MARTIN DOWEY’S COLUMN - Africans do it the right way

Ivory Coast run to congratulate Salomon Kalou, center right, after he scored against Burkina Faso in their African Cup of Nations Group B match, at Malabo Stadium in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Ivory Coast run to congratulate Salomon Kalou, center right, after he scored against Burkina Faso in their African Cup of Nations Group B match, at Malabo Stadium in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

TIREDNESS has been a problem for me in the past week or two.

This isn’t because I’ve been burning the candle at both ends - I am too old for that now. It is due to my surprising interest in the African Cup of Nations.

I discovered the competition completely by accident, trying desperately to avoid watching another of the usual turgid television programmes that generally grace the hour between 10pm and 11pm.

I flicked through and was delighted to find some football, it was like Christmas come early.

My interest waned slightly when I realised that it was the African Cup of Nations, but, I am delighted that I decided to give it a go.

The players may not be the best in the world, though some of them actually are, but it is truely great stuff to watch.

Some of it is like a Sunday League battle on television, but that is part of the appeal.

I have seen one match on a flooded pitch, which was great entertainment, tackles flying in and the ref stunningly waving play-on, no diving - even though Didier Drogba has been involved - and actual joy for the game.

The amazing thing is that Drogba and the competition’s big players are like different people.

The Chelsea striker’s mum has even been cooking meals for fans during and after the game.

This is a whole new side of the player for me because I usually see him in the Premiership whining at referees and throwing himself all over the place.

The officials in the African Cup of Nations must be the happiest in the world because they seem to have tamed the top stars and I actually saw a player apologising for a foul during the other night’s meeting between Sudan and Burkina Faso.

That win, Sudan’s first in the competition since 1970, sparked massive celebrations across the country, with fans flooding the streets of the capital Khartoum.

No doubt there will be similar celebrations if England manage to reach the quarter-finals of this year’s European Championships - though I will definitely have lost interest in that competition by then.

Seriously though, the whole event just seems to be a happy one.

The players want to be there, the referees want to be there and the fans definitely want to be there.

You don’t seem to get any controversial gestures or racist remarks in the stands of Equatorial Guinea or Gabon.

In contrast, we see the opposite in the Premier League most weeks. Over the past few days we have had more of the regular moronic activity from top-flight players and officials that dominate most headlines.

Maybe they should take a leaf or chapter about the games going on a few miles further south, they are showing how to play the game properly.

The rest of the cup is a given to be on my TV, and I would advise anyone to do the same.