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Apr 2, 2014

Sierra Leone Premier League returns

Sierra Leone's most recent Premier League champions, Diamond Stars, are the first club from outside the capital Freetown to win the title. They claimed the trophy in the 2011-12 season and will only now have the chance to defend it.

The reason for this is that the 2014 season kicked off just last week following a lengthy break in play that disrupted the whole of the previous campaign. Ten out of 14 premier league teams boycotted parts of competition, rendering its completion impossible, after Isha Johansen, the president of the Sierra Leone FA, was elected unopposed this past July. Her opponents -- Foday Turay, former national captain Mohamed Kallon and popular football promoter Rodney Michael -- were disqualified from standing, which caused an outcry among the country's footballers.

While Michael was ineligible because he does consulting work for a betting company and is therefore in breach of the FIFA code of ethics, Kallon was prevented from contesting the election because of residency criteria. According to the Sierra Leone FA constitution, anyone standing for the presidency must have lived in the country for five years prior to the election. Kallon had spent time coaching in China, although he denied he had Chinese residency.

Kallon vowed to walk away from his country's game. Quoted by the BBC, he said: "I now know I'm not appreciated and wanted in Sierra Leone by the government as a whole ... I don't want anything to do with Sierra Leone football again."

That was never really going to happen. The Kallon family is sewn into the very fabric of the Sierra Leonean game. Mohamed's brothers, Kemokai and Musa, played for the national team before he did; Mohamed was the youngest player to turn out in his country's premier league -- he was 15 when he signed with Old Edwardians and scored 15 goals in his first season -- and became the youngest to play for the national team at the same age, scoring the winner on his debut.

Kallon went on to play in qualification campaigns for four World Cups between 1998 and 2010 and captained the team as well. He owns Kallon FC, where his brother Musa coaches and runs a children's foundation that aims to get young people off the streets and into more productive activities. Someone like that does not just say they want nothing to do with the game and that's that.

A public soap opera followed in which Kallon claimed Johansen slapped him on the back of the neck and threatened to press charges. Before he could get that far, Johansen pressed charges against him: she claimed that Kallon had pushed her and she was acting in self-defence. Kallon was arrested and released on bail and the matter was with the police until the Sierra Leone FA intervened to try to broker a deal. It succeeded.

A picture on the Sierra Leonean site switsalone.com showed Kallon and Johansen in an embrace. There will be not be a court case and they have promised no more public wrangling. Indeed, they've even agreed to work together for the good of the game.

That may sound too good to be true, and it may yet turn out to be. But for now, there is a sign that it's about more than just goodwill. Kallon FC is participating in both the league and cup competitions, which Kallon says shows he is "co-operating." Sierra Leone's footballers, who did not have a league competition last season, need him to.

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