“When Europeans began to imagine Africa beyond the Sahara, the continent they pictured was a dreamscape, a site for fantasies of the fearsome and supernatural.”
Thus wrote Adam Hochschild in King Leopold’s Ghost, his harrowing account about the colonisation of Congo. The Europeans may not have had football on their mind in their visualisation of Africa beyond the Sahara, but the upcoming TP Mazembe v Al Ahly clash has the dish of the fearsome and a side order of the supernatural. Certainly, watching TP Mazembe on their own turf spurred on by exultant fans is such an otherwordly ordeal that one could argue it is proof that time travel exists. Stade TP stadium is always rocking; the crowd so palpably close to the pitch that one can be excused of thinking health and safety regulations are being breached. The mystery of the whole team – typified by Tresor Mputu – is hypnotically engaging, and as long as coverage of African football doesn’t improve it will never fade.
Al Ahly and TP Mazembe. These are the two mightiest forces the continent has to offer. This is the CAF Champions League 2012 final in nature if not name; the final before the final; and your unconditional offer to delve into the murkiness of African football if you haven’t done so already.
The intra-continental and international context
There’s a rivalry here. Al Ahly are not only the flagbearers for the Maghreb, but Africa’s undisputed heavyweight champion with 6 CAF Champions League titles to their name. TP Mazembe, meanwhile, boast 4 of their own and are seen by many as the official Pride of Sub-Sahara. This rivalry has the obvious geographic tension, then, thus intra-continental pride is at stake.