In recent times, Sunderland has gone a bit crazy for all things African. Interest obviously piqued with the arrivals of Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah, Sulley Muntari, Ahmed Elmohamady and Stephane Sessegnon. Most of us picked up an immediate kinship with Ghana for obvious reasons, with half an eye on Elmo and Sess' progress with Egypt and Benin respectively.
With the first three all now well away from Wearside, many people's attention to African football deteriorated, which of course is entirely their choice, but personally I've continued to keep an eye on the continent. I find African football enjoyable, regardless of whether one of our own is playing.
It may not be the greatest, but it has an honesty about it, and certainly it's own 'brand' in the same way South America does.
Now to hark back, I have been keeping an eye on all things Benin since the arrival of Stephane Sessegnon, and when I heard about a documentary about the Benin national team. I really wanted to see it.
When I contacted producer/director Richard Shepherd, I was delighted to be offered a review copy. So before I ramble on any more, enjoy our review of "Laduma! Benin's Journey"...
The film starts by outlining the significance of following Benin. Why Benin of all teams? Benin finished dead last in their attempt to qualify for the World Cup in 2006. From there many Beninese coaching staff and players were given their marching orders. Motivation added to by the death of a former teammate, and a former manager.
A new team, a younger and more exciting team built around our own Stephane Sessegnon was then charged with qualification.
We move on to some stereo-typically African footage. People dancing, chanting, music and in all honesty Benin looks a very nice place to go. Something I'd not really considered until seeing this. A statement backed up by musicians Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley later in the film.
It's here that we're introduced to this new found exciting team, complete with nicknames, some more creative than the others. The skillful Romuald "The King" Boco, Yoann "Yo" Djidonou, Razak "Omo-Goal" Omotoyossi and of course the one we know and love Stephane "Diamant Noir" Sessegnon.
Sessegnon is the feature early in the film, where we find out about his upbringing and thirst for the game...
I was very young when I started. 5 or 6 years old. It was like medicine, my parents said the ball was the only thing that could calm me down. If I didn't have my little ball next to me I'd tremble. Sometimes I was put in goal, but after two minutes I had to go score.
This struck me, as when you see Sessegnon play, he is a ball hungry player, and as we've noticed if teams can mark him out the game, be becomes a frustrated soul. On the other hand though, we might have a 4th or 5th choice keeper if need be!
Sess seem's a decent man in this, seems to keep fairly quiet and himself to himself. Perhaps the polar opposite of our other African star, Asamoah Gyan. It's noticeable during team bus singalongs Sessegnon isn't dancing about with the rest, and certainly doesn't seem to want the limelight.
The back story of other players however is somewhat less jovial than Stephane's. Tales of 'trials' not being what the seem, being outcast for no apparent reason and players not seeing their family for years as they seek their dreams of playing in the big leagues around Europe.
There's more fantastic insight on the DVD to life and culture in Benin, and in particular Coutonou, birth place of slavery, voodoo and more. The slavery aspect acts as a real history lesson, and is at times incredibly moving as we're shown sites where slaves were sold, memorials and mass graves.
One minor criticism may be that it occasionally goes on about the culture, particularly music, more than the football, but at every moment you think that it brings you back to the action, or indeed drops an emotional bomb on you that keeps you watching intently.
After this however, we're lead on a journey chronicling their attempted qualification, starting with a 3-0 defeat to away at Angola, which is quickly followed by a home game against Uganda. A 4-1 win in which Sess scored a belter of a freekick, whilst also assisting the fourth.
Sessegnon bags another assist against Niger as they cruise to the next qualifying round. A tough group, which contains Ghana, Mali & Sudan. Ultimately you know whether or not Benin qualified as you all saw the World Cup, but the story of just how close they came is enthralling.
Sessegnon, at the time still a PSG player, remains a thorn in the side of every opposition, and the trickery and creativity we've come to experience weekly is there for all to see.
We're took on a fantastic journey through the qualification, the ups and downs interspersed with great quality footage of games. The sound of the fans is magnificent. but one thing strikes me throughout. The Beninese are too humble for their own good! A lot is made of praying to various voodoo Gods, belief, music and the likes, but they're actually a very good team. Between Sessegnon and Omotoyossi they have a very exciting frontline, and despite Omotoyossi meandering around the lesser leagues of the world, you'd have to imagine he's worth a punt for a lower Premiership or Championship club.
Now, I'm no Barry Norman, nor am I even a Mark Kermode. Hell, probably not even a Paul Ross, so I'm not particularly well placed to comment on direction or cinematography or anything like that, however I knows what's I like's, and I did enjoy this very much. It suckers you in, you're rooting for the Benin side to make it even though you know the outcome, and I struggle to believe it lasts 96 minutes, as the time flew over.
Highly reccomended from us here at Roker Report, so get yourself a copy today from Laduma Inc's website - http://ladumainc.com/
The documentary is also available to buy from iTunes and Amazon, so give it a search. All monies raised from the DVD go to the East African Famine Fund, so you're helping out as well as getting a great film.
Here's the trailer, and thank you for reading...