Wednesday, January 5, 2022

CAN 2021--Syndicate: Dark Fate

Greetings Syndicate Brethren, 

As promised last Summer, the time has come to pen the penultimate chapter in this long-running blog. 

As we enter our 21st year commemorating "Friends and Football", your trusted bookie wanted to celebrate the colors, kits, crests and names of one of his favorite continents one last time with you. 

Our 29th overall blog chapter covers the Africa Cup of Nations for the fifth consecutive cycle. Our first chapter featuring this incredible tournament came in January 2013. Nine years later, we gather once more for some final dispatches from our collective "motherland". 

Syndicate Member 8-M wrote in with a question:

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Reader: How in the hell can we get up for this tournament in these dour times?


Vicey: Dour times happen to be what football is made for, my cherished friend. The darker things get, the more humanity's greatest unifying force is needed. Let Africa shine a light through all the gloom and despair:

Feeling better already, aren't you? 

Darkness remains humanity's destiny. In the quest to have it all, we've effectively raped this planet for every available resource, all whilst breeding to insanely unsustainable numbers. Pure unadulterated gluttony leaves us with shocking disparities in both wealth and quality of life. Currently, most of us huddle in isolation for fear of a virus that targets the most insatiable of our species.  

Many thoughts circulate in a detached mind while it ponders nature's latest attempt to shake us off like a bunch of parasitic fleas. One sometimes wonders if we humans are actually the real virus. Thankfully, that which endows this world with beauty cancels such cynicism. Amid all the chaos, inequity, and destruction that humanity has sown, we've managed to create so much that is beautiful. 

Football. The "beautiful game". The most beautiful game that ever was and ever shall be. Your humble chronicler couldn't get his head wrapped around why some questioned whether this tournament should be held. The real question is, how could it not be? 

We literally just held the Euros in twelve separate countries in the middle of a pandemic. How could anyone even conceive of denying Africa its opportunity to host its continental showpiece in one single country? Infection rates in the heat of Cameroon remain low and we have proof that open-air events don't spread large contagions. 

Something else that makes African football immensely important: 

We probably wouldn't even have continental confederation tournaments were it not for this one. AFCON predates the Euros and every other continental championship with the exception of the Copa America. Even in its inchoate form, this tournament proved a forerunner for other confederations to organize national tournaments. 

One of your friendly bookie's favorite talking points when it comes to the beautiful game concerns the fact that it is a safe outlet for nationalism. In many respects, that idea was first conceived of in Africa. As many  counties emerged from their colonial yoke circa 1950, the concept of giving newly liberated populations such an outlet drove the formation of the African confederation. 

As I emphasize every year when covering this competition, neither the history of CAF nor its current state deserve the fairy tale treatment. Corruption. Prejudice. Bloodshed. Senseless slaughter. All the worst cruelties of life. Afro-philes like this one do not sugarcoat. 

Each year we remember the three Togolese players who lost their lives in 2010 simply trying to play in this tournament. They serve as a symbol for thousands more who have been killed simply for the crime of trying to watch it. More lives will be claimed this time. No fairy tales. No sugarcoating.

Football, just like life, is one messy business indeed. Nearly half of this competition's participating nations currently deal with civil strife within their borders. This includes hosts Cameroon, who are in the process of fighting a separatist movement. 

Is there even room for a smile amid all of this? 


There must be. Africans find a way every day. 

They also teach you the full meaning of the act. 

I thought I knew what it was to smile. To experience life on another plane of existence with Africans taught me I truly had no idea. Out of all the dozens of African proverbs about smiling that I encountered, my favorite one is still "The man who smiles after being robbed has stolen something from the thief." 

Dark poetry bursts through even the most crushing Cimmerian Shade. It never fails to. This tournament shall deliver color and vibrance to us all. My sincerest gratitude in advance, Africa. 

To all those participating on the pitch and in the stands across all the lands, this penultimate syndicate chapter is dedicated to you. 




--S.S. PJW