By KABS KANU :
DO PEOPLE KNOW THAT SIERRA LEONE AT ONE TIME HAD ARSENAL AND IT WAS ONE OF THE GIANTS OF OUR SOCCER ?
‘Arsenal The Gunners massacre Blackpool .’
If you read that headline in the newspapers now , you would only think they are writing about the English Premier League. Arsenal The Gunners are entrenched as one of the Giants of English soccer.
Well, swallow this. If such a headline appeared in a Sierra Leonean newspaper in the late 1950s and 1960s, you did not necessarily think it was about English football , because Sierra Leone too had Arsenal, and it was one of the leading teams in our country. When I grew up to begin noticing soccer, one of the leading teams in Sierra Leone was Arsenal.
IN FACT, ENJOY THIS TOO. It was at Arsenal that the great Amadu Kargbo make his debut as goalkeeper in the early 1960s. He played for Arsenal under he joined the FA Cup winning team of Old Edwardians in 1965. Arsenal was founded in 1958 by a then popular Lebanese Sports promoter , Billy Bamin . If you have followed soccer in Sierra Leone for long , like me, you know that one of the biggest promoters of sports in our country at one time were the Lebanese–Families like the Bamins, Basmas, Hassaniyehs, Sassos, Ahmeds , Bahsoons etc . have all played a big role in promoting soccer in Sierra Leone and I hope before I die, God will help me to write a History of Football in Sierra Leone and leave this on record. Or I hope he will use somebody else. . The Mattars in Bo also helped promote soccer at one time.
So they had this great team in Sierra Leone called Arsenal in the late 1950 to mid-1960s. It was a Lebanese sponsored soccer team and it had big names in those days like Amadu Kargbo in goal, Wallace Kargbo, Salifu Robinson, Allie Teeth Bangura ( One of the best dribblers we have produced ) , Sine Sasso, Hassan Sasso , Terence Terry ( I do not know whether he became the famous lawyer or just a name-sake .Somebody said it was not the lawyer ) etc.etc.
When we had Arsenal, the leading teams were Mighty Blackpool , East End Lions, Railway Games Club, Old Edwardians, Regent Olympic and St. Anthony’s. There were other teams like Wynford, Old Princewaleans, Albert Academy, and later MAY X1 ( i HAVE TO BE CORRECTED HERE –I think this was the Boys High School team and Richmond was their cricket team), but they were weaker teams. Blackpool and Lions won the Championship cup often . Edwards won it in the early 1960s .I do remember Arsenal being a thorn-in -the flesh to Blackpool, Lions and Railway but I remember them winning the cup only once. Edwards, St.Anthony and Olympic were serial giant-killers and they made their mark in the knockout cups. Edwards were good at winning the FA Cup or qualifying all the way to the finals.
Arsenal had the most rowdy fans and many of their matches ended in chaos. Therefore in 1964, they became the first Sierra Leone team banned for hooliganism . The case went up to the Supreme Court or the Appeals Court and I can remember Justice S.B. Bankole -Jones presiding in that case. The ban was however rescinded before the start of the 1965 soccer season and the first match of the season was a big one–Between Arsenal and defending champions Mighty Blackpool. DAILY MAIL Sports Editor, Zac.Humphrey, a legend in his own right, gave it a big publicity. The day came and Arsenal took out all their frustrations out on the famous champs by humiliating them 5-1 in a Kingtom Association Grounds epic.
Many people thought that Arsenal had returned to really avenge and take the trophy from Mighty Blaclpool. But the unpredictability of football will show itself. Mighty Blackpool’s next game would be against Academy and they took it out on the hapless school team by whupping them 11-0. Following that, Aresnal and Academy were going to play next. Everybody was not asking who will win. The question was by how many goals will Arsenal hammer Academy ? Then came the game and the attendance was not even big , but guess what ? Those who missed the game missed the treat of their lives. The high-riding Arsenal The Gunners –who had made names for themselves by crushing the famous Champions Mighty Blackpool–were defeated 2-1 by the worst team in the league, the team that had conceded 20 goals so early in the season and scored nothing ! ! It was one of the biggest shocks in Sierra Leone football, bigger then than the stunning 1962 FA Cup final result when Kenema from upline beat Old Edwardians , the top dogs of the city, 1-0. Arsenal became known as VICTIMS OF ALBERT ACADEMY . Blackpool supporters had some consolation.
But Arsenal went on to beat the other big clubs like E.E. Lions, Railway Games Club, Edwards , Olympic and St.Anthony but the championship went to Blackpool.
FOR THE NEXT SEASON, ARSENAL CHANGED NAME TO SANTOS F.C. Santos, with the backing of the Lebanese , became the best team in the country and won the championship. They were so good that you would not put Blackpool or Lions in the same category with them. Even when the world-class West German coach, Burkhard Pape took over as Leone Stars coach, he commended Santos. It was that same year that PORT AUTHORITY ENTERED THE SCENE. Santos did not live long, but for fame,the only teams you can compare to them were the Bai- Kabia led Bolton Nationale , the early 1970s triple champions Port Authority, the mid-1970s quadruple champions Mighty Blackpool, Fisheries , the Simon Awuah-Atto Mensah -Ben Mortey propelled East End Lions and the Mazolla-Sentu-Albert Conteh-Abu Syrian led Real Republicans.
SANTOS folded up in 1968 when Bolton Nationale entered the scene. Bolton too will not live long and metamorphose into FREETOWN UNITED .