If one were to take a random poll of soccer enthusiasts in Monrovia about the most dominant player ever to grace the Liberian sports scene over the years, probably George “Oppong” Manneh Weah would be selected unanimously.
Oppong, once a poor kid, grew up in the swamps of Gibraltar near Clara Town in the nation’s capital, Monrovia. His spectacular rise to global stardom and the positive impact he has on his people and the sport are incredibly remarkable. The millionaire soccer star is hardly carried away by fame and fortune. Oppong does impact the soccer-crazed nation of Liberia that barely gets enough of Weah.
Refusing to be exploited and subjected to the ilk of injustice his predecessors suffered, George “Oppong” Manneh Weah left Liberia for the sports market. What has happened since his departure is history. Great history at that!
A class act, he has been there countless times financially for his country. Whether he is called upon by his fellow citizens to rescue the Liberian Lone Star National Team from the brink of embarrassment, or to micromanage the failed and redundant sports bureaucracies as the Liberian Football Association (LFA), and the Ministry of Sports, Weah has provided profound and redeeming leadership. Whether it is preparing the national soccer team for scheduled international matches, providing needed sporting essentials, or being a mentor for truly disadvantaged children emulating him, Weah has always been there.
However before Weah’s meteoric rise to fame, he had a model who also played soccer. That model was imitated by would-be players in Liberia, including Oppong. Certainly had this fellow played in the 1990’s he would have dominated soccer magnificently in Liberia like he did in the 1960’s. Were he alive today, Oppong’s model would have ranked as one of the world’s best.
Wannie Bo-Toe was soccer when the sport was just getting popular in Liberia’s dark ages of the William V. S. Tubman administration. Then, soccer players were only seen as mere commodities. Players fended for themselves and were urged to play hurt and sick only to inflate Tubman’s super-ego under the pretense of national pride.
But the name Wannie Bo-Toe may come not to the minds of many now, especially the young generation, who never saw Toe perform majestically. Like Weah, Toe could break down the defense of opposing teams with his dazzling footwork and unmatched prowess which shocked to awe fans and colleagues alike.
Like Oppong, Toe rose from humble roots, dreaming of playing soccer. Both Weah and Toe share similar roots. They started their career in deserted backyards and in the streets. Many days, they played barefooted; at other times, they had to borrow shoes from pals to play soccer.
Decades apart, Oppong and Toe played soccer in different times and dissimilar circumstances. Both played the sport with great supporting cast of superb athletes and unsung heroes as John “Monkey” Brown, Josiah Johnson, Jackson Wiah, Mass Sarr, James Debbah, etc.
Wannie Bo-Toe, the forgotten hero, played soccer with passion on a field named after Tubman’s wife, Antoinette — a non soccer player. Oppong also played the game on both the Antoinette Tubman Stadium and the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex.
The latter sports complex was named in Doe’s honor because Doe, the non-football player is said to have supported football staunchly as president of Liberia. But how can a national sports stadium – a national institution of that kind be named after a man who brought shame and disrepute to the people of Liberia by his dictatorial policies? Are we so forgetful of our past, and battered so much that we hate ourselves and have to name a stadium after our former oppressor?
I am not a fan of Weah’s politics because I believe he does not understand politics, and is not a presidential material, either. He ought to get out of politics and concentrate his efforts on those things he is good at doing. Weah knows what he is good at and ought to dig deep down into his soul and find that particular thing, but it is not politics.
However, that does not mean that this man cannot be recognized on the national level for his contribution to sports, and for inspiring others to pursue their dreams and be somebody.
Wannie Bo-Toe died over three decades ago at a young age from injuries he sustained at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium while playing the sport he loved.
Toe brought joy and inspiration to the young and old, the poor and the rich, and had done a lot for Liberia by putting Liberia on the map at a time when soccer players were seen as non-role models. And so has Weah. It is about time national policymakers and ordinary Liberians do the right thing to honor Toe and Weah.
In that process, renaming the Antoinette Tubman Stadium and the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex after Wannie Bo-Toe and George “Oppong” Manneh Weah respectively would be the right thing to do.
Wannie Bo-Toe and George “Oppong” Manneh Weah are legends. More may emerge. Until that happens, Liberians need honor Toe and Weah for having brought pride and dignity to their country on the international sports scene, gracefully.