician — or IT expert — and commissioned me to ‘fix’ his broken laptop.
It turned out that the laptop wasn’t actually broken, but merely configured in French, something which — considering it had been bought in Senegal just before the tournament — perhaps the Wafu chief ought to have anticipated it.
Allowing teams to come into the stadium to watch other side’s matches from the VIP section produced several memorable moments.
Notably, the Burkina Faso squad squealed with glee and celebrated colourfully when Gambia won a penalty against Ghana, knowing that they would face the winner in the next round.
The vibrancy of their celebrations at the award of the (dubious) spot kick were matched by their deflated glumness as the Scorpions spurned the late lifeline, sending the Black Stars into the next round.
Incidentally, no team appeared to come to see other sides play more than Gambia — an initiative, perhaps, of forward-thinking coach Omar Ceesay — although there were some suspicions that, on one or two occasions, they arrived at the Stade Lat Dior thinking they’d be playing, rather than as mere spectators.
Throughout the crises and the conflicts, the kindly Match Commissioner proved herself to be a reservoir of calm during the power-cut crisis, observing patiently, maintaining her composure, listening rather than volunteering her own opinions.
As the tournament wore on, however, her relaxed demeanour began to appear increasingly like a misplaced complacency, spreading stasis and itchy panic to her subordinates.
Ahead of Niger’s plate quarterfinal against Liberia, just before The Menas arrived at the stadium, the power went out in the underbelly of the stadium.
As Harouna Doula’s side entered their dark, dank dressing room, it was clear that there was a problem, and the importance of the air conditioning to aerate the space became immediately apparent.
36 degrees and 80 percent humidity does that.
With none of the stadium officials immediately reacting — at least not with any kind of urgency — to the developing situation, and the increasingly irate Nigerien officials, in their two-tone orange stash, I called the MC over, after trying — and failing — to get the stadium maintenance manager to focus on an urgent resolution.
“Either they must go back on the bus, where there is air conditioning, or they must be invited to walk around the pitch before their training,” I told her calmly. “They are becoming increasingly hot and bothered…in a very literal sense.”
She seemed unmoved by their plight, but told me that, eventually, the stadium maintenance manager would be around to deal with the connectivity.
I volunteered to go back to the dressing room and reassure them, and she stopped me.
“By the way,” she asked, Nigerien discontent forgotten, “this badge you wear,” she gestured towards my Wafu Cup lapel badge, a gift from Fox Sports, “where do I get one?”
Laid back was one thing, but this was something else altogether…!
I took off my badge and gave it to her, before we were interrupted by a knock at the door, it was Liberia’s team liaison office Reuben.
“We have a problem,” he began, “the Liberia team can’t find the remote control to turn their air conditioning down, and it’s far too cold.”
These are the things people never see, the spectators back at home, those in the arena, the hidden gems that make a tournament experience so unique and so unforgettable.
Writing that, however, the supporters were responsible for one of the more unforgettable moments of the campaign, as the Mali fans managed to smuggle in a live eagle — a tribute to the team, Les Aigles — into the stadium for one of their team’s showdowns.
The eagle, who had been tied to its captor, was subsequently escorted out of the arena and, I understand, released into the wild…much to the chagrin, one suspects, of the local bird population.
Perhaps the quality of the goalkeeping wasn’t always the most convincing, perhaps local supporters didn’t brave the heat as much as had been hoped to watch matches not involving Senegal, and perhaps one or two electrical issues were only solved relatively late in the day.
However, for colour, for character, for chaos, my Wafu Cup was an intoxicating, mesmerising, and thoroughly unforgettable experience…as long as the lights were on, at least.