Where there’s a will there’s a way. And when it comes to millions of boys the world over, from Rio slums to African villages, when it comes to soccer there is a way they will play no matter how poor or
Or when it comes to a group of youths in Monrovia, no matter their disabilities.
Most of the lads in the group of about 22, ranging in age from 15 to 20, were left disabled after contracting polio when young.
After intense vaccination campaigns Liberia was declared polio-free in 2006 with World Health Organisation statistics showing no cases for 2005, but the disease, which affects mostly children under five, re-emerged in recent years in remote communities, partly attributed to an inflow of refugees from violence in bordering countries and well as cases stemming from Nigeria, which is still endemic for polio. NGOs such as Unicef and Merlin as well the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare continue efforts through vaccination campaigns to keep the disease at bay.
Polio is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system, leaving some of those infected with paralysis of limbs. The football lads use wheelchairs but many can get along using crutches and when they play by running on all fours, dragging their legs behind them. They enjoy wheelchair racing too and proudly show their picture of them with their medals taken after the inaugural Liberian marathon and fun run last year.
Their style of soccer is rather special. Certainly when you can’t use your feet there has to be some rule changes, such as allowing use of hands. And they are good, bending that ball with the best of them. Watching them play you realise that even some able bodied players would be hard put to keep up.
There are other challenges besides disability. The small vacant lot near Mamba Point that they practise on is hard and ridden with stones and only a few of them have boots. “He was a best player in that tournament we had,” Samula Dennis proudly says of Saye Wehyee, who neatly swings his legs around to pass, setting up an easy shot at goal for his team mate, then tsks sadly when he notices Saye’s skin-torn feet.
They had an organised tournament on flat level of beach once with help from an NGO and would love to experience such a tournament again if they could get support to do so. Until then they keep playing and practising the game loved the world over, dreaming like many boys of that perfect goal.