Liberia's Lone Star - For Love Of Country

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

July 12, 2001

As Liberia continues to struggle daily with its many problems, some of which have now become very chronic, Liberians from all walks of life would be challenged from time to time to make whatever sacrifices they could to pull their country through one of its most difficult periods.

Unfortunately, such sacrifices may or may not be appreciated by some of the same people on whose behalf they were made. But when the worst result comes to light, they must, like their fathers before them, quickly recoup and move on for the sake of their beloved country. Whatever situation Liberians may find themselves in today, they definitely should not hesitate in rendering their services to their nation when they are called upon.

And when the time came for Liberia's "shining star", George "Oppong" Weah, and his fellow Lone Star teammates to respond to the "call of service" to their severely crippled country, they did so with every ounce of pride and unselfish commitment. Because never before had the Lone Star had so good a chance to get to the major league in soccer, the coveted World Cup tournament that would be held respectively in Korea and Japan in 2002.

From what we have learned so far, the Lone Star, prior to the whole-hearted involvement of some of Liberia's biggest soccer superstars, particularly, "Oppong", was in no way prepared to compete with longtime West African giants like Nigeria and Ghana.

Among many things lacking was the financial resources necessary to recruit and prepare the players for the initial regional competition. Money was also needed for logistics purposes, such as, shuttling the players around from country to country. And of course, if Liberia had any chance of advancing within its group, it hinged on the "quality" and personal skills of players that were ultimately fielded to play the game.

As we also now know, it was Liberia's "darling son", George "Oppong" Weah, who single-handedly united the team, provided most of the needed cash, and on top of all of that, immediately became the Lone Star's spiritual leader. Because of his "leadership" qualities and style, Liberia quickly became recognized in Group B as a team to contend with, badly beating Ghana's Black Star 3 - 1 in Accra at one point.

But besides doing all of the above, he went even further to personally motivate his teammates, serving admirably both as the Liberian squad's technical director, and of course, one of Lone Star's most celebrated and skillful players. Not to say that we are taking anything away from a patriot like, James "Salinsa" Debbah, and other less known members of the team.

And so when we learned sadly that some crazy Liberian soccer fans had deliberately hurled rocks at the players following Liberia's 2 - 1 lost to Ghana in Monrovia, coupled with the verbal insults of "Oppong's" mother, we just could not help but to become instantly enraged. Sincerely, no Liberian in his or her right mind would have had the audacity to do something so cynical and disgraceful, especially so, when government officials were spending their ill-gotten wealth buying luxury cars and simply living "the good life".

In fact, we would strongly recommend that all those so-called fans that exhibited that kind of ugly behavior towards the Lone Star and George "Oppong" Weah specifically should have their heads examined. This sort of violent behavior and misguided aggression were downright unacceptable and no amount of apology could repair the damage that has already been done.

While some Liberians would want to hastily brush this whole tragedy (yes, it is a tragedy) aside or dismiss those that were involved as a "small group" of frustrated fans, we should not forget that each of us could be subjected to this same kind of treatment or even worse.

That is why we need to take into full account the psychology of this "small group" of Liberians who could evidently discourage others from serving their country. Because as the saying goes: "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch". Their wicked attitude showed ingratitude to their fellow countrymen who had made so much personal sacrifices to bring the Lone Star to the brink of entering the World Cup competition for the very first time in its history.

And to add insult to injury, the Liberian government's attempt, through its loud mouthpiece, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), to place blame on the Lone Star's July 1 lost on some players is unfortunate.

In a July 9 press release, the Ministry wrote: "Pundits have already begun to speculate on what may or may not have gone wrong Others have pointed to not only the age of the top strikers of the Lone Starbut also the life styles of some of the most prominent players when ever they are in town for a match."

It went on: "Excessive night-clubbing, breaking camp, socializing with the ladies and tendency towards heavy drinking are some of the vices that pundits have attributed to the sup-par performance of the teamWith discipline, a more appropriate life style, and keeping the weight factor in check, some say, the Lone Star may have fared better." But just who were those "pundits"?

Oops! The Liberian government talking about "lifestyles" and "discipline?" Come on give us a break!

At the same time, the Ministry wasted no time in lavishing praises on President Charles Taylor, as it has always done since its inception for every Liberian Chief Executive, for what it called: "His desire to take the lead in the success of the team."

"Every time the foreign-based players returned to Liberia to play a match, the President has made available US$5,000.00 to each one of them. He also authorized a monthly allowance of not less than US$250.00 per month to local-based players and coaches", the Ministry's press release said.

Well, here we go again. Doesn't the Liberian government understand, quite clearly, that it would have required more than money to pull off a win in a soccer match of that significance with each country's pride at stake?

We are very confident, more so even today, that the driving force behind the inspiration of each Lone Star player was his "love for country". For their personal sacrifices and commitment, the whole Liberian nation should be very, very grateful.

We should also be more than thankful especially to George "Oppong" Weah, without whom, Liberia would never have had the chance to remain in the international spotlight while Mr. Taylor and company plunged the country into complete anarchy and chaos.

His brilliance on the soccer pitch, whether in Cameroon, France, Italy or England, made a name for himself, Liberia and Africa. Because of his natural skills, the soccer world at last had a new Liberian (African) to contend with.

Like many Liberians in the Diaspora, we got to learn about Weah from the son of a close friend who had just come to the US from Liberia. After discussing soccer one day, the young man loaned us a videotape, which highlighted the Liberian skipper's exceptional performance with his French team, Paris St. Germain. That was when he was on his way to one of Europe's top teams, AC Milan of the Italian Serie A league.

Since then, we have followed him everywhere he went through various media outlets (thanks to the internet), acquiring some of his precious souvenirs along the way, including, a bright portrait of the Liberian soccer icon, on a cloth poster. This particular poster was bought in Italy from a shop specializing in soccer goods, we might add.

On the poster, "King George", as he's affectionately called sometimes, leans towards the right with the ball between his crossed legs. He's neatly dressed in a long-sleeved v-necked collard red and black jersey sporting the OPEL word and logo. "Oppong" looks down intently at the pitch as if he's about to beat his next opponent, his wedding ring proudly displayed on his left hand. This image, no doubt, has send chills through the spines of many defenders.

But what impressed us the most about him, was his tireless efforts in helping other people as exemplified by his personal involvement with various charity groups inside and outside Liberia. He has accepted his responsibilities as a Liberian and African "role model" with grace and humility. Liberia and Africa desperately need more people like him before they could ever think about catching up with the rest of the civilized world.

Now that he has reversed his earlier decision to abruptly abandon the Lone Star in the face of rock throwing, humiliating insults and baseless allegations, George "Oppong" Weah has once again demonstrated that, indeed, a person's "love for country" could actually surpass his or her personal ambitions, whatever they may be.

Whatever role President Taylor and his wife may have played in convincing the skipper to change his mind and return to the squad should be commended. However, we do hope that this was an honest attempt by the President and First Lady to break with the past and usher in a new kind of leadership for the country. Mr. Taylor should now follow George's positive example of what it really means to be a patriot.

For their part, Liberians must learn to accept the fact that there is "honor in defeat", especially so, if the survival of a nation like ours depends on it. Mr. Taylor might as well learn this basic lesson from "Oppong" and begin to put Liberia first, above his own hidden agenda. In this way, he would finally be setting a "good example" that others could emulate. If he truly loves Liberia, Mr. Taylor owes it this much.

Meanwhile, we say a BIG THANK YOU, to "King George and members of the entire Lone Star Organization. We sincerely wish you all the best in your upcoming encounter with neighboring Sierra Leone. Regardless of the outcome, Liberians could still celebrate and take pride in the fact that "our boys" did do their very best to bring the Lone Star this far. That would be the most appropriate way to show gratitude to our team.

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