Consider this. Walking around with the latest Blackberry is like having the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in your back pocket. How liberating is that? Last week for fun I quoted some Rolling Stones lyrics to characterise our new target man in attack. I know not a thing of comrade Pogrebnyak's character. He may be a peace-loving Sufi with a penchant for pressing flowers and making jam. But the Stones song fitted his image. So for fun I challenged you dear readers to identify the lyrics. Now this kind of harmless pursuit in the old days might have led you into a few rewarding minutes of social engagement. You ask your friends, maybe ring someone up. This might lead you into wanting to explore the song in question. Another round of calls to track down the album or borrow it. It's all just a bit of fun. But had you never heard of 'Sympathy For the Devill' and were curious to learn, there would have been some social interaction for you. Now we just look it up on the internet. In seconds you have what you want. Instant gratification. This googling for information has all but ruined any kind of cerebral prize redemption competition, while from my own circles it is the bane of the pub quiz circuit with too many teams cheating under their coats, all for the sake of maybe £50 or a bottle of wine. I've almost come to blows with respectable old pensioners being too blatant with their mobiles below the table. Well, that's progress.
We would all consider knowledge to be an empowering tool, though freedom of will means we choose to deal in it as we see fit. Aid agencies and world leaders have assumed feeding the world's hungry to be our planet's number one task for the past 50 years. Famine can be a two edged sword. Dare I suggest a bigger tragedy for many in both developed and third world countries is an appetite for learning that cannot be met.
Travel around Africa and charities will proudly show you areas where drought and epidemic disease have been eradicated, crops and herds get husbanded, communities are stable and tolerable rules of law hold sway. Life may be far from perfect and there's a degree of deprivation us soft Westerners might struggle with, five mile trecks both ways for fresh daily water aint no joke, but these people are getting along. No continent has more mobile phones per head of population than Africa, more even than the tiger economies of Asia.
But what is damnably frustrating, and I've seen it at close quarters, is to come across a village school with youngsters turned out bright as a button, being presented to the travelling white journalist. Some chatter excitedly, many can be shy and reticent initially, curiosity eventually gets the better of them, and Africans, young or old, often like to hold your hand. In the classroom things can be very basic. The few text books are shared around. Kids are lucky to have their own biro. They will talk of being footballers, inevitably, or engineers, teachers, working for the government in the capital. They'd like to make higher education, very few will have the money to do so. They see TV, know from the internet what's out there, can read and write, but all their dreams and ambition will be throttled by lack of opportunity and any means to realise their potential. It's not baubles or football boots they really want from you. It's books.
As another African Cup of Nations passes my mind drifts back to some of my happiest memories reporting on the game from Africa. Didier Drogba has been on the BBC today talking about his foundation in Ivory Coast. Patrick Viera has his own project going in Senegal, George Weah works tirelessly too, as do very many other top professionals who made the grade out of Africa. They know how things are back home in the teeming slums of Abidjan, Dakar and Lagos, and appreciate all too well what the largesse of our major European leagues has done for their lives.
Where crowds gather in Africa, things quickly get volatile. An excitable but essentially good-natured bunch of football fans roistering around the streets post match can look intimidating to a rookie cop with his young finger on the trigger of an AK-47. I've seen essentially good natured crowds whipped back from the kerbside with flailing batons just because some Presidential limo came barrelling up the avenue. Or because 500 Africans all decided they were getting into the same two car train at the same time regardless. Leaving the stadium once after home side Burkina Faso had suprisingly made the semis my 'press car' - an ancient Peugeot containing our full crew compliment of seven, was engulfed by the ecstatic home supporters. Swamped by the human tide on the city perimeter in the black night the streets belonged to the mob. Ninety minutes after the game, the police were all back in their barracks. Marooned in the jam we were alongside an army bus carrying the on-pitch military band, stuck like us. As forward motion was impossible the musicians climbed onto the roof of the bus and the band struck up! Celebrations intensified, the Peugeot got bounced, rocked and water bombed as grinning faces pressed themselves to the glass. I now knew what the Beatles went through! We feebly waved our little Burkinabe flag while mouthing 'Allez les Etalons" for all we were worth, and came through it - very shaken. The Piccadilly line down to Hammersmith was never like this.
The month I spent in Ouagadougou in 1998 was perhaps the most intense and exciting of my life. You'll have to wait for the memoires. I can sum up my overall experience though with this from the day of departure. As every traveller knows, in Africa he will be accosted by armies of souvenir hawkers, beggars, pedlars, cripples, tradesmen and hustlers. Our hotel manager was ferocious in keeping them all away from his lobby. They therefore pitched camp across the street, where they stayed day and night for 30 days. In no time they knew our names and who we were working for. They had no interest in match tickets oddly enough - I guess their days had to be devoted exclusively to hustling. Me being me, I used to chat and banter with all of them, young kids mostly, and all seemed to particularly want my broadcast logo-ed t-shirt or baseball cap. 'Fin de tournoi' was my stock response to all this pestering.
Hmm. At breakfast on the final day my media colleagues informed me with a smirk at breakfast around 70 kids were lined up in front of the hotel waiting for 'Mr Philip' to come out with their gifts. Now was I going to sweep past them with a haughty wave in my taxi en route to the airport or sidle out the back way? It was now a question of honour. I could not disappoint them. Journos at big tournaments all lap up stuff known colloquially as 'bung.' What's the bung like this year? will be heard among the press corps at Augusta, the London Olympics and Euro 2012, and countless other sporting events in the calendar. The 'bung' is one up from complimentary hotel stuff but the perceived value is roughly the same. How shallow we all are, to have our heads turned by some logoed pens ("ooh, my kids will love these"), some slim little laptop case, a bunch of branded leisureware, golf umbrellas, key fobs, ties, watches, binoculars, sun-glasses...the trinkets go on and on. And yes, some I'm still using twenty years on myself. "My putter? Oh, got it from the Mizuno truck at St. Andrews 1990...yes, had Trevino's signature on the grip but it wore off". How very blase ...easy come easy go.
Those despicable journos. Don't they get enough perks? So many snide remarks in Atlanta 'cause they got sick guzzling all that complimentary Coke. The company I worked for on the '98 African Nations Cup (let's not mention them) had more than a few low-lifes in the ranks. Let's say they viewed the hosting nation in another light to me. We were on a different cultural plane. While our crew were packing up I went round the rooms blagging every t-shirt, sun visor, ball pen, towel and holdall I could get my hands on. All my 'friends' on the street got something at least.
Yes, it's not on a par with Mother Theresa I know. But here's the bit that matters. Our chef de mission who was good at hosting banquets and not much else, only had a stash of footballs in his room. "What are you doing with those?" I asked. "Er, I forgot about them, so they're going back to HQ with the gear." Oh no they weren't. Five went to schools and orphanages (they sent me a team photo) that morning and heading for the airport I still had one pristine football in the back of the Peugeot to give away. Opposite the airport a massive kickabout was taking place on wasteland, probably 30-a-side. I strolled over and chatted to them about football and their national side. Their 'ball' was a bound and tattered collection of rags. I asked the biggest guy there if they'd like a new football. He grinned, followed me to the car and I handed it over. His eyes naurally lit up, it took a second or two for it to sink in, then he roared across the dirt holding it above his head and hollering. Something strange then happened. Burkinabe people are renowned in West Africa for their manners and politeness. The group gathered around the big fella, then turned and bore down on the car. Did they want more plunder? No. Before I knew it I was swept up and carried aloft by the kids around their improvised pitch.
Good job they didn't ask me to go in goal, that earth was rock hard.
I seem to have used a thousand words of anecdote attempting to get to the point of this blog. Sorry about that. Blame it on the blank weekend with no Fulham action. Can we Fulham followers utilise the internet and the power of social networking to make things happen? Let's find out.
If I were to ask how many out there would like to purchase a unique DVD tribute to the greatest US footballer ever to pull on the Fulham jersey, none other than an official and FFC-backed video of Clint Dempsey's career, with all his goals and career highights, exclusive interviews and an intimate personal look into his London lifestyle, I suspect my inbox would crash in no time. That's pitching to the converted. But please hold fire on that.
Here's the deal. Since the end of last season I have been negotiating with Clint's agent and the club to bring out the ultimate salute to Deuce on DVD. I cannot do this independently with the club's blessing, any project goes through the official supplier to FFC of such material. That's a contractual thing and we have no problem with that. The production firm are interested, we've met up and costed the project. To go into production we need a guaranteed pre-sale order from the States of 2,000 units. Fulham have other products on the shelf and are cautious about pre-ordering above 500 units.
My personal opinion is that with Clint at the peak of his career now is the time for a DVD profile encompassing his 5 year Fulham career, along with his exploits for TeamUSA, and a record of all his goals down the years. But we need the numbers to add up. The intention of this posting is therefore to ask all our Stateside followers to consider who or how we get to that 2,000 pre-shipping guarantee? This I guess can best be done through one of the US Fulham web sites or any FFC followers with a commercial interest/business/knowledge of the DVD distribution business. All I can ask is, get trending, tweeting, FB messaging or canvassing support and let's turn the 'Clint Dempsey project' from dream into reality.
Can we do it? Serious entrepreneurs please make contact. The production team is good to go.