Football Focus fame and passport problems

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A quiet week here on planet Anything Goes. It all started just fine when the BBC’s Rob Walker came out to do a piece on me for Football Focus.

They'd combined it with filming a piece with the great middle-distance runner Haile Gebreselassie. A true legend out here, he basically oversees the Great Ethiopian Run, which is now in its tenth year. The Run has taken on an added significance as it’s linked to the fight against poverty in Africa, and it’s a massive part of the athletics calendar now – similar to the Great North Run back in England.

I nabbed a BBC press pass and watched the start with Rob and his cameraman Tom on a raised gantry in the middle of Addis Ababa. The sight of 35,000 people, all wearing race-issue yellow T-shirts and setting off from the vast square below us, was truly something to behold.

Essentially it’s a 10km fun run with the emphasis on fun, and seeing the smiling faces on view just merely confirmed the all-round warmth and humanity of ordinary people here. There is undoubtedly much poverty here and you can’t help but be aware of it, but the economy is growing, and with it comes much new investment in and around the city. The message from the run was that there’s a burgeoning pride amongst people determined to take charge of their own destiny.

It was nice to have the company of Rob and Tom for a few days this week and I can confirm that the Hilton hotel bar saw a little more business than usual. Me, and Rob I hasten to add (well, perhaps just Rob in hindsight), were true pros, but cameraman Tom’s staying power and ability to rise unaffected the next day, were truly impressive.

I’m not sure when the piece for Football Focus is on back in the UK, but suffice to say that like most things over here, it was far from smooth. The initial shots and interview were fine, but on the day that we were meant to be filming me taking the players in preparation for the forthcoming tournament in Tanzania, there was a slight problem. Unbeknown to me, the players had in fact all stayed at their clubs – someone hadn't bothered to tell me that this week’s games had NOT in fact been cancelled, and so they were still with their clubs, some a few hundred kilometres away from the capital.

Competitors have fun during the 2003 Great Ethiopian Run

We were able to rescue the piece by going to one of the leading clubs, St George, and doing some shots with their players. The irony wasn’t lost on me that half of them were national team players who I was expecting to train with that selfsame day. How I laughed to myself…bitterly.

And thus the pattern of the week was set. There’s a real issue over here with passports, due to some past misdemeanours involving false identity. So the Federation here try to facilitate all passports and visas ahead of any away games, but with limited success due to a whole raft of reasons really. So it was that we discovered that two passports had expired BEFORE we travel, one by more than 10 months! This was the situation we found ourselves in our last trip to Madagascar, and two days before we set off, this one’s shaping up just nicely along roughly similar lines.

So I’ll have a maximum of three training sessions ahead of our first game versus Uganda next Monday. It’s not ideal, but it’s still a chance to measure ourselves against our neighbours. 

They’re managed by the ex-Plymouth manager Bobby Williamson, and are doing well in their qualifying campaign for the African Cup Of Nations so it will be a tough opening. I don’t know Bobby, but I think he’s been in his job longer than I’ve been in mine, and it will be good to compare and contrast with him on a number of issues. In our following two games we play Kenya and Malawi, with the top two in each group qualifying for the knock out stages.

No matter how we do over there, I do know that it’s very warm in Tanzania right now. And speaking to friends and family on the phone, I understand that it’s getting VERY cold right now back home. Well even here in Addis, and despite an unseemly hour-long downpour today (Wednesday), it has been in the main an average of 23 degrees.

I mention this for two reasons: the first, smugness; the second... I can’t remember, perhaps smugness again! In all seriousness, whilst I hold steadfast that Christmas shopping is the devil’s work, I do miss the rest of Christmas preparations back home. Although there’s a nod to Christmas here in the hotel lobby, they don’t formally celebrate it here, until later in January, and indeed the league programme continues right through, even on Christmas Day!

Now I haven’t formally requested time off to come back to Blighty in time myself, but given the inability to notice grazing livestock in potential football pitches (see last week – checking you’ve been paying attention) and dates in passports, I’m banking on them just not noticing I’m gone!

Keep smiling, next despatch from Dar Es Salaam (hands up, who knows their geography?)

See you soon!