by James Helm BBC News June 7, 2006
When Togo played Saudi Arabia in a World Cup warm-up in Sittard, Holland, only a few hundred people turned up to watch. But what they lacked in numbers Togo's supporters, grouped behind a goal, made up for with their noise. The drums beat out a constant rhythm, flags were waved, and the songs exuberant.
A Togolese woman in traditional dress waved a national flag: "I feel so good about this day," she laughed. "You know, if you say you come from Togo, people don't know where Togo is. It is such a small country. Maybe now, with the World Cup, they will know about Togo.”
Wayne is writing this now an hour before the first ever appearance of Togo in the World Cup on June 13th. (For you non-sports fans, this is the tournament leading to the “Super Bowl” of world soccer that happens every 4 years.) I am sure many Americans are being exposed to Togo for the first time as a result of their being in the World Cup. They are probably wondering if Togo is somehow related to Togo’s sandwich shop. (The answer is no. I think Togo’s sandwich shop is named after the initials of a couple of San Jose State college students who started it back when my brother Dale was a student there.) But Togo is a long thin country sandwiched between Benin and Ghana and it is on a roll. (Thanks to John Crumpacker of the SF Chronicle for the puns.) Togo did well in the qualifying World Cup games last year, but then went to the African Cup tournament and lost every game. As a result, the Togo Soccer Federation fired the coach. In February they hired a new coach, but he quit on Saturday night. It seems the players were on strike because they had not agreed with the Togo Federation (run by the half-brother of Togo’s president) on the bonus money for playing in the world cup. (Apparently they did not get paid the promised amount for the Africa Cup, so they are playing hard ball.) On Saturday the coach said “How can I do my job if you can’t settle this? I quit.” That pretty much discouraged the Togolese people. Once again things go poorly for Togo. But this morning I saw on the internet that the coach has returned. Apparently the bonus dispute is settled. (Togo’s Prime Minister went to Germany to fix it). So perhaps the people are not as disappointed in the leaders as they were on Sunday. I was out this morning teaching the internet to a couple of our small business class students and the streets are full of folks wearing yellow, green and red, the Togo team colors. I can assure you the that Korea will come out on top in this match as Togo is now rated 61st in the world now and is playing in a tournament of the best 32 teams in the world, in which Korea came in 4th four years ago.
Now I have just returned from watching the game in the Atakpamé library with Cate. The stadium in Frankfurt was a sea of red, the Korean color. Very few Togolese fans were there as Germany denied visas to the 500 fans the Togo Federation tried to send to the games. (It seems that the fans did not submit their financial statements.) Atakpamé rolled up the streets during the game – the place looked deserted. The first half was great fun as Togo played well and was leading 1 - 0. The fans here went wild when we scored of course. See the photo. (I almost have to eat my words about losing.) But the second half went poorly and Togo lost 2-1.
So we walked home from the library with lots of disappointed folks in the streets. I was wearing my Togo T-shirt so I received lots of attention and encouragement; “Du Courage” they said in French, meaning “Have the courage to keep going”. The Togolese get a big charge out of seeing Westerners supporting them. I think they can’t quite believe it. (A few hundred years of colonization has only been gone since the sixties, so many Togolese still see white people as being here to run the place.)
The next game is against Switzerland on June 19th. Be sure to watch and root for Togo. J And our last game is against the unloved French on June 23rd. (We only keep playing if we come out in 1st or 2nd place amongst the 4 teams in our group.) Enjoy the game!