Gabon fans, why so fickle?

Many Gabonese supported Senegal during Saturday’s Afcon quarter-final only to celebrate Cameroon’s penalty shootout win.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that football supporters in Gabon are capable of demonstrating such heady highs and such desperate lows in such quick succession.

Take, for example, their vibrant passion during the Panthers’ decisive group game against Cameroon in Libreville. For much of the contest, and ahead of the showdown, the stands – decked out in the national team’s yellow – roared their team on with resplendent fervour.

Yet with 10 minutes on the clock, the supporters began to funnel out of the ground; frowning in disgust and ‘tutting’ in dismay.

The game still had time to run its course, with Gabon’s fortunes firmly in the balance, and many of the departing supporters missed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late chance … and what a celebration they would have been absent for!

It was a similar situation for the Democratic Republic of Congo ‘fans’ – Gabonese in support of their adopted side – who began to filter out of the Stade d’Oyem in the minutes immediately following Andre Ayew’s penalty on Sunday evening.

There was still everything to play for, and yet as Florent Ibenge rolled the dice by introducing more forwards, and as substitute Cedric Bakambu went close with two efforts late on, many of the local fans had already turned their back on the spectacle.

Yet the greatest scenes of fickle fandom came the evening before, in the centre of Oyem, in the bars, shops and clubs where Cameroon’s match with Senegal was being shown.

Attendances were split for this clash.

With Oyem so close to the Cameroonian border, there are many first or second generation Cameroonian immigrants who were naturally roaring the land of their fathers or birth on with an undiluted passion.

However, many of the Gabonese residents took pleasure in chiding their brethren and supporting Senegal; after all, the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

Yet at the game’s tantalising conclusion, as Sadio Mane’s spot kick was saved by Joseph Ondoa, the local fans who had been denigrating the Indomitable Lions for the proceeding 120 minutes rose as one in a cacophony of celebration.

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Perhaps the shootout had unearthed sentiment of a Central African kinship that had previously been forgotten, or maybe, as the many Manchester City ‘fans’ in Gabon attest to, everyone loves an excuse to celebrate.

Yet these were scenes the like of which I hadn’t witnessed before in this tournament, with bottles of beer taken onto the streets, frantic dancing with Cameroon flags – procured from who knows where – and even fireworks and dancing along the uneven pavements of Oyem.

It was the carnival to end all carnivals, and even the wild dogs of the town joined in the party uneasily, contributing with barking, wailing and tail-wagging aplenty.

One man, suspiciously wearing a Gabon cap, even dropped to his knees in the middle of the street, stopping traffic in both directions, to prostrate himself in a babbling prayer to God.

It was joy unquenched.

My heart went out to one lady, sitting quietly to the bar, who gazed on and shook her head in despair as Mane’s penalty was deflected away.

She had Senegalese origins, she had told me, and for her, at least, this one really mattered.

By Ed Dove
@EddyDove on Twitter

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