The following is a translation of an article that first appeared in Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on Friday 21st January 2011:
Only two months ago they made the final touches to their documentary Soka Afrika, the product of a two year long quest in search of the African football dream. No wonder that producer Simon Laub and managing director Sam Potter approach its first public screening, on Saturday at the Kicking & Screening film festival in Amsterdam Ketelhuis, with boyish excitement.
Numerous storylines - small and large, sometimes distressing, sometimes disarming - were uncovered during the project. That didn’t make pursuing a specific thread any easier. Together with director Suridh Hassan they let themselves be carried away in a world in which only one in a hundred football dreams has a happy ending.
Although their involvement with the young players grew, and their indignation about certain irregularities was great, the film makes no accusations. Soka Afrika is especially an excellent documentary as the makers have restricted themselves to the record. The accusing finger is omitted.
“Let others be the judge”, said Laub, whose parentage derives from Johannesburg, South Africa. “Everyone knows the stories of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto’o. What we wanted to show is that for every success there are dozens of less rosy stories”
Attention is drawn to the phenomenon of ‘trafficking’, whereby ignorant African families are approached by numerous dubious intermediaries who promise money and glory, but act above all for self-enrichment. In addition, Soka Afrika reveals the mostly unfulfilled football dreams of young African players, the loneliness that they feel when they have left their homeland and have to look after themselves in their new environment.
This leads to some harrowing stories such as that of Ndomo Sabo. As a kid he is brought to Paris by football agent Filbert for a trial to play at a European employer. When he gets to the airport here and wants to call his parents to tell them he has arrived safely, Filbert tells him it’s not necessary: “They know that you have landed.”
The story of Sabo, which after many sad and unexpected twists still ends happily, is contrasted with that of Kermit Erasmus. The South African, bought by Feyenoord, then loaned to affiliate Excelsior, and now returned to the South African club, Supersport United, follows exactly the opposite course.
He looks good to earn a place in the World Cup squad of coach Parreira, but that dream ends in disillusion. Director Hassan chose the stories of the two main characters to cut with images of the South African U20 football team, who recently participated in the youth World Cup in Egypt.
There is still space for the socially committed staff of Foot Solidaire, highlighting that young African talent attracts the dubious practices of agents and intermediaries. The filmmakers deny however, that the football world is so black and white.
Thus, football agent Abdoul Karim on the not always noble intentions of the parents of some young talents: “In Cameroon they don’t like football, they like the money in football,” he concludes from his years of experience.
Laub and Potter showed the documentary to the youth team of South Africa. Now they hope that Soka Afrika makes its way to a large public, especially to raise awareness. One of the most moving moments is given as Sabo looks back on his bleak period in Paris, during which he roamed the streets. “Sometimes you realize that for months you have done nothing.” he says. “I wanted to return to Cameroon…Better that, than my corpse would be returned to my parents. But they did not want it to happen. Do not come back, they urged me. We have gambled everything on you, or else you will shame us all. “
Potter: “Footballers dream. Others try to sell them dreams. And still others seek to exploit those dreams. Hence it took us some time to gain the confidence of these guys. “
Laub, further: “And guidance. In underdeveloped African countries there is very little structure and there are few people who the young players can consult. Many agents abuse this gap. There are many players who fall through the holes in the system and there is usually no safety net to help them.”