“We’re begging you from our knees: a country with so much wealth cannot lose itself into darkness in a war like this one.”
Didier Drogba made a habit of enthralling football supporters across the globe throughout an eminent career that left a lasting legacy veritably engrained into the history of the sport.
The African striker achieved commendable success as a professional athlete, most notably with flourishing English side Chelsea, where he captivated endearing supporters for many years, bringing a plethora of goals and trophies back to the London-based club.
Drogba prevailed on fourteen different occasions for Chelsea, remarkably winning four Premier League trophies and a coveted Champion’s League medal as he cemented his career as an iconic African sporting figure.
But one of his most prominent triumphs ascends to a level far greater than that of a strictly sporting nature, for in 2005, the distinguished footballer would play a critical role in bringing peace and serenity to his home nation, Ivory Coast, terrorised by civil conflict and turmoil.
Ivory Coast was lauded for its economic and religious tranquility since the nation’s inception back in 1960, when the country received independence after Felix Houphouet-Boigny – a tribal chieftain – established an agricultural trade union for his compatriots, ultimately leading to his election as the first president of the country.
After the country’s independence a prosperous period would ensue, owing to its burgeoning trade production of coffee and cocoa, until the 1980’s, when political and social disruption would initiate a detrimental decline and plunge the nation into an extensive period of ubiquitous unrest.
The widespread disruption resulted in a harrowing civil war that saw thousands of lives claimed as the once buoyant nation descended into a perilous divide.
Indeed, Ivory Coast was sundered as rebel forces took occupation of the north whilst the countries government maintained the southern borders; tensions would remain prevalent during this time, with hostile differences revolving around national identity.
Amidst all of the distress, the adversity and the affliction, an unlikely national hero would emerge from the chaos in a desperate plea for peace.
Didier Drogba. The talismanic forward who helped cease conflict as the national football team achieved unprecedented success in qualifying for the countries maiden World Cup.
On October 8, 2005, the football team had secured a monumental 3-1 victory in Sudan in a culminating World Cup qualifier, confirming a historic place at the most esteemed tournament in global sport, and ending a 76-year wait to perform on the world’s biggest stage.
The match had been played out in Sudan’s substantial city of Omdurman as the Al-Merrikh Stadium, and as Drogba and his teammates would succeed, Cameroon would fatefully succumb to Egypt on the very same night, confirming the wildest dreams of the Ivorian footballers as they leapfrogged their continental rivals in the qualification table.
The scenes emanated exultance, and the players exploded into rapture upon besting Sudan with the realisation of the accomplishment slowly seeping in.
The Al-Merrikh Stadium, slight in both its size and stature, had erupted into a cacophony of celebratory cheering and chanting, but throughout the hosanna of euphoria, a message of sincere significance was to be conveyed that night.
As a collective, Ivory Coast hailed football above all else. You would do well to find a young child who did not have dreams and aspirations to emulate the successes of iconic African stars such as the likes of Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and George Weah to name a few.
Upon returning to the squad’s complimentary dressing room in the aftermath of the famous match, the Ivorian media were invited to accompany the players as the team’s captain – Cyril Domoraud – gestured for Drogba to speak to the cameras.
Upon grasping a microphone, standing amongst his earnest teammates, Drogba delivered a passionate message.
“Men and women of Ivory Coast, from the north, south, centre, and west, we proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared aim – to qualify for the World Cup.
“We promised you that the celebrations would unite the people – today we beg you on our knees.
“The one country in Africa with so many riches must not descend into war. Please lay down your weapons and hold elections.”
The speech delivered symbolised the magnitude of the situation the country presently faced, highlighted when Drogba and his comrades dramatically sank to their knees as the conflicting population of Ivory Coast was implored to seek positive change.
And as the Ivorian footballers nodded in unity as an immensely powerful call for political change was ushered, the gravity of the situation climaxed.
As the acutely distressed and divided citizens saluted the success of the national football team, standing as one in a foreign dressing room, Drogba had succeeded in iterating the ability to come together and prosper despite apparent differences.
For the successful national squad consisted of individuals from across the diverging country, with differentiating ideologies and political beliefs, and together they had achieved unparalleled levels of success.
Through sporting means, the Ivorian national team had instilled a colossal feeling of unwavering national pride, a sense of unity that inspired courage and gratitude as it was evidenced that people can cast aside their differences to attain a common objective.
The actions of the Ivorian national football team, led by the talismanic Drogba played a pivotal role in securing a peace treaty to aid the cessation of conflict and war, as footballing triumphs and a sincere plea to the people of Ivory Coast reflected positively and convinced the countries president – Laurent Gbagbo – to restart negotiations for peace.
An old footballing adage proclaims the sport as ‘the beautiful game’, for the sheer exhilaration and jubilation that one can experience as a fan encapsulates the relevance and weight that the statement holds.
Football, to many, is far greater than a mere sport, with some of the greatest figures using their platform to aid those less fortunate in a bid to promote constructive action and welcome inclusivity across the globe.
Drogba’s magnanimity and liberality, coupled with an innate knack at being rather good at football, aided a war-torn country in the pursuit of peace and solace in a time of desperate need.
Rising to prominence later than most in his career, Drogba successfully entered the pantheon of footballing greats after a career littered with goals, accolades and trophies, but his greatest achievement stems to something far more exceptional.
Drogba used his platform as a global sporting figure to bring hope and serenity back to his home country, ravaged by civil war.
The fabled Ivorian was bestowed an illustrious achievement soon after, being crowned ‘African footballer of the year 2006’ for his applaudable efforts both on and off the pitch.
Drogba made a difference to his nation, he inspired confidence and compatriotism, he instilled a feeling of mutual trust, he proved to his nation that together they are stronger.
On October 8, 2005, upon reaching the pinnacle of world football, the words of an influential footballer from the African country of Ivory Coast made a positive difference to the world, for beyond the many achievements of a sublime athlete, his message conveyed optimism and belief to a stricken country, and a glorious sporting legacy transcended to something greater.