In cities around the world, there are certain traditions on Sunday mornings. Strolling in Central Park in New York. Sitting at an outdoor café in Paris. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, it’s soccer on the beach.
Lumley Beach is a long strip of sand along the capital city’s western edge. On Sunday mornings it bustles with joggers, walkers and large groups of soccer players. Almost every flat section of beach has been divided into soccer fields.
The goals are a couple of sticks or soda bottles stuck in the sand. The end lines are drawn on the beach. And the playing field gets wider or narrower based on the tide.
“Today the water is full,” says 29-year-old Mohmoh Bockari, assessing the waves at high tide. Bockari is warming up with a group of young men. They’re passing the ball in a circle.
“So we have to wait for some time until the water turns, maybe around 10, 11, the water will turn again. And we’ll be able to play the way.”
During the week, Bockari is a bricklayer. Most weekends, he tries to come down to the beach to play soccer. He says there are some talented players.
“This boy with the white shirt,” he says, pointing to one player by the water. “He plays for the national team on the under 17s. He’s a good player.”
Bockari is wearing a red jersey from the English Premier League team Arsenal.
In Sierra Leone soccer fanatics tend to fall into two categories: Manchester United supporters or fans of their London rivals Arsenal.
“Yeah, Arsenal!” Bockari says. “I love my club. I love the team so much. I’m always proud of it.”
Kandeh Marrah, 24, is in the opposite camp.
“I’m a Manchester United fan. I love Manchester,” Marrah says. “I’ve been following Manchester and supporting Manchester. Manchester United is the best team.”
Marrah writes for a local sports blog. He too notes that some of the top soccer players in the country often show up on Lumley Beach on Sundays to kick the ball around.
The games, however, are casual.
“In this sand you can you can play with your bare foot. So people are very comfortable playing here,” Marrah says.
Younger kids tend to play together. There are a few girls mixed in although it’s mostly boys.
The matches among the men are quite physical. Players regularly get knocked to the sand or even into the waves.
Women selling bananas, pineapple slices, drinks and small cakes walk through the players. Joggers sometimes get mistaken for wingers. Dogs are another obstacle.
In addition to the soccer players, lots of people come to the beach on Sunday mornings to watch the games or exercise themselves. Buff young men with bulging biceps lead workout sessions in beach parking lots. Residents of all ages stroll or run on the sidewalk between the sand and Lumley Beach road.
Abdul Rahman Swaray has just finished an energetic walk.
“Just stand here and you can see all sorts all sorts of human beings, you know people from everywhere, every walk of life,” he says.
Swaray has stopped at a fruit stand to, as he says, “replenish” his energy. He’s a professor at the local university and an executive at the national sports authority. Swaray says even top government officials come out to Lumley Beach in their workout clothes on Sunday mornings.
“Everybody I can tell you, even parliamentarians, members of parliament, all of them are here,” he says.
One of the great things about the beach, he says, is that it’s free and open to everybody. People come to exercise, but Swaray says they also come because the bustle of Sunday mornings at Lumley Beach is one of the things that makes the Sierra Leonean capital special.
“Our beach is a God-given thing,” he exclaims. “We have to make use of it!” And he goes off to buy some bananas and mangoes from one of the many stalls lining the road.