Note: Today I decided to upload my articles from the official Liverpool forums, and I’ve done a fair few to bulk up the blog a bit. So, here we go.
Fun fact: Ali Dia wasn’t a very good footballer. At least not by the standards of your Ronaldo’s or Messi’s. Nothing to be ashamed of – very, very few of us will be blessed with the talent of the players fans staple as flops, let alone be as good as the greatest players in the world. Apparently in the premier league for example, 67 English players played in the premier league on a weekend in December 2007. Our male population measures up as around 28 million males (apparently), which doesn’t stack up very well for you aspiring superstar footballers out there. Especially those of you who don’t actually play football. In fact, one in every 417,910 English males will be good enough to play in the premier league, accordig to my calculator. (Some might be lucky enough to play in the premiership and not be good enough, but that’s a big can of worms.) So yeah, good luck.
Of course taking into account world population those odds grow even smaller. Billions upon billions of passionate, die hard football fans who will never ever, ever, ever, get a sniff of playing for a league two club, a league one club, let alone a premier league club, let alone their favorite club which plays in that league. We just don’t get that honour, that privelige, for all we care and love. That privelidge belongs to celebrities playing charity matches, not to us common folk.
Enter Ali Dia.
Ali Dia was a professional footballer for Senegal, but don’t let that fool you. His record in his entire career at professional clubs was 2 goals in 17 appearances for 6 recorded clubs in 9 years. As a striker, which isn’t quite Torres-esque even in Torres’ current form. And in 1996 he was 31 years old. His spluttering career winding down. The poor guy, stuck miles away from the glitter sprinkled stage of the premier league, wandering conference leagues as a journeyman.
What follows is the greatest prank/fluke in English professional footballing history, if not the world.
It isn’t even a particularly well concieved plan, all things told. Ali Dia enlists the help of a fellow university student to call around premier league clubs claming that he was George Weah, and that Ali Dia was his very talented cousin. He rung around premier league clubs, trying to promote Dia’s services.
Of course this is ridiculous. This is an utterly ridiculous plan which if done a hundred more times would never, ever succeed in getting a player like Ali Dia a trial at a premier league club. It would be utter madness for clubs that employ handsomely paid scouts the scour the world for talent to just give any old player a trial without knowing anything about the player or not even having heard of said player. Utterly ridiculous.
Except for Graham Souness, who proceeded to sign Ali Dia up on a month contract. Giving little Ali Dia, in the twilight of his career, the chance to train with the likes of Matt Le Tissier for at least a few days. What fan wouldn’t jump at that chance?
Of course that’s where this story ends. He was found out in training, exposed for being the below grade that he was, and dumped quicker then diahorrea. Game Over for his career, back to mediocrity with the rest of us. Not.
Souness was obviously stuck on the idea that he had acquired a striker with George Weah’s awesome power, and that Ali Dia just needed a little time to adjust. Ali Dia was set to star in a reserve game, and it was there he was found out. Or then again, not found out. The reserve game was cancelled, due to a waterlogged pitch. If this was a sign of god using his awesome power to just screw with Souness, then he was just getting started. Souness, having barely seen Dia play, remained set in his belief that he may just have picked up a great player for nothing, and the fates seemed to be conspiring to lead this view on, lead Souness on, to probably Souness’ most bewildering day. 23rd of November, 1996. Southampton take on Leeds, and Dia gets a place on the bench.
Of the somewhat thin evidence that God is a Liverpool fan and was waging furious vengeance on Souness for Liverpool’s fall from grace, this day must rank up there as one of the bigger pieces. Matthew Le Tissier injured, substituted off on 32 minutes, and Souness, inexplicably deluded, sent on Ali Dia.
What probably ranks among Souness’ worst minutes as a manager, was probably Ali Dia’s greatest 22 minutes of his life. He was rubbish. He missed an open goal, along with another fairly decent chance. He wandered all over the place. He couldn’t control the ball. He was substituted after 53 minutes. In the words of Le Tissier,‘His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn’t really have a position. He was just wondering everywhere. I don’t think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. I don’t even know if he spoke English – I don’t think I ever said a word to him. In the end he got himself subbed because he was that bad.’
Most fans probably think this a bad thing. The most notorious player ever according to most in fact. Number 1 in several bad transfer lists. But I tell you now that Ali Dia is a legend. Most of us untalented footballers will never play for a premier league side, or even get close. Ali Dia managed it, with a massive amount of luck, but with balls and with persistence, and with the help of a friend who goes sadly unremembered. Ali Dia is the fan in the crowd supporting his beloved team who is suddenly called up to by his manager to get laced up, to take the field and play. And Ali Dia nearly scored. Twice.
Dreams are made of what Ali Dia built.
He disappeared into conference mediocrity immediatly after the game, to never be heard of again. But he can tell his kids that he played for a top, top side. He can pretend that he was that good. Hell, he could tell them the truth, and say he pulled the greatest hoax in history, and it would still be amazing. He was the worlds best streaker – he smashed every other mad fan running in every direction across the pitch by a mile. 23 minutes of running headless in every direction and the security guards never caught him.
So this is my dedication to Ali Dia, because one day there will be moves about him, possibly even a trilogy. And a paraphrasal of Mel Gibson/William Wallace shall be in there. Like this:
‘…dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here, and play twenty three minutes for Southampton as a striker!’
Yes, Ali Dia is that awesome. He is the football fan who fulfilled his dreams against all the odds, and in spite of everything you may have read, can hold his head high indeed.