Football’s capacity to unite is routinely lauded, but Sunday’s World Cup match between England and Senegal has already divided many west African families in London.
The split is generational. Parents say they tend to support Senegal, the country of their birth, while their children opt to support the state they were raised in: England.
Among the former is British citizen Ndene Ndiaye who arrived in London in 2009 from the capital, Dakar, and is hopeful of a slender Senegalese victory.
The 54-year-old, who works at the acclaimed Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Deptford, south-east London, said: “Senegal represents home and I think they’ll win, but my children were born here and they’re English supporters all the way.”
Behind the fresh food counter at Tomi’s Kitchen, within the heart of Deptford’s sizeable west African population, Peter Odise also confirmed his family had segregated on similar lines.
A staunch Senegal fan – despite hailing from fellow west African state Nigeria – Odise explained that his 16-year-old son was an ardent Arsenal supporter and played for the club’s junior football team.
“Lots of the black community here support Senegal, but the young, including my son, support England.”
Siding with their country of birth had been made easier, said Odise, by the prevalence of black footballers in the England squad.
Among the west African community in this corner of the UK capital, one England player stands above all others: Bukayo Saka.
Odise, 57, said: “Saka has Nigerian parents, but is totally English. He’s inspirational for many. My son wants to be like him.”
Two minutes along Deptford High Street, Emeka, a self-employed exporter from east Nigeria, predicted a 2-1 win for Senegal. Again, it was a result that would not impress his two children, Londoners aged 11 and 14.
“For me that’d be good, I support Africa but they support England,” said the 45-year-old, picking up a portion of fried fish lunch at the Island Buka restaurant.
Among his peers, the footballing success of Senegal – the region’s other World Cup representatives, Ghana, were knocked out on Friday – has united west Africans.
The scenes certain to be witnessed on Sunday at Deptford’s Ivory Restaurant will bear testimony to that regional support.
Hundreds of supporters – many carrying drums and waving Senegalese flags – are expected to congregate in the venue. Herbert Ngassi, who has run the restaurant since 2018, expects it will be a raucous occasion.
Yet such an overt display of national pride is rare for London’s Senegalese diaspora. Ngassi, 44, said they preferred to socialise modestly at each other’s homes, rather than throw ostentatious parties.
“They are a French-speaking community, a hard-working community, a community who, more or less Muslim, does not like to drink and party.”
Ngassi, from Ivory Coast – a traditional powerhouse of west African football but which failed to qualify for the World Cup finals – said the inter-generational divide in the Senegalese community was not solely evidenced in the team they support on Sunday.
“The young have a new way of living but the older generation have maybe stuck to their roots. They have memories of back home, family – and the young have never experienced life there.”
With the temperature struggling to reach 7C on Friday afternoon, Ngassi predictably said that the weather was what he most missed about west Africa.
“Also the food, so full of vitamins, the warmth of the people,” said Ngassi.
And what if Senegal get knocked out? “That’s easy. We’ll all support England.”