sports gazette

African Football: Google it

Published: 17 Oct 2016

A contest between South and East London reigned supreme late Saturday night as West Ham United ran out winners against Crystal Palace.

The match was broadcast via BT Sport and was Saturday’s prominent late night televised fixture. It is only natural to assume that the high majority of the interest in regards to this fixture was from two demographics; Crystal Palace and West Ham fans, but also, football fans in general.

Despite that being a considerably astute assumption, internet analysis indicates that London wasn’t the most popular location of research. In fact, the United Kingdom as a whole wasn’t the number one region for exploration into both teams.

By research, we mean the use of the Google search engine which has access to the entire globe, and collaborates facts and figures to determine which direction these various elements of information are coming from.

Surprisingly enough, it was Kenya that was found to be the location of most Google searches on both Crystal Palace and West Ham United in the entire world. More specifically, capital city Nairobi dominated Kenyan searches, with Nakuru (fourth largest city), Kisumu (third largest) and Mombasa (second largest) following in close pursuit.

It begs the question, why? Why would these Kenyan cities take a more invested and online pursuit towards these two clubs, and was it just a momentary attentiveness, or has it been common place for longer than the singular day?

Across the singular day, Kenyan’s googled both clubs in their masses. As a matter of fact, Africa as a collective dominated figures, with the top five countries who researched Palace and West Ham including Uganda, Zimbabwe, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, with the United Kingdom sandwiched between.

African influence on English football has been paramount in the development of the game specifically across the last decade. Football stars such as Nwankwo Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo and Yaya Toure, Yannick Bolasie and Didier Drogba are just some of the profile names that have graced the Premiership and have not only brought over interest from their respected nations, but have provided an incomprehensible supply of skill and performance that has captivated the English audience too.

The Premier Soccer League in South Africa contains some mildly well renowned football teams, including Kaizer Chiefs, Golden Arrows, Orlando Pirates, amongst others. In comparison however, their talent, financial influence and world domination is extremely limited, especially in competition with the English Premier league. With the contingent of African players making their way onto the British Isles, it is understandable how African eyes have followed suit.

Further research into similar London football teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, show a not too dissimilar pattern in regards to invested African interested. The argument here is that these three teams are globally dominant and have played host and are hosting African names that are known throughout world football. Crystal Palace and West Ham however, do not currently have the same status as these select teams, and are not currently employing and playing many African based players.

Crystal Palace, until last year, had Yannick Bolasie under contract, and he was emerging as a starlet player, guaranteed first team football week in week out. The DR Congo winger subsequently made a big money move to Everton, dragging more DR Congo interest along with him. The only African player in the starting 22 on Saturday was West Ham United’s Cheikhou Kouyate, born and raised in Senegal, a country not nearing the top of the google search engine data.

The popularity of Premier League football in West Africa has been well documented and it is testament to the Club's success, on and off the pitch, that we are now considered one of the most high profile and attractive clubs in the region.

West Ham has previous with African football, as recently as August 20th 2016, when they agreed to an international partnership with Nigerian football club FC Ifeanyi Ubah. Baroness Brady, West Ham United’s Vice Chairman, spoke then with BBC Sport, stating ‘The popularity of Premier League football in West Africa has been well documented and it is testament to the Club's success, on and off the pitch, that we are now considered one of the most high profile and attractive clubs in the region.’

This is evidence that it is understood throughout western football that African interest is growing, but is also captivating for the English teams to profit from this emerging African football status.

Looking further back, African interest in these teams can be followed in a similar format. Over the past week, the past month, and even across the past five years, Africa, specifically Kenya and Uganda have dominated internet search. 

You could argue that the United Kingdom isn’t top of the list because their knowledge and access to English teams is far vast and attainable, allowing them to use other means of communitive mediums to gain the information they seek. Also, a location of different, but largely domineering football clubs, results more on specific post codes looking at specific teams (for example, people from the North googling Newcastle United). 

There is also the factor that football, although considered the most commercially, financially and influential sport in the United Kingdom, isn’t the only major sport to reside on the island. Rugby, Cricket, and Athletics are just some examples of largely popular sporting events that regularly prevail. Such divided enthusiasm must surely detract from a more individualistic google search interest and limit the analysis reaching a wider and greater audience on a regular basis.

The United States of America could be included in this particular bracket, with a vast array of sports covering the landscape of America. Although their interest in football is high, with the emergence of the MLS imposing itself within the western media, their elegance to other sports such as baseball, basketball and American football to name a few isolates football from its core scrutiny. 

Also, the very fact that Americans refer to football as ‘soccer’ has a telling effect on the analytical outcomes. Google trends are specific to what is typed into its function, and cannot be expected to simply and easily differentiate between ‘soccer’ and ‘football’ searches, thus meaning there is even further division denying the USA access to the top searches of English football over a substantial period. 

For Africa, football is one of their three primary popular sports, alongside cricket and rugby, all arguably coincidently British. Formally of the British Empire in terms of the South African Act of 1909 through until the 1960 referendum which allowed them the freedom to be individual once more, this period of 51 years coincided with the emergence of these three sports. 

So, before the technology we have access to today, the historic and ancestry nature of sport, specifically football, was already embedded in African minds. It seems only natural once technological advances found their way to the African continent, that their passion for football would relate over to their internet activities. 

Although many African footballers have succeeded in the English game, it is too naive to think this is the sole reason of African interest. Through the collaborative nature with the British Empire, to the emergence of modern day technology finding its way to African soils, to THEN the evolution of African sportsman inhabiting the western world, it is perhaps not too alarming or surprising to find that African football interest, specifically in London, is at an all-time high.

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