CAMEROONIAN footballing legend, Samuel Eto’o flew into Johannesburg last month to lend his support as one of the ambassadors for Castle Lager’s launch of Africa’s largest social football league.
The Antalyaspor of Turkey’s ball artist joined five other fellow ambassadors in the persons of Tanzania’s Ivo Kapunda, Zambia’s Christopher Katongo, Zimbabwe’s Tinashe Nengomasha, Swaziland’s Siza Dlamini and Lesotho’s Lehlohonolo Seema, at a high profile media launch at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.
Accompanied by his easy-on-the-eye Cote D’Ivore wife, Georgette and interpreter, Alassane Ndour, the 36 year old sporting icon with one of the excruciatingly enviable resume which can be claimed by any human alive, was an instant hit with members of the fourth estate as they clamoured for his acquaintance from the moment he stepped into the venue of the launch.
A smattering of Francophone media practitioners unabashedly, like star-struck schoolboys, went out of their way to ingratiate themselves to him as they hugged, shook hands and spoke French with him.
A truly continental source of pride in a part of the globe where politicians appear to collective and deliberately lack no empathy for civil society, Eto’o, together with newly-minted soccer star-turned Liberian statesman, George Opong Weah – are latter day sources of inspiration and dear hope, in spite of their relatively youth!
A four-time claimant of the African Footballer of the Year and a three-time UEFA Champions League victor who has participated in three FIFA World Cup finals and lifted the CAF Africa Nations Cup on more than one occasion with his native Cameroon – the West African household name looked down at the gathered role-players through the window of a holding area before being called to the stage for the launch and might had spotted a large banner of a deodorant brand featuring current players from his former outfit, Chelsea, unfurled across the outskirt of the Wanderers cricket stadium directly opposite the eight, 5-a-side pitches of the Discovery Soccer Park, and inscribed with the unmistakable payoff lines: In high pressure moments, Shield won’t let you down.
The former Majorca, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Internazionale de Milano and Chelsea FC marksman’s CV to date attest of a talent who appreciated societal classes’ hard earned shekels – enough to treat their indulgences with flights of fancy on any footballing field his talented physic has ever permeated.
The impulsively-giggling SABC 1 Sport @ 10 presenter, Thomas Mlambo, as usual the perpetual programme director at such events, extorted a hearty Nguni pleasantry of, “sawubona South Africa!” from the superstar – upon having asked after the status of his relationship with this country.
Describing former Bafana Bafana playmaker, Theophilus Doctor Khumalo as the best player South Africa has ever produced [in spite of never ever having lined-up against him] – Eto’o explained that he saw lending his ambassadorial weight to the initiative as a way of reminding young people to keep dreaming.
Aptly for the nature of the sporting code in question, he added that he had in the past partook in the 5-a-side format and with his interpreter breaking down his French, went on to let slip that, despite playing the role of the perennial scourge of the last lines of defence on the soccer field – his best friend in the sport is erstwhile Barcelona goalkeeper, Victor Valdez.
With sporting personalities such as the proclaimed “heavyweight of sport humour”, Thapelo Tips, a.k.a. “Shampoonizer”, ace photographer, Lefty Shivambu, Thomas “TK” Kwenaite, Yeye Letsholonyane, amongst familiar others, present – Mlambo also extracted from ambassador, Nengomasha the reply that football had enabled professional Zimbabwean players to financially take care of their families, in spite of more than a decade of economic suppression brought to bear by the shenanigans of his country’s politics.
Another ambassador, former Bloemfontein Celtic skipper and Lesotho citizen, Lehlohonolo Seema, expressed his wish that a few of his countrymen [were they to emerge victorious at the conclusion of a competition which will offer fans a trip to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia] could get to experience representing the mountain kingdom [albeit not in the form of a national football team] at the upcoming global showpiece.
Dubbed the continent’s biggest 5-a-side tourney to be played in 6 countries, fans across Africa will not only represent their country in a competition penciled in from the beginning of February to the end of May 2018, but afford them to also utilize their skills to score a trip to the FIFA World Cup in Russia!
Castle Lager Brand Director, Vaughn Croeser, who handed Eto’o a symbolic number 9 jersey on the venue podium to pose for photographers with, offered that the beer brand had always fortified bond of friendship – pointing out his entity’s belief that social football was an ideal platform to sustain significant societal interactions.
Open to players from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia and Tanzania, the CASTLE AFRICA 5s tournament offers them to form 5-a-side teams with friends for the purpose of playing the beautiful game, whilst sharing a round of the friendship brew!
Teams have to register for playoffs in their respective countries for the playoffs in February. Country winners will be flown to the Zambian capital of Lusaka for the finals.
Five-a-side football has grown immensely in recent times and multitudes participate in the thrill-a-minute, high-tempo game.
At Discovery Soccer Park, whilst Eto’o and his interpreter, Ndour, fielded interviews with an unending queue of media houses and whilst his wife, glamorous but casually dressed in a military fatigue jacket and colourful shades looked on from a vantage distance on proceedings – passionate venue manager, Paddy Murphy rallied media teams across the eight turfs of the park to get on with it, for 15 minutes of exhilaration.
With a technical duo calibrating coordinates to a drone set before letting it up and away on a filming sortie across the playing area, Murphy, over a microphone and audible enough for others around to heed the implication of his repeated warning – reminded teams of penalties entailing culprits forfeiting a goal for every two minutes they were not already on the field of play.
From a fellow media practitioner perspective, it was disappointing to note a section of society which ought to know better, standing up other teams already on the pitch.
That justifiably resulted in most games playing out for much less than the allotted duration. Although a contest meant for amateurs, former Orlando Pirates midfielder, Benedict “Tso” Vilakazi was spotted enthusiastically running up and down one of the fields whilst mixing it up with perspiring and heavily panting members of the fourth estate!
They were fortunate that since this was a launch solely for their benefit and one sponsored by a beverage brand – cold brown bottles containing alcoholic refreshments with the world-renown slogan: It all comes together with a Castle – awaited most of their heaving lot at the conclusion of the symbolic runs-out!
Should consumers wish to be part of the CASTLE AFRICA 5s and stand the chance to win a trip to the FIFA World Cup in Russia, they simply have to purchase six Castle Lagers to share with five friends, complete an entry form and compete in their local 5-a-side tournament.
Entries will close on the 24th March 2018.