By Pratibha Tuladhar — FOR the past four months, Ndoe Mbarga Pierre Herve, 30, has been waking up to mildly chilly Kathmandu mornings, in a room on the top floor of a three-storey football club house. When he steps out of bed, he has to stoop to make sure his head does not hit the ceiling of the five and half feet traditional house in the heart of old Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
Herve, popularly known as Peter, is one of 51 African footballers who play for the 16 Nepalese football clubs. In his youth he played alongside Samuel Eto’o, who is one of the highest paid players and now plays for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. “Eto’o and I trained at the same academy as youngsters,” Peter flashes a neatly set row of teeth.
“He’s out there and I’m here, but that’s how life is!” Peter’s new home, the bustling Sankata courtyard, where he sometimes sits drinking coke and conversing with the locals, is surrounded by 50 odd houses, with two temples at the centre — a marked change from his surroundings in his home city Yaounde.
Football is the most popular sport in the Himalayan nation, but the sport has been struggling to carve a niche for Nepal on the international map.
“The number of football clubs has been multiplying even as there is a dearth of players in the country,” said Indra Man Tuladhar, Chief Executive Officer of All Nepal Football Association (ANFA).
To make up for the lack of good players, the clubs have started signing foreign football players.
“It’s cheaper for the clubs to get African players because you have to issue a full year contract to Nepali players, which costs a lot of money.” Nepal’s football clubs are packed with African players mostly from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Nigeria.
“Most of the clubs sign African players for the league season only, which costs much less.” The African players are lured to Nepal by agents who promise them $5,000 per month. This often does not happen and they receive only $1,000 a month and admit that they arrived in Nepal without much information.
“Only after getting here I started knowing about Nepal,” said Peter.
“I find that the people are friendly, I get gifts and I get invited for Nepali festivals.” When Nepal was celebrating some major festivals last month, Peter was invited by his neighbours to share in the Nepali feasts.
Peter shares his apartment with two other Cameroonians, a Nigerian and a South African, as well as several local players, at their Sankata Club’s house. But the experience of living in Nepal is subjective. Unlike Peter, his South African room-mate Lindani Mbambo says that his experiences of living in the country have not always been pleasant.
“Since we are foreigners, the referee and the crowd is against us, so we’re always under pressure to deliver 100 per cent,” says Mbambo, who has been living in Nepal for 18 months. The 29-year-old, who wears his hair in braids says he’s uncomfortable walking around the streets because people always shoot a long glance at him and sometimes children laugh at him.
For a country that opened to foreigners only in the 1950s, African residents are rare in Nepal.
“But the world is a global village and if I’m in Nepal, I should try to make it my home.” Some African footballers travel around South Asia, playing league seasons in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. For fellow Nepali players, playing with the foreigners has also been a learning experience.
“We can learn from their toughness and strong game,” says Jagjeet Shrestha, who is a midfielder for Friends club.
“We don’t have a big number of good players and their football culture is better than ours.” The trend of African players playing in the country began some five years ago as clubs signed players without the correct paper work. But ANFA soon changed the rules and started signing only players who had work permits.
“The African footballers are very hardworking and disciplined, so they are respected by their peers,” Tuladhar claims.
With the leagues season on in Nepal, many foreign footballers, who are Christians are on the field during the holiday season.