The degree to which European football has entered everyday life in Africa is extraordinary. Step inside the ยูฟ่าเบท fabulous art deco cinemas of Asmara, built when it was the capital of the Italian colony of Eritrea.
How European football affects everyday life in Africa
Look beyond the exquisite period fittings and you will see that the list of show times is for European football games, not European art house films. As one cinema owner put it, ‘You cannot find a place to sit when Arsenal play Manchester United. Some wear the team colours.’
The Italians would be surprised if they knew. The only thing they knew about was the movies. In Lomé, the capital of Togo, every Arsenal game was preceded by a city-wide cavalcade of fans on bikes and scooters, dressed in club colours and whipping up the atmosphere. In the small town of Lalibela in Ethiopia, Jonathan Wilson calculated that with every bar and viewing house in the town full, more than 20 per cent of the male adult population was watching the Premier League.
African newspapers have kept track of English football since at least the 1950s, if only for the devoted followers of the pools. The BBC World Service has been broadcasting the scores on a Saturday afternoon for over half a century. Nigerians used to get a single weekly free-to-air highlights show of English football during the 1980s; many brought home prized video recordings of televica matches from their time in Britain. Enough to whet the appetite but pretty meagre fare.
The arrival in the mid-1990s of DSTV, Africa, main anglophone satellite broadcaster, and its francophone counterpart, Canalsat Afrique, changed everything. For the first time, live football from Europe was regularly and reliably available in Africa. Although costs kept the total number of paying subscribers down, a vast ecosystem of sharing screens in viewing houses, cinemas and sports bars allowed football to reach the majority of the population, even in rural areas.
Yet even in these franco- and lusophone nations, you would just as likely be watching Everton versus West Brom. A Sportmarkt survey of 2011 found that 72 per cent of Africans were interested in football, 55 per cent watched the EPL and 39 per cent followed an English team. No one can count the number of Africans in football bars, but the standard estimate was that 300 million Africans were regularly tuning into just the EPL. One suspects that the current numbers are much higher.