It is late Thursday evening, three days before the Sierra Leone game. No one has heard from Sierra Leone yet, but Weah isn't thinking about that. He is thinking about the $5,000 per game that each Liberian player receives from the government, and how that fee can't come close to covering most players' expenses or insurance or the salaries they lose when they leave their professional teams to play for the Lone Star. Weah is thinking about a government in which some men are getting rich while some of his national-team members must bum rides because they can't afford cars.
"Players don't have anything," Weah says. "Some have been on the national team for almost 17 years, but they don't even have a pin, something that shows, 'I got this through the national team.' It's sad. Even the young guys are doing their best, and what are they getting? Nothing, and I feel it is cheating."
Before their previous two games, in January, Lone Star players threatened to strike if they weren't paid in advance. Each time Snowe showed up with a suitcase of cash hours before game time. This week it is lost on no player that Massaquoi, the former leader of a faction aligned with Taylor during the war, is driving a new Mitsubishi Pajero. "We all play the game, and he's benefiting," Weah says. "He's got a new Jeep! The players are getting nothing. Do you think it's fair?"
Weah is careful not to name people above Massaquoi, because he knows what can happen to men who speak out in Liberia. It's clear that the issue goes beyond money, that Weah, like a lot of his countrymen, thinks Taylor takes advantage of the Lone Star. Weah was no supporter of the corrupt, often savage government of Samuel Doe, from 1980 to '89, but he says national-team players were appreciated back then. When they beat Ghana in 1988, Doe gave each player an acre of land. A tie game netted a player $10,000; a win was worth $25,000. Doe would personally drive the team onto the field before games.
Weah threatens to quit. He threatens a team strike. This won't happen, of course; no one has more interest in playing, and playing well, than the Lone Star players. Still, Weah wants to stir up public support because he has a real hammer now—because, as Massaquoi says, " George Weah and football are the only things we have to hold on to. Football is the glue that holds this country together."
So maybe if the Lone Star keeps winning, not even Taylor can withstand the pressure. "We've got all the people on the government's back," says James (Miracle Man) Debbah, the team's star striker. "There's no way they can go against it."
Weah again wants to make one thing clear: He wants his team to be treated fairly; he does not want power. "I have my own power," he says. "I have my constitutional rights. I am king in the eyes of the law because God gives me blessing. Anything that's going to happen to me, only God knows. So I'm not frightened of anybody for anything."
He says this late on Thursday night, sitting in what used to be the master bedroom of the house that Taylor's men burned in 1996. Weah rebuilt the place, planning to move back in. "I lived here three days," he says, surrounded by players, hangers-on, soccer officials, women. "But I didn't like the feeling. The spirit of the house was not the way it used to be. A lot of atrocities happened here, and I couldn't live with that spirit. So I had to move to my new place."
He speaks about the incident a bit more, and then his temper rises again, and he begins to talk quickly. He is angry but careful. "I don't want an apology from anybody," Weah says. "I'm hurt. I'm still serving this country as a national-team player; that's my duty to the Liberian people. But my house cost me personal money. Everything they took from me? One day I'm going to get it. They're going to pay for my house. They will pay one day."
The thousands of people who line Tubman Boulevard hear the Lone Star bus before they see it, carried as it is on a wave of screaming. The bus is packed with players in suits and ties. It rolls past St. Peter's Lutheran Church, where Doe's men killed at least 600 people. Past billboards that say, WORDS CAN BE MORE HARMFUL THAN BULLETS and UNBALANCED NEWS IS ALSO A HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE. Past the Pentecostal Church, the Baptist relief mission, the Assembly of God mission school and all the other missionary hubs of what seems to be the nation's one thriving institution. Past the airfield, where hundreds of kids play soccer in the dirt and where, in April 1996, soldiers stabbed Frank Seator's brother to death in front of his mother. Sunday church services stop in mid-sentence; people smile for the first time in a month, men in camouflage hop from foot to foot and thrust their rifles toward the sky. The bus bearing the slogan THE NATION'S PRIDE AND JOY makes a right turn down Airport Road, leading a caravan of cars through the heat-blasted afternoon. The Sierra Leone team finally showed up yesterday. The bus turns into Samuel K. Doe Stadium, and a man with no legs tries to crawl after it as it passes.