Sport on TV: Out of Africa comes a Bellamy – Craig, of course, not David
Sunday 12 February 2012
Is there really nothing else going on in the world? The 'Arry and Fabio show led all the news bulletins, then you tune in for the highlights of the African Cup of Nations semi-finals (ITV4, Wednesday) and they're talking about England too. Never mind about Zambia's glorious Copper Bullets, who's going to be next in our tabloids' firing line?
Mark Pougatch admired the poise of Zambia's manager Hervé Renard, who "thinks he's a bit of a cool dude". Could he be a candidate for Capello's job? Sadly it might take the Football Association some time to get around to Zambia in the phone book. Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan...
The FA said they would prefer a homegrown boss. Adding to the surreal atmosphere, the studio guest is Efan Ekoku (20 caps for Nigeria, South London accent). He opines: "An English manager would be foolhardy not to take the job." He played under 'Arry at Bournemouth 20 years ago – but everyone in the English leagues has played for him at some stage, so at least he has a good idea about the talent available, even if some of them may be a bit long in the tooth now. Never mind Paul Scholes, what about a recall for Carlton Palmer?
The Ivory Coast team that lined up against Mali illustrated one of the difficulties with the "England job". Seven of them play in the Premier League, so there isn't a lot of room left for Englishmen to flourish. Zambia have only one player in the top flights of Europe, Emmanuel Mayuka, and he's at Young Boys in Switzerland. Perhaps none of them come to play in England because they think they might get an earful from the big, nasty centre-backs.
So while the FA and the domestic game are in typical disarray, and almost Dickensian claims of racism and fraud dominate the courts, the Zambian game is evidently in decent shape. But don't worry, our missionaries are still spreading the word and instilling our "virtues" into Africa's future – in the shape of none other than Craig Bellamy's African Dream (ITV4, Wednesday).
We're told that Craig is "publicity shy and a very private person", which must be why he made a programme to highlight his charitable work in Sierra Leone. Fortunately for him, no one seems to know who he is, even though he put some £1m into his school, modestly called the Craig Bellamy Football Academy, and his league – the Craig Bellamy League.
Bellamy's assistance is actually doing a lot of good in a war-ravaged country. The league he set up has 80 teams and 2,000 players after only a year, and the only rule is "If you don't go to school, you don't play", which has had a positive effect on truancy rates. Where once children were forced to bear arms, now they can use football as an escape from poverty. They can dream of untold riches in the English leagues and having their faces splashed all over the front page of The Sun.
In fact the lads are rather more level-headed than that. Issa Bangura says: "If I can't be a footballer, I'll be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, those kind of things." Bellamy and his staff, meanwhile, are busy letting their imagination run away with them. His chief executive, Tim Kellow, says: "We are hoping to prevent war ever happening again." That's right, fighting your battles in the court room is the way forward. Perhaps Issa can represent them.
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