Footballer or fighter? Identity and reinvention in Liberia.

Returning to Liberia to interview members of a grassroots football team 15 years after their founding, I’ve found that many details I previously took to be solid truths are not so certain.

Oh, those Russians…

Viewed dispassionately, the Liberian civil war was an opportunity for many young people to improve their lives economically. At the same time, Liberia had a growing reputation for football excellence based on George Weah and other African stars beginning to break through in Europe, and many boys also saw that as a way up and out

As long as the fighting lasted you could be General Rambo or Frisky Rebel, just as you could be Amokachi, Cafu or Chilavert at least for 90 minutes.

So in both football and fighting, young men adopted alter egos that gave them the confidence to succeed in new roles. But failure to change their prospects with either the ball or the bullet, however, meant they would have to revert to their original personae.

While a fighter might actually have sought to return to a former identity to make life easier after the hostilities ended, for a footballer, going back to an original identity and the lower status that went with it could be a tough blow psychologically and a recurring stigma socially.

 

I have been interviewing for a short documentary film about Millennium Stars FC, a grassroots team from Liberia. It will explore issues of identity, hope and despair, poverty and the possible ways out of it, and the various applications for the game of football from peace-builder to dream-shatterer.

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