In Africa, English football is the game of presidents – and it can be deadly

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame (C) attends the UEFA Champions League quarter final first-leg football match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich at the Arsenal Stadium, in north London, on April 9, 2024. (Photo by Ian Kington / IKIMAGES / AFP)
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IN early April, Arsenal were blowing hot and cold in the English Premier League (EPL). In Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, a club supporter stabbed a colleague who had made fun of Arsenal’s run.

Meluleki Ndlovu, 40, appeared in court last week to face an attempted murder charge.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority, he and a coworker “started to have a discussion about soccer, which was mainly focused on Arsenal Football Club’s performance”.

“The disagreement escalated, and the accused person allegedly stabbed the complainant in the stomach before fleeing the scene.”

A month prior, in a separate incident, also in Zimbabwe, Peter Mhike, 22, killed his brother, Edmore Mhike, 26, after a match between Liverpool and Manchester City ended in a 1-1 draw.

Edmore tried to restrain Peter, who had been throwing stones at Joackim Moyo, 29, after an argument about which team had a better chance to win the match.

Peter then turned on Edmore, struck him on the head, and he died on the spot.

In 2022, a Ghanaian parliamentarian, Isaac Adongo, compared the country’s vice president, Mahamudu Bawumia’s economic management to Manchester United defender Harry Maguire’s poor performances.

Last year, he apologised to Maguire, who he said was “now an important player for Manchester United”.

Adongo’s apology went viral – and Maguire forgave him, saying “MP Issac Adongo’s apology accepted. See you at Old Trafford soon”.

EPL popularity

In his book, The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-first Century, writer David Goldblatt, cited a 2011 survey by Sportmarkt, a betting house.

According to the survey, “72% of Africans were interested in football, 55% watched the EPL, and 39% followed an English team”.

Goldblatt made mention of then president of Botswana, Ian Khama, watching a match between Botswana and Togo, wearing a Manchester United jersey.

Zimbabwe’s late president, Robert Mugabe, once revealed that he was a Chelsea supporter, and another late former head of state, Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, was also a Chelsea supporter.

Earlier this month, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame watched Arsenal from a VIP booth at the Emirates Stadium. It was a Champions League home 0-1 loss to Bayern Munich.

Arsenal’s jersey has “Visit Rwanda” on its sleeve.

According to Arsenal, the partnership is to support Rwanda’s ambition to build its tourism industry.

“The country has been transformed in recent years and Arsenal’s huge following will bring Rwanda into people’s minds in a new and dynamic way,” it said.

EPL Trophy comes to southern Africa

The EPL 2023-24 season is on the home stretch. The title race is between Arsenal and Manchester City, with Liverpool likely to finish third, most odds say.

With that much attention, the EPL trophy is making various stops in southern Africa, just like the FIFA World Cup trophy normally does a few months before the tournament.

Castrol, an EPL sponsor since 2022, brought the trophy to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia for football fans to see it live.

Part of the procession included one of Zimbabwe’s most popular former footballers, Peter Ndlovu.

On 19 August 1992, Ndlovu made history by being the first African footballer to play in the new EPL.

He is also the longest-serving African footballer to play in England – 15 seasons.

His later years were spent in the English Championship, where he played for Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United.

Source: News24