How Premier is Sierra Leone’s Premier League?

February 28, 2011
National League Central
by CST 13

About four years back, the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) rejuvenated the Premier League that was first won by FC Kallon. However, even the FA and football clubs knew at that time that the league was nowhere premier. It was only a few years after the war came to an end, most of the country’s football talent had left the country and professional leagues had been non-existent for some time.
But as the league progressed, some positive fruits were being yielded as two years ago Sierra Leone had something to smile about when FC Kallon and Ports Authority made some encouraging impact on the continent’s two prestigious competitions; the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup. The following year, there was another setback that saw the SLFA failing to meet the CAF deadline in submitting the qualifying teams for the CAF competitions. At the end, club football suffered another setback as the country missed out on another important chance to augment confidence in the game; Sierra Leonean clubs were not part of any club competition last season.
At the start of this year it seems as if another impasse was in the air as a protracted delay to the start of another Premiership season was about to cripple the progress of the game once more. Previous sponsor, Africell, refused to sponsor the league on the pretext that the deal was not yielding any dividend for them as the National Stadium was decorated with the blue and white colour and logo of a rival company, Comium.  
On the other hand, Comium was refusing to give a package exceeding 80 Million Leones for the Premiership sponsorship claiming that they had a contract with the Stadium Management to advertise at the National Stadium for the next four years. Comium did not budge in, so at the end they were forced to make a joint sponsorship deal that saw four other companies combining with Comium to sponsor the league.
The result of that standoff was that since time was not enough for the league to meet CAF’s deadline to register the clubs for continental competitions. The Premier League Board and teams decided to consent to only one leg games to be played.
So teams in this season league will not be playing home and away, they will only play one-legged ties. At first this arrangement was questioned by some who queried the rationale of playing such a seemingly easy mode in the top league. But who wants to miss the vital continental competitions? No one, so the clubs welcomed it.
Nevertheless, a league that started in somehow chaotic and bleak circumstances this season is surprisingly taking a huge momentum that has not been seen for decades. The crowds are returning, it is surprising to note that amidst all the negative publicity the game of football had been getting after the acrimonious outcome of last year’s SLFA presidential elections and the bitter fall out, many Sierra Leoneans are proudly turning out to watch their local teams play.
At a recent match between FC Kallon and Mighty Blackpool, the atmosphere was so charged, that I must confess I had not witnessed that scene at the National Stadium for a very long time. The main bowl arena was almost filled and the atmosphere fitting for a top league competition, although the match ended in a 0-0 draw there was much drama in the match to keep the fans alive up to ninety minutes.
Matches have not only been drawing huge crowds, but has also been creating talking point across the nation, recently when table-toppers, East End Lions met with Ports Authority in a capacity filled crowd at the National Stadium, there was much discussion everywhere as to whether Premiership top scorer (EE Lions Mohamed ‘Drogba’ Kabia) disallowed goal was a fair decision. But amidst this rising euphoria, has the level and quality of players improved? That was the question I put to new SLFA spokesperson, Sorie Ibrahim Sesay who said he surely thinks there has been an improvement in the quality of the game as indicated by the very tight matches we have been getting and the minimal points secured by the top teams.
Mohamed ‘Drogba’ Kabia, the current top scorer in the league told Sierra Eye that he believes the league has improved and there is a very tough competition in all matches being played this season because everyone is aware that there could be no second chance, as there are only one-legged ties to be played. “There is no second chance, that I believe has instilled a tough competitive spirit in us,” said Mohamed ‘Drogba’.
However, Abdul Rahman Swarray, a renowned sport analyst and SLAJ Vice President thinks that there is dearth of quality players in the league and that he said is visible in the lack of quality plays and goals scored in the league. Swarray recommended that there should be a new approach by local clubs in grooming new breeds of young players to fill the current void in the nation’s top league.
Osman ‘Mala’ Sesay, a striker for Mount Aureol Galaxy acknowledged that there is a drop in the level of quality players but he said that is not the only problem. Pointing out that there is also lack of incentives in the past that tend to lower the moral of players in giving 100% to the game. “There were incidents in the past when players have been injured and clubs had failed to adequately offer medical advice, so that has a negative effect on the mindset of players. But now it’s quite different as we are not only paid monthly but also given necessary medical care when needed, I am currently injured, but I’m happy to be receiving medical care,” said Osman.
East End Lions Welfare Officer, Alimamy Kamara is of the belief that progress has been made by clubs and the new Premier League Board; “Now most teams have been paying their players and seeking their wellbeing, we are optimistic that as the majority of fans continue to return the league can progress and local football will once more be the main focus in every corner of the country as it once was,” said Kamara.
For this current league each club received about Le 4 million, from the Premier League Board at the start, and in addition to that there is also the daily gate taking income and variety of sponsorship deals some clubs have begun to enter with some companies. Nevertheless, incomes generated by many clubs are still very low and most clubs are bankrolled by private citizens who used their personal money to sponsor clubs, however, if Sierra Leone football is to progress clubs should seek more dynamic and dependable ways of securing sponsorship to enhance the level of the game.
Recently, the Premier League Board spokesperson, Durosimi Thomos told CTN Sport that clubs should not rely solely on the Board and the FA for financial support, he called on clubs to search for new ways to solicit funding. He admonished clubs to be self sufficient and said that at the top flight of football they are not expecting any group of people to just come up with what he referred to as “Cassava Leaves United” and expect the football authorities to bankroll them.
The positive thing about this year’s league is that there have been positive tangible changes in the league such as improvements in the stadium facilities, enhanced securities for players and match officials. A comprehensive gate taking sharing agreement that saw clubs getting around 40% each from each match, perhaps the best changes has been the time adjustments that now have a flexible fixture time list for premiership matches that don’t collide with those of international fixtures, such as the English Premier League. So now most games play at 7 pm local time, and that means that many football lovers can afford to watch their favourite English premiership matches and in the evening go to their local premiership matches.
“I was very delighted when I learnt that the time for the matches has been shifted to avoid clash with the English premiership matches, as a Manchester United fan I would find it very hard to sacrifice watching United just to watch my local team Ports Authority play. However, now I can afford to watch both at different times,” said Hashimi Savage.
Another key to the heightened public interest has been the high media focus on the league, “We are very impressed with some of the radio stations and newspaper houses constant coverage of the league, what impresses me most is the post match report and pre match preview most of the radio stations do, that I think has brought the league to the doorsteps of the majority of Sierra Leoneans, there is now relatively less talk of European football and more and more sport programmes now focus on local sports,” said Chernoh Musa, FC Kallon Assistant Manager.
Who has the credit for some of the conspicuous changes that have been made? According to a radio football analyst, Abdul Fofanah, the new the Premier League Board has created the groundwork for a very effective league structure that is now yielding some positive results.
At the historic inauguration of the Premier League Board some few months ago, the Chairman of the Board, former Minister of Labour and Industrial Estate, Alpha Timbo promised they will work earnestly to ensure they upgrade the level of the nation’s top league and now it seems as if they are living up to that promise. That has seen them getting the praises of even the fans; “A board with Mr. Alpha Timbo as its head and people like Isha Tejan Cole, Isaac Massaquoi, Durosimi Thomos and Saidu Mansaray, who know and have passion for the game coupled with the business oriented acumen of Bah, I believe the FA this year will record an even more remarkable success next year if they are allowed to continue their good work,” said Ibrahim Jabbie, a staunch Central Parade fan.
Notwithstanding some of these

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