Benny Sip



Salem, Oregon. 2009. 

It's summer between university seasons. My best friend and I choose Oregon more concerned about fly-fishing prospects than football development. On the drive out West from Indiana, we spend a week sleeping in the back of the truck fishing our way through Montana’s famous rivers to Maupin, Oregon (the fly-fishers will understand). We arrive in Salem and the training is well... let's just say deliberate purposeful practice isn't happening. At the start of the first session my friend and I look over at each other, both of us thinking the same thing, “We left Maupin early for this? We could still be in Montana.” Our hearts are broken.

To be fair, the players are okay. Three future pros. Some high-level amateurs and a few hot shot Poms. The problem is that the head coach hasn’t a clue. At the very best, he’s a high level elementary Phy Ed. teacher and "today, we're learning soccer ball.” On multiple occasions throughout the season we train from 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm. 4-hour long continuous sessions with no breaks multiple times per week. It’s either absolute genius or utter nonsense. I know what my girlfriend thinks when she flies out from Minnesota and spends a week observing 20 hours of training. 

The team does okay through the first few games of the season. We’re something like 2 wins and 2 losses in our first 4 games. The highlight coming in the first game when this Guatemalan guy bangs in a screamer to win in front of 1,500 fans in the home opener. It’s hilarious really. A thousand or so people paying five bucks at the gate to watch amateurs coached by a group of clowns. It's a good show. The head coach wears penny loafers and a suit four sizes too big. You can’t make it up. That’s exactly what it is, a circus.

That’s until Teteh shows up… 

Suddenly, every single cent of your five bucks is worth its’ weight in gold. The next time you watch Teteh play it will be in front of a sold-out 30,000 for Sweden's biggest club. You’ll be paying way more than five dollars.   

I’d love to know what’s running through Teteh’s head when he first turns up at training. I know what I’m thinking. “What in the world is this guy doing here?” Then, he shares his story.

Teteh’s the leading goal scorer in the Sierra Leone Premiership. He’s left Africa in search of a new deal and to make it big in football world. He’s looking for an opportunity. He's also in football limbo. Teteh’s been cut by everyone and their grandmother. He’s trialed for MLS clubs, USL clubs and Semi-Pro clubs across the United States and been told NO by everyone. Not good enough. A journeyman in the circus, Teteh arrives at our doorstep to be the star in our little show, making peanuts at the bottom of the totem pole.

Teteh scores a hat trick in the first game. In the next game, he scores an early goal before receiving a straight red card for trying to kick a guys head off. In his returning game, he scores another hat trick. The game after that he scores another two goals and receives another red card, this time two yellows. If he’s not smiling and scoring goals, he’s an unpredictable head hunter.

In his short time in Oregon, Teteh takes the circus to Soleil level. It’s fun while it lasts. Then before you know it he’s gone. Teteh lasts 6 - 7 games before getting the boot from his host family’s house. That’s the last of Teteh. Bye bye Bangura. 

The season continues in circus fashion with the team finishing in the top half of the table, certainly an overachievement considering the clowns. Teteh remains in our minds though. Not so much in the sentimental sense, but more so in a “what the hell was that?!” kind of way.

A year passes and I’m perusing the web at the university library when “Manchester United Transfers: Teteh Bangura To Be The New Face?” flashes across my screen. I click and read… 

I just keep working at it, I do my game, I love to score. I have said this all the time—I don't care about dribbling or skills or something. I just want to score." That's what AIK Solna forward Bangura said after he scored four goals for his team against Halmstad in their 4-0 win. 
The 21-year-old Sierra Leone striker was about to join English Premier League side Newcastle, however, problems over the work permits broke the deal down. Attracted by the talent and scoring prowess of the in-form striker, United is closely following the Bangura to strike a right deal.” (Bleacher Report). 

The article sounds accurate to me. In the brief time that I knew Teteh, he certainly didn’t care about anything other than scoring goals, including red cards or getting kicked out of his host family’s house. His words “I just keep working at it, I do my game, I love to score” resonates. The library starts to feel like it’s wobbling, but that can’t be because I’m in Indiana. I'm studying the anthropology of sport in a hoosier library. Teteh's living, breathing and tasting football world. "What am I doing...?"  

Teteh makes the move to Sweden. He begins at the bottom of the totem pole, yet again, before making the big jump to Allsvenskan giants AIK. He scores a bucket load of goals, something like 15 in 15 games, and makes his million $. The rest is history.

How easy it would have been for Teteh to call it quits when he arrived at the circus in Oregon. How simple it would have been to let the cascade of failures keep him from rising to the waters' surface. 

"Keep working at it. Do your game. Love scoring goals.” Teteh Bangura
Ben Sippola