In 2002, Sierra Leonean footballer Mohamed Kallon, then playing alongside Ronaldo at Inter Milan, paid £19,500 to acquire a top-division football club in his homeland. Things quickly got weird.
Inter weren’t short of quality forwards in the early 2000s: Ronaldo, Christian Vieri, Álvaro Recoba, Hernán Crespo, Adriano, Julio Cruz, Obafemi Martins.
Big names. Big cult figures.
Also scoring goals for the early-2000s Nerazzurri was Mohamed Kallon, a Sierra Leonean forward who wore the No.3 shirt for three seasons between 2001 and 2004.
Though less of a household name than those other forwards, Kallon was prolific during the 2001-02 season, in which he scored 15 goals in all competitions — more than double that of a half-injured Ronaldo.
Not bad for a player with a left-back’s squad number.
Yet one of the most memorable moments of Kallon’s Inter career came not on the pitch but over the fax machine, when in August 2002 the forward bought a Sierra Leonean football club named — not coincidentally — F.C. Kallon.
Since that historic moment, Mohamed Kallon and F.C. Kallon have been on a strange, up-and-down journey.
Although Kallon’s spell at Inter brought him global recognition, the forward had been in the limelight for several years already.
Between 1995 and 2001, he appeared for no less than six different Italian clubs, hitting double figures in campaigns for Genoa and Reggina.
Combined with his appearances for the Sierra Leone national side, these successful seasons earned Kallon a big reputation in his home country.
So popular was Kallon, in fact, that Freetown club Sierra Fisheries was renamed ‘F.C. Kallon’ in the year 2000.
Confusingly, that wasn’t because Kallon had bought the club. He did eventually, but only two years and several negotiations later, when the player and the club agreed a price of £19,500, bargained down from £32,500.
Even more confusingly, Kallon had already enjoyed a significant level of control over the club before purchasing it.
“I decided to sack the three officials because they are incompetent,” Kallon said in July 2002, a month before the deal was completed.
The future looked bright for Kallon — the person — around that time. Not only did he now own a football club, he also witnessed the departure of Ronaldo to Real Madrid, possibly hinting at more playing opportunities at Inter.
But just as his off-pitch career was gathering steam, his on-pitch performances began to suffer.
Injuries and competition restricted Kallon to just nine league appearances in 2002-03, and things would get much worse the following season.
On September 27, 2003, after a match against Udinese, Kallon tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.
The test resulted in an eight-month ban, ruling Kallon out for the rest of the 2003-04 season.
Worse still, when the Italian football authorities announced the ban, they simultaneously announced the ban of another steroid-abusing player, Perugia ‘footballer’ Al-Saadi Gaddafi, son of Colonel Muammar, who had bought and coerced his way into a bizarre career in professional football.
While not explicitly Kallon’s fault, being lumped together with a Gaddafi was never going to look great.
While Kallon’s Inter spell ended poorly, his 2004 departure for A.S. Monaco coincided with a steady upturn in fortunes for F.C. Kallon.
In 2006, after two good seasons for Kallon himself (first at Monaco then at Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia), F.C. Kallon won the Sierra Leone Premier League — the club’s first title since being renamed.
For neutrals, however, a more satisfying moment occurred three years later, as Kallon (striker) finally signed for Kallon (club).
Although the 30-year-old did quell the excitement by stressing that he didn’t plan to stick around, the transfer was hailed as a coup for the domestic league.
“My homecoming is a temporary one and it’s just for three months, but it’ll be fruitful for the Sierra Leone Premier League,” Kallon said.
“I know my presence in the league will see many Sierra Leoneans get attracted to the Sierra Leone league and this will help the local game grow.”
But although Kallon’s presence drew crowds, football in Sierra Leone wouldn’t grow exactly as the player hoped.
In actual fact, it would completely fall apart.
In 2010, the powerful Kallon opened a public dispute with the Sierra Leone Football Association, claiming he had been excluded from the national side for political reasons.
“They want to get rid of me because they think I’m a threat to them whenever I’m around the Leone Stars,” he said.
“Their problem with me is that they know I won’t allow them to do things the way they want, and which are not good for the team.”
Nahim Khadi, then president of the SLFA, responded with taunts.
“Kallon is a small boy to me, so how can he be a threat?” he said. “If he thinks he’s a king and I’m not running the game well, let him come up to contest the SLFA presidency with me.”
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It’s hard to judge the sincerity of that challenge, but three years later, while playing once again for F.C. Kallon, Mohamed Kallon did indeed declare himself a candidate for the SLFA presidency — a decision that went down well with fans and even owners of rival clubs.
“I’ve been a player for the past 20 years, but don’t forget I have my club F.C. Kallon which has been in existence for the past 12 years,” Kallon pointed out.
“I’m administrating my club by myself and the club are doing well. In the process of playing football I was learning how to administer the game and I think I’m competent enough to lead the FA.”
Unfortunately for Kallon, the SLFA denied his application, pointing out that he had not been a resident of Sierra Leone for the five years leading up to the election, a requirement for any presidential candidate.
Two other candidates were disqualified for other reasons, prompting many to believe that the election was being fixed. Ten Premier League clubs consequently boycotted the league in protest against Kallon’s exclusion.
The election was carried out with just one candidate: current president Isha Johansen.
In 2014, the Ebola epidemic meant all football matches had to be cancelled in order to halt the potential spread of the virus.
Yet when football was given the go-ahead to resume a year later, ongoing conflict in and around the SLFA meant there was still no football.
To this day, there remains no Premier League football, and president Johansen was last year investigated by Sierra’s Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission on suspicion of misusing public funds. FIFA, however, backed Johansen, finding no irregularities in its audits.
But even with all that chaos behind the scenes, F.C. Kallon managed to achieve what might be considered something of a victory.
The Godfather of Sierra Leone Football/Soccer Mohamed Kallon at the game lastnite. Thank big bro It meant a lot 🙏💚⚪️💙 pic.twitter.com/BKhpvvOmkQ
— KEI KAMARA (@keikamara) March 8, 2015
At the start of 2016, 11 Sierra Leone Premier League clubs formed an unofficial breakaway league, free of the supposed corruption of the SLFA.
“We believe that the SLFA led by Isha Johansen is incapable and unable to organise a league that will have all the 14 teams playing because that executive has lost legitimacy,” said Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, leader of the breakaway league.
It didn’t really work. Two clubs, Freetown City and Diamond Stars, dropped out of the breakaway league after just a couple of games, and the competition was abandoned after nine rounds of matches.
Topping the league at its abandonment, however, were F.C. Kallon.
Not exactly champions then, but in a football-starved period for Sierra Leone, it surely counts for something.
Despite consistently opposing the presidency of Johansen, Kallon, now 38, said in January that everyone involved in Sierra Leonean football must work together to get domestic football back up and running.
“If you look down the line, a lot of us have made mistakes,” Kallon admitted. “Personally, I have made my own mistakes, because we were pleasing our egos and we wanted to show that we were strong and without us the game can’t play.
“But it’s about time we forgot about our egos and seek the interests of our country and put it first.”
Whatever the outcome of discussions, Kallon is sure to be at the forefront of Sierra Leonean football for many years to come.
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