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Nyala 1 Air Force 0, 31/01/2007 21/03/2007

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

It’s a bit quiet for a Premier League game, given that we’re ten minutes from kick-off. There are folk milling around, but not a crowd by any stretch of the imagination. No overpriced “matchday magazines” either, no burger vans, and no touts. Actually, no ticket vendors of any description, even to service the huddle waiting to purchase tickets for the executive area, nominally the V.I.P.s. But then again this is not Old Trafford, White Hart Lane or even Vicarage Road; it is Addis Ababa, and this is not the bright, shiny FA Premiership, but the Ethiopian Premier League.

I had arrived in East Africa intent on adopting St.George as my Ethiopian side, playing as they do in yellow and red. Also in their favour was their (erstwhile) representation of the brewery that produces Ethiopia’s finest lager – like all the clubs in the sixteen team Premier League, St.George were originally owned and funded by a corporate entity (or government department in some cases). The majority still are.

However my attempts to coerce information about football and fixture lists from a reasonably tolerant native wife yielded the fact that her uncle Welaye is the administrative manager of the Nyala club, owned by the tobacco company that employs him. Suitably, Nyala are bottom of the Ethiopian Premier League, a position with which I find it easy enough to empathise. Colours (white and a bit of blue – no orange, fortunately) thus nailed to the mast.

The ticket vendor finally shows up, and 30 Birr (around £2) is enough to gain me entry to the posh seats. The stadium in Addis is a large concrete bowl dating from the 1950s, complete with athletics track. Its capacity is around 40,000, of which a good 39,500 is redundant today. One obvious question is why this game is being played mid-afternoon on a weekday, to which no entirely satisfactory answer is forthcoming… although the fact that this stadium is shared by no fewer than five of the sixteen Premier League sides no doubt provokes some logistical issues.

Evidence of another challenge besetting the clubs of the Ethiopian Premier League is provided by a youngster indolently kicking a tennis ball around outside the ground. He is wearing a relatively faithful Manchester United replica shirt (in common with so many in Addis, Park Ji Sung’s name adorns it – something I never quite worked out), along with Arsenal replica shorts. Our Premiership is revered unquestioningly by an Ethiopian public who enjoy blanket coverage on national television. Cristiano Ronaldo’s face stares blankly from the back window of half of the taxi vans that rattle around Addis’s increasingly asphalted roads, and if you ask someone who they support, they’ll respond with “Arsenal”, “Manchester United” or “Chelsea” before an Ethiopian team is mentioned.

The apparent indifference to the national league may be due in some degree to disaffection with a national side that disappointed hugely in the recent East and Central African Championships, staged in Ethiopia at the end of last year. Even prior to this development however, as Welaye concedes, if a match was to clash with Premiership coverage the stadium would be completely empty, save for club staff.

Nyala are playing Air Force, whose name tells you all you need to know, and betray all the characteristics of a side with no confidence… signs which are largely independent of the standard or location of the competition. Poor decision making, panicky defending, and very little in the way of risk taking. Air Force are hardly pulling up trees themselves, just a couple of places above their hosts in the table, but look more purposeful and conscious of the havoc they can inflict. Nyala look neat in their build up, but will run into blind alleys before a chance can be created leaving Air Force to break… and the penetration that Nyala make look impossible, Air Force are achieving painfully easily.

A Nyala midfielder plays a neat through ball, which comes to nothing but provokes a smattering of inattentive applause anyway. The atmosphere is peculiarly indifferent, as if the entertainment is a temporary distraction afforded to onlookers waiting for a bus. Attention begins to wander… and a pattern in the advertising hoardings is immediately apparent, with one soft drinks brand particularly dominant. This reflects the input of Sheikh Mohammed Aboud Al Amoudi, the Saudi/Ethiopian benefactor both of Ethiopian sport in general, and of St.George in particular. His business interests include both the national franchise of said soft drink, and of the most ostentatious hotel in Addis Ababa, as well, I am advised, as pretty much every company renting a hoarding at the ground. There is even a large, prominent placard in his honour, although it is not clear whether “Long Live Al Amoudi” is a tribute from a grateful sport, or a less typical form of sponsorship.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, the game meanders onwards. The biggest contrast to the English Premiership, let alone to the relative hurly-burly of the Championship, is the lack of closing down. At 2500 metres above sea level it’s not hard to sympathise, but you do feel that slightly better movement off the ball would pay rapid dividend. As it is, Nyala are gaining a foothold, and confidence with it. Raids down the right are looking promising, and from one such assault the winger, presented with little in the way of fruitful alternative, skins his fullback who hacks him indiscreetly in passing before turning to the official with outstretched palms, the universal response of such miscreants. It’s still goalless as the referee – assisted, incidentally, by female assistant and fourth official – blows for the interval, but one suspects that the Nyala camp might be the happier.

At the break I am introduced to the gentleman on my right, whose serene manner and leather jacket had already betrayed him as being of a certain standing. He is the president of St.George, it transpires, and I am suddenly grateful for my cursory pre-trip research which permits me to commiserate with my neighbour over St.George’s scurrilous treatment at the hands of Hearts of Oak during qualifying for last season’s African Champions’ League. Having won the home leg 4-0, according to my research, St.George travelled to Ghana for the return only to be treated so appallingly that they withdrew and forfeited the tie. Judging from the visible darkening of the club president’s expression, I deduce that all has not been forgiven.

There is, however, seemingly a cordial understanding between Nyala and St.George, whose officials relax together. “We share experiences and help each other”, I am advised. “We are not rivals”. Not so St.George and Coffee; when Addis’ big two meet the stadium will be far busier, and security necessarily ramped up.

The second half begins. There’s an odd lack of consistency in the skills on show that’s difficult to understand; a deft, insightful flick will win a player time and space, and he’ll then miscontrol the ball and let it roll into touch.Air Force have another good spell, and Nyala’s one consistently impressive and confident performer, their goalkeeper, earns his corn by clawing a fierce drive out of the top corner. The keeper is Ghanaian, Welaye reports, and his making his debut. “We have problems with goalkeepers in Ethiopia”, he confesses. There’s certainly a contrast here; the Ghanaian is comfortably the largest man on the pitch, whereas his opposite number is some way short of six foot.

Nyala’s coach, also clad in a leather jacket that the climate doesn’t really demand, barks instructions. His side respond by getting hold of the game again, although I can’t help but feel that they aren’t helped by a ponderous insistence in attacking down the left, where the right-footed winger is making a series of bad decisions. When the breakthrough comes, somewhat inevitably, it’s down the opposite flank… a quick break, a fine delivery and a fierce header on the run that flies past a helpless goalkeeper. Suddenly the crowd is animated, and the universal language of going bonkers at a late winner is being spoken fluently, not least by Welaye. To my right, the St.George president applauds politely; the relevance to his club at the business end of the table is limited.

Nyala remain rooted to the bottom despite the result; the team’s win bonus is the equivalent of slightly over £20 a head. It seems a crying shame that, whatever the gulf in standard and mumblings of corruption notwithstanding, local interest in the domestic competition in a football-mad country is deflected instead at the Premiership, whose geographical and financial distance afford it a lustre that almost transport it to the echelons that supporting hype would have you believe. I don’t doubt that killing the game in East Africa wasn’t the plan… after all, whoever is profiting from the roaring trade in inattentive replica kit it’s unlikely to be the coffers of the relevant clubs. But such is the effect, and it leaves the likes of Nyala – and even St.George – suffering even more acutely from competition with United, Arsenal and the rest than their nearer neighbours in the Football League.


1. MikeP - 29/03/2007

Great report, Matt. Interesting insight into the workings of African football.

2. Tazabeo - 02/04/2007

Dear Sir,
Thank you for an interesting article. There is so much that can be done to make the game much lively. But but …. I’m a staunt supporter of St.George since my childhood. My full support goes to team leaders that are trying to build the team to reach at least an “African football level”. Hope the’ll make a breakthrough. As for the national team God knows what they are up to.

Tazabeo from Sweden

3. Dabo Bela - 04/04/2007

I used to play for Mebrat youth team about 20 years ago and i check up on Ethiopian football at http://www.ethiosports.com at least once a week from the UK where i now live. When ever i go to the website what I look for is news on a talented Ethiopian footballer who would make it in Europe. My dream used to be to see the Ethiopian football team succeed and win thing but since i know that won’t happen in my life time or the next few centuries, i now look for an Ethiopian player to make it and play for one of the big, medium or even small clubs in Europe and i hope someone like that comes along soon.

When i was growing up, Ethiopia was football mad. We played before school started. During the morning 15min break. After lunch. After school and at weekends. It was all football for me. This tells you how much Ethiopians love football. This tells you that we have talented footballers. We introduced football to the rest of Africa for crying out loud but why are we in the state we are now?. Where is it going wrong. For me, the problem is with the Ethiopian Federation as well as the Government.

– The federation is to blame for all the corruption that took place and continue to do so. Their decision making has been ludicrous to say the least. The government should force all the old farts out and get some passionate young uns.

– The government should also stop building houses and towers where kids once played football for hours. The last time i went to Ethio, i could not believe all the football filed’s we once played
football on ar no longer there. Houses have been built on them. Kids nowadays can not play football like we did.

The fact of the matter is that we Ethiopians love football but we have people running the sport who are only interested in filling up their pockets. They don’t care that they have ruined the dreams of so many. I for one no longer want us to enter any football completion as we are being made a laughing stock for the rest of the world. We were once the giants in the game and people who served and run the ethiopian federation should be shot dead by the people of ethiopia for brining us down to the level we are. For making us a laughing stock for foreign journalists. The last report i read about Ethiopian football by forign journalist concluded by saying, Ethiopian football is just like their Calendar. 8 years behind. I was so angry at him for saying that at the time. This is going back a few years now. I now know that he was actually being kind to us. We are not 8 years behind. We are 88 years behind.

4. Alemayehu - 04/04/2007

How can you play in a empty Stadium ?

Foot ball without its Fun ? its not Football.


From London

5. Ronaldo - 09/04/2007

I would not pay a dime for Ethiopian soccer. Prefer to watch an English Soccer in one of the restaurants/bars.

6. Magic Benson - 17/04/2007

football is football is not about fans. you can play without any fans but still have the joy of the game. so empty stadium dont matter what matter is the players are safe and that they are enjoying what they are doing.

7. ADAM - 20/04/2007

The best ever ethiopian team is ”ETHIOPIAN COFFEE”


8. unknown - 21/04/2007

I don’t understand Ethiopian football.The reason i said that beacuse when addis ababa team play other than bone and st,g,how come there are no fan for other teams in addis ababa like banks and other teams.I think that is the reason why Ethiopian football is not growing so fast.if we cheer them like other two teams,they also can be good and we can have a good national team

9. unknown - 21/04/2007


10. zeleykun - 10/05/2007

i am so surpreised how the football fiel looks like .
there is no wonder why the football players have no motto to be wonderfull players like camerun or nigeria .tzhe football have began in our home land much more years back than the new comers like keniya or camerun like brundi or even for that matter south afric a players .the gove.has no atetention to develop the football carrer to bring in high format.
please let the rich man like alamudi think about the stadium lookout .its nothing if you see how the europeans build thier stadium .the new munchen arena stadium it seems ufo .my GOd i am so proud for our players even if they are playing in small field like teen agers make a traning.
God bless you all make an effert for such develop

11. Ahmed - 22/05/2007

Haw Ethiopian Kids Team going If Theories Yang Team One Day We Come to Home Country We Play U-13 U-14 U-15 and Seiners Team Can send me information Please Thanks.

12. ASRAT ABEBE ALEM - 26/06/2007

Gentile nazionale di calcio Etiopia mi chiamo ASRAT ABEBE ALEM sono nato in ETIOPIA il 17/07/1988 a SHOA e vivo in ITALIA torino dove gioco a calcio.IL motivo del mio contatto è per chiedervi un provino presso la mia nazionale di nascita…aspetto una risposta distinti saluti…ASRAT ABEBE ALEM

13. hana - 28/09/2007

oh i love ethiopian national team player espesecialy eepco team i like them they are enjoing what they are doing.
God blees ethiopian soccer thank you.

14. petros - 29/04/2008

ethiopia foot ball federation has to run for the forth_going delimin ation dark and bad you do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

15. Yeshu - 25/08/2008

Bring back Kassaye Arage(Engineer) , people will be back then! I know i will.

16. Tewodros - 10/12/2008

Hey my name is Tewodros,i live in san jose califorina u.s.a. and also a student at westvalley college, and i play for the san jose ambesa soccer club, and we have so many people come and watch are games, whats the proplem with the ethiopian soccer club(EPL)? you guys need help. we want to see our cunitry in te african cup of natin and in the world cup some day.

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