Archive for April, 2014

Sunderland Hendon v Sunderland The Alexandra, Monday 21st April 2014, 10.30am

April 24, 2014

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As you might have spotted from the team names, this one was a bit of a change from watching the likes of the Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns. Jen and I were in the UK for Easter and I took the opportunity to watch a game between a couple of teams from the Wearside Combination League. Really? Yes really.

To be more precise, it was the final of the Alan Hood Memorial Trophy and that was pretty much the reason for my attendance. Alan was my Dad’s cousin and my godfather. He died in a car crash in 1987 and the Wearside Combination League re-named the former Blind Institute Cup in his memory.

Alan actually played in the first football match I ever went to. He was captaining Easington Colliery and his dad, my great-uncle Jim, took me along to watch. I reckon it will probably have been the 72-73 season, maybe 73-74. Anyway, Alan came over to talk to us as the teams were warming up and told me that the Vaseline on his eyebrows was to prevent him getting cut when head-butting the opposition players. I, of course, believed every word.

After he stopped playing he became a ref and went on to make the Football League list.  I remember watching him reffing reserve games at Ayresome Park and running the line in an old First Division game against Derby.

Alan as a boy, Uncle Jim is back right.

Alan as a boy, Uncle Jim is back right.

The venue for the final was the Boldon CA ground and so I took a drive up the A19 with my Dad and my son, Tom. There are two pitches, one of which is used by Northern League Jarrow Roofing and the other by Boldon Colliery Welfare of the Wearside League. This game was on the Boldon Colliery Welfare pitch, but it was still a step up from the places where these teams usually play.

Boldon CA.

Boldon CA.

The sign on the gate stated that it was £2.50 to get in, but it was charity donations into a bucket instead. The trophy was on display as we went in. It’s an impressive looking effort, but so it should be as it’s a full-size replica of the European Cup.

My Dad with the cup.

My Dad with the cup.

The setting didn’t really seem worthy of the trophy. You wouldn‘t expect to win the European Cup on a pitch full of dandelions where the grass was a good inch longer than it should have been. There were about forty people milling around when we arrived with the usual old blokes supplemented by friends and family of the players.

We’d got lucky in a way, with the top two teams in the Wearside Combination having made the final. Sunderland Hendon, who were presumably named to avoid any confusion with the Barnet-based Hendon that play in the Isthmian League, were taking on the equally precisely named Sunderland The Alexandra.

No Champions League theme music on this occasion.

No Champions League theme music on this occasion.

Hendon were kitted out in a very Spanish looking red and white stripes with blue shorts combo with  The Alexandra sporting blue shirts and white shorts. The uneven pitch wasn’t the best surface for passing and so neither side really bothered, preferring just to lump the ball upfield at the earliest opportunity.

There was more squabbling than goalmouth action in the first half, with players turning on their team mates whenever a move broke down, Hendon were marginally the better side though and some dodgy defending from their opponents allowed them to go in at the break a couple of goals up.

A couple of those look familiar.

A couple of those fans look familiar.

By the time the second half kicked off the crowd had grown to around two hundred. An early penalty to Hendon allowed them to increase their lead to three and it looked to be game over. The Alexandra players certainly thought so and started their post-mortem on the pitch rather than wait until they got to the pub.

Surprisingly, they stopped the arguing just long enough to pull a goal back and set up a frantic final twenty minutes. Being frantic generally isn’t enough though and it wasn’t sufficient to compensate for the panic that set in whenever one of them found themselves anywhere near the penalty box.

Championies.

Championies.

Hendon hung on for the win and we watched them lift Alan’s trophy. I doubt any of them knew who he was or why he wore Vaseline on his eyebrows. We did, though.

 

 

Knights v Dolphins, Sunday 6th April 2014, 10am

April 24, 2014

1 - opening shot

Jen and I had a choice as to what to watch on the second day of our weekend in Bloemfontein, but as we had a five hour drive back up to Gauteng that day I didn’t really fancy hanging about for the three o’clock kick-off in the Bloemfontein Celtic game.

The alternative option was going to the cricket, specifically the fourth day of the Knights v Dolphin ‘county championship‘ clash. As well as it being the final day of the game, it was also the final day of the season.

Chevrolet Park is actually only a few hundred yards from the hotel that we were staying in, but I hadn’t realised and we ended up driving around the outskirts of Bloemfontein looking for the golf club that the blue dot on my phone seemed determined to direct us to.

Eventually, by putting the previous stadium name of Outsurance Oval into the satnav we discovered that the location was pretty much where had set off from almost an hour earlier.

Chevrolet Park

Chevrolet Park

Admission was free and we entered the ground a couple of minutes after the start of play only to see the players all walking off the field. The final wicket of the Knights first innings had just been taken, after an impressive stand of one hundred and seventeen and so we had the ten minute between innings break to find ourselves somewhere to sit.

It wasn’t difficult to get seats as there were only four other people watching, all of whom I assumed to be relatives of the players. In the time that we were there I counted a total of eleven different people watching, although there were never more than seven at a time. I know there wasn’t likely to be a result in the match and even if there had been it wouldn’t have counted for much, but come on, eleven people at a free entry first class cricket game? What better way could there be to idle away a decent portion of a Sunday?

That was all of them at that time.

That was all of them at that time.

The seats that we took turned out to be a little too close to a bird’s nest just above us and so the gaps between deliveries were spent watching the parents turning up with grubs in their mouths, anxiously wondering whether they should reveal the location, before invariably deciding not to and then eating the grub themselves.

I've no idea what type of bird it was.

I’ve no idea what type of bird it was.

Jen isn’t overly impressed with cricket and so she cleared off to do a bit of shopping. That reduction in the crowd from six to five was my cue to have a wander around the ground and have each of the other stands to myself.

As I left whichever stand I was in I noticed an open door to a room with tables in it and found myself in the players dining room. I can’t say I’d ever wondered about the lunching arrangements, but now I know how they do it at Chevrolet Stadium.

Plenty of cake, I'd imagine.

Plenty of cake, I’d imagine.

There wasn’t anyone watching from the big stand to the left, but there a few people working underneath it, washing cars and doing a bit of general maintenance. I don’t suppose there will be much going on for a few months once this game had finished.

The view to the left.

The view to the left.

The first breakthrough of the morning for the Knights came as I was making my way across the grassy bank that was parallel with the wicket. It didn’t mean a lot in terms of the game as the Dolphins probably weren’t intending to bat for too long.

A first innings lead of around a hundred and twenty suggested that they would smack the ball around for the morning session or maybe a little longer and then go through the motions of having a bowl with little hope of a result.

The view back towards where we'd been sat.

The view back towards where we’d been sat.

Looking across towards the wicket you can see the Free State Stadium in the background. The realisation that we were within fifty yards or so of Chevrolet Park the previous day when at the rugby game just makes the one hour drive around looking for the ground even more laughable.

There’s another grassy bank on the Free State Stadium side of the pitch that has a few trees dotted around. Not so good if you end up behind one, but ideal if you get there early and prop yourself up against one.

As I walked between the trees I noticed that the leaves had started it fall. Autumn in April. I’m still getting used to living in the southern hemisphere and in my book April is the time for the start of the cricket season, not the end of it.

Free State Stadium in the background.

Free State Stadium in the background.

Did I say that there were eleven spectators? Well, make that eleven and a dog as one fella took his mutt for a walk around the boundary rope. Not only that, he threw a ball for it to chase. Just what you need at a cricket game. That said, the players positioned by the rope seemed to welcome the diversion. Maybe they were hoping Fido would save a four.

One man and his dog.

One man and his dog.

The Dolphins continued to hit out for the rest of the morning session, losing three or four wickets as they scored at more than six an over. I’d been expecting them to take lunch at noon, after two hours play, but they carried on for another ten minutes. Perhaps they were making up time from earlier in the game.

Time for lunch.

Time for lunch.

With a five hour drive ahead of us the end of the morning’s play was our signal to clear off.  For those of you who want to know what happened in the match, Dolphins declared not long into the afternoon session, setting the Knights a target of three hundred and seventeen. It seems that both teams went through the motions for a while before calling it a day and heading off early too.

 

 

Toyota Cheetahs v Chiefs, Saturday 5th April 2014, 3pm

April 23, 2014

1 - opening shot

Bloemfontein is a five hour drive from where Jen and I live in Gauteng and if I thought sensibly about it, it’s probably a bit too far to travel to for just an overnight stay. Thing is though, I’d seen that there was a First Division football game taking place on the Saturday, followed by a Premier league match on the Sunday.

What made it more attractive was that the First Division game was between the bottom two teams, Roses United and Blackburn Rovers, teams that when the inevitable relegation to the Second Division happens may as well have vanished from the face of the Earth.

With that in mind, we set off early for Bloemfontein. It wasn’t a particularly interesting drive, plenty of open spaces with not much going on in them. Jen spotted some giraffe in the distance but I saw nothing more exciting than the odd bit of roadkill.

After five hours of driving I’d had enough and the prospect of continuing on another half an hour to the Kaizer Sebothelo stadium at nearby Botshabelo held little appeal. Or more specifically driving there and then driving another half an hour back into town after the game held no appeal. It was time for Plan B, which was to check straight into our hotel and then walk the few hundred yards to the Free State Stadium for some Super Rugby instead.

Free State Stadium.

Free State Stadium.

The hotel that I’d booked us into advertised itself as being inside a zoo, with a view of elephants through the room windows. We didn’t see any of those, mainly because we had a big tree outside of our window blocking the view, but also because I don’t think there were any elephants.

We had a look through the window at the end of our corridor and were rewarded with some sort of nondescript bok with just the one horn. And I don‘t mean one horn like a unicorn, I mean one horn because the other had fallen off at some point.

The situation was redeemed by fighting squirrels. There were three of them, although I suspect just the one was the troublemaker. The hotel would have been better off advertising them rather than elephants as I was tempted to move to Plan C and just watch the squirrels scrap it out for the rest of the afternoon.

"Get into 'em"

“Get into ’em”

Good as the squirrels were, we set off for the rugby and after a walk through a shopping mall that seemed a lot further than the hotel had claimed, we arrived at the Free State Stadium. I asked at the ticket office for tickets in a drinking stand with shade. “No problem“ she said and promptly sold us two sixty rand seats in the sun.

Even with tickets, it wasn’t easy to get in and we were turned back at the first gate we tried on account of my camera. Apparently it was too big. I wouldn’t care, but it’s not some big professional effort. It’s not even a proper DSLR, it’s just a poxy bridge camera.

We politely accepted the decision and made our way along to the next gate where we avoided the bag search. There’s always a way around these little hurdles.

After discovering our shaded seats were in the sun we found an alternative spot in the shade and waited for the teams to emerge through a guard of honour provided by a dozen bikers. I bet the groundsman loved that. Maybe they could have farmers with their ploughs next week.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Anyway, with the game underway and a beer in my hand everything eventually felt right with the world. For those interested in the stadiums, this one was built in 1995 for the Rugby World Cup. It also staged half a dozen games at the 2010 football World Cup, including the game where Germany beat England 4-1. We were sat at the end where Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal‘ happened.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We’d seen the Chiefs the week before in Pretoria and they’d looked a decent side on that occasion. They struggled in the first half though  as the Cheetahs, who had never beaten the Chiefs, seemed to be able to score at will.

The game looked over at half-time with the home side 34-10 ahead.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

It was a different story after the break as the visitors gradually clawed their way back into the game. At one stage the Chiefs had reduced the deficit to a single point before a couple of Cheetahs penalties gave the home side a seven point advantage.

The Cheetahs were still seven points up with just thirty seconds to go on their own line out. Instead of killing the ball and then booting it out once the hooter went, they somehow contrived to lose possession to the Chiefs who kept the ball alive for another three minutes before scoring under the posts.

The view towards the other end.

The view towards the other end.

The easy conversion gave the Chiefs their second last-ditch draw in a week and resulted in a stunned silence as the crowd left the stadium. We made our way back to the hotel where there were still no elephants and the squirrels seemed to have made up with each other.

 

Mamelodi Sundowns v Amatuks, Sunday 30th March 2014, 3.30pm

April 21, 2014

1 - opening shot

Day two of the Pretoria weekend meant it was the Premier League game between Mamelodi Sundowns and Amatuks. We had a five and a half hour gap between being booted out of our hotel room and the mid-afternoon kick-off so we had a walk along to the Union Building to idle away some of the morning.

Even if you aren’t too familiar with Pretoria landmarks, you still might know the Union Building as it’s the place where Nelson Mandela lay in state last year. There’s not much more going for it though as you can’t go inside. We slogged up the hill, ran the gauntlet of tat sellers at the top and then made our way back down through the gardens. It killed an hour or so but I wouldn’t recommend it. Even the busload of Chinese tourists didn’t seem inclined to hang around.

It's nothing special.

It’s nothing special.

Fortunately we noticed the nearby Sheraton Hotel and were able to while away the remaining time reading their newspapers before going for the buffet lunch. It’s a lot more enjoyable than pressing your nose up against the glass doors of the Union Building.

The walk in to the stadium was a lot quieter than it had been the previous day and led me to believe that the Sundowns wouldn’t be attracting much of a crowd. The merchandising was more low–key too with most of the sellers setting out their wares on the ground rather than stalls.

It was better tat than at the Union Building.

It was better than the tat at the Union Building.

We made our way around to the ticket office where the bloke behind the counter kept us and the people behind us waiting as he criticised the appointment of David Moyes at Man United. I find it hard to have any sympathy for Man United fans. They’ve had it good for a long time and are long overdue a relatively fallow spell. Two forty rand tickets and a lecture later we headed for the East Stand, pausing to let the one of the branches of the Mamelodi Supporters Club march past.

They were happy to go the long way around.

They were happy to go the long way around.

The pitch looked in reasonable condition considering that there had been a game of rugby played on it just the day before and the ground staff had made a decent effort at removing or disguising the various sponsor logos that had been painted onto the grass.

Mamelodi, who were dressed up as Brazil, started the better of the two teams but looked vulnerable to being caught on the counter-attack.

View from the East Stand.

View from the East Stand.

I’d estimate the crowd at about a couple of thousand, most of them being Sundowns supporters in the West Stand. There were a hundred or so of the kids who had marched past us before the game behind the goal to our right and maybe a dozen Amatuks fans at the front of the East. The away fans were supplemented by a few Kaizer Chiefs fans who had turned up to cheer on the opposition to their rivals.

Hat Of The Day.

Hat Of The Day.

As the first half drew to a close both teams had their chances. It was the Sundowns that broke the deadlock though, a minute before half-time when Laffor headed home unchallenged from five yards out.

Amatuk equalised just after the hour sparking wild celebrations from the alliance of their own and the Kaizer Chiefs fans.

Amtuks fans celebrate Nyondo’s goal.

Amtuks fans celebrate Nyondo’s goal.

The visiting supporters joy was short-lived as within a couple of minutes Mamelodi had regained the lead with the third headed goal of the game, this time a glancing effort from Mokoena.

That was it as far as the scoring went, although we were treated to a few wild tackles as the home side hung on for the victory.

This one caused a bit of an uproar.

This one caused a bit of an uproar.

As we left the ground alongside the Chiefs fans, we had to run the gauntlet for the second time that day, this time it was the Sundown’s under tens fan club making their presence felt and delighting in their victory. Whilst I’d expect the Chiefs to finish on top come the end of the season it was good to see the kids making the most of the win.

 

 

Bulls v Chiefs, Saturday 29th March 2014, 3pm

April 14, 2014

1 - opening shot

Despite the rugby season being well underway these days, I’ve been trying to prioritise football and cricket. Mainly because I prefer them, but also because I can save the rugby games for the winter when the other two sports are taking a break.

At the weekend though, I’d spotted that the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria was hosting games on consecutive days, with a Super Rugby match on Saturday afternoon and then a Premier League football game on the Sunday. Pretoria is only about three quarters of an hour drive from where Jen and I live, but I booked us into a hotel close to the ground so that I could have a few scoops during the rugby.

See, two games.

See, two games.

It was an easy enough walk to the stadium from the hotel and despite all the scare stories that I’ve heard about wandering around in Pretoria it seemed safe enough. A few of the locals were renting out their drives for parking, others, perhaps not so local, were charging for guiding cars onto any available bit of land and then ‘looking after them’.

There were plenty of stalls selling food,mainly steak and burgers, whilst the main access road to the stadium had a variety of stands selling Bulls merchandise. Hats with cow horns on seemed a popular item.

Plenty of flags and shirts too.

Plenty of flags and shirts too.

I’d heard from a fella at work that there were restrictions on drinking in your seat at the rugby, but I remembered that when I was at the Ellis Park game last year that there were people in a posh section in front of us who seemed to be consuming an unlimited supply of beer throughout the game. With that in mind I booked seats in the most expensive part of the ground, paying 450 rand a pop compared to the 70 to 150 rand everywhere else.

We got into the stadium an hour or so before kick-off and it turned out our seats weren’t so special after all, they were close to the tunnel but weren’t sectioned off or anything. Two rows back or a few seats along we could have had a similar view for a third of the price.

The view from the not so cheap seats.

The view from the not so cheap seats.

At that point we headed off to the bar only to be told that not only could we not drink in our seats, we couldn’t drink anywhere in the stadium. How could that be right?. It’s rugby, you are meant to watch it with a pint in your hand. And so to recap. I’d booked a hotel room for the night to avoid having to drive and then paid three times over the odds for my seat only to be sat drinking Coke. Wonderful.

Loftus Versfeld is quite an old stadium, dating back about a hundred years, but with plenty of modifications over that time, notably a few dozen executive boxes, which you won’t be surprised to hear were packed with people partying. Gits.

You can see some of those boxes in the background.

You can see some of those boxes in the background.

The first half was pretty tight with the Chiefs going in at the break just a single point ahead. Star of the show was Bulls lock Victor Matfield who, after two years in retirement, has taken up playing again. It will be interesting to see if he regains his Springbok spot.

In the second half the Bulls put a bit of pressure on the visitors and with five minutes left were a comfortable twelve points ahead. It wasn’t enough though and a couple of tries, the last of which was converted from the touchline with the final kick of the game, enabled the Chiefs to snatch an unexpected draw.

Chiefs on the attack.

Chiefs on the attack.

There was better news on the beer front as when we left the ground we discovered a field with a bar in it. I made up for the lack of drink inside the stadium by having a few cans as we listened to some 70’s tribute band blasting out Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival hits.

If they’d played anything by Mott The Hoople it would have pipped that ELO tribute act from a couple of months ago to gig of the year so far. They didn’t and so found themselves in second and last place.

Finally, a beer.

Finally, a beer.

So, lessons learned. Turn up early next time, drink outside and then buy a seventy rand ticket for the East Stand, which is the one closest to the bar in the field.

 

 

SWD Eagles v Regent Boland Cavaliers, Saturday 22nd March 2014, 3pm

April 1, 2014

swellendam mountains

I got a bit lucky with this game as Jen and I had planned a trip to Cape Town that initially didn‘t coincide with any sporting fixtures. However, a late switch of venue for a Vodacom Cup rugby game from George to Swellendam coincided very nicely with our arrival in town and meant that I could get my fix of live action.

We’d set off three days earlier, catching the overnight train from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. It was a pleasant enough journey, mainly due to us being in the posh part of the train. We spent twenty-odd hours meandering towards the coast with plenty to eat and drink and with very few other passengers around to spoil things.

It’s getting on for thirty years since my inter-railing days and nights spent on a train seem much quieter these days. There’s far less vomiting out of the windows for a start.

That station had seen better days.

That station had seen better days.

The view from the lounge carriage varied considerably. At times we’d pass shanty towns, or as they tend to be known ‘informal settlements‘. The main source of fun for the small kids at those places seemed to be hurling rocks at the train.

Further on in the journey we spooked a few ostriches, some of which were bright enough to know that they wanted to run, but not that they wanted to run away from the train rather than sprinting alongside it. If they had bigger brains then they’d probably have thrown rocks too.

We were in the purple bit.

We were in the purple bit.

We picked up a car at Port Elizabeth and just kept the sea on our left until we got to Plettenburg Bay. There’s a National Park there, Robberg, and so the next day we were able to go for a hike. The six mile trail was described in some of the reviews as strenuous and that was a fair summary, with the path diverting up and down from the beach to the cliff tops far more than I’d hoped.

Nice scenery though.

Nice scenery though.

It took us four hours to complete the circular route, although that was with plenty of pauses to look at the seals, dassies and lizards together with plenty of other pauses for me to get my breath back after each scramble,

The next day we headed for Oudtshoorn. I’m not really sure why most people would go there, but we went because it has a few ostrich farms nearby. Or more specifically, ostrich farms that let you ride the ostriches.

Sadly, I was too heavy, although it did occur to me that the opportunity to ride an ostrich could provide the best incentive ever to drop two or three stones. I did think about lying about my weight, but thought better of it after having cast my mind back to a swimming with dolphins experience in Florida a few years ago where I came close to drowning Flipper.

Jen was light enough for ostrich riding though and was soon hanging on for dear life as James ran around the pen as if someone had told him a train was coming. James? Yes, James. I’ve no idea what an appropriate name for an ostrich is, but surely it can’t be James.

"Home, James"

“Home, James”

Saturday meant that it was time for the rugby game. Swellendam is one of those picturesque Western Cape towns with a few buildings dating from the nineteenth century. The tourist leaflets describe it as being the third oldest town in South Africa, although I suspect that they were referring only to towns established after the Europeans arrived. It’s hard to believe that there weren’t any towns in South Africa before then.

The hotel that we were booked into turned out to be less than ten minutes walk from the ground and so I had a wander along shortly before kick-off. If anyone was taking money on the gate they must have missed me sauntering in.

I was too late for a seat in the small main stand and so I stood for a while in the shade next to the clubhouse before making my way around to some seating on the opposite side of the pitch.

The main stand.

The main stand.

The rest of the ground was fairly full, as much with cars as anything. The perimeter fencing was lined with people partying and whilst there wasn‘t any alcohol on sale there didn‘t appear to be any restrictions on bringing full cooler boxes to the game.

Park where you like.

Park where you like.

One thing that did surprise me was the racial make-up of the crowd. Rugby is still seen as a predominantly ‘white‘ sport over here with football being ‘black‘ and cricket ‘mixed‘. At Swellendam though, I’d say that the crowd was 95% black. Maybe there isn’t a local football or cricket team to divide loyalties.

View from near the main stand.

View from near the main stand.

I’ve been to quite a few scenic grounds in the past few years, there are plenty in Korea and Iceland that come to mind, but Swellendam Rugby Club can’t be far behind many of them. I’ve no idea which mountains provide the backdrop to the pitch but they were well worth giving up a spot in the shade to have them in view.

Big hills.

Big hills.

As for the game? Well, it’s a while since I’ve seen lower level rugby and whilst I wouldn’t wish any harm to anyone it was refreshing to see the players letting loose with the odd haymaker now and again. The absence of cameras meant that disputes could be settled with a punch-up followed by a wag of a finger from the ref. I like it that way.

The standard was reasonable, although the ball was knocked-on a little more than I’m used to seeing on the telly. As for stand-out players, the home side had a prop who looked about five foot six tall and twenty stone. He was surprisingly mobile, although didn‘t last too long into the second half.

That's him, wearing number 25.

That’s him, wearing number 25.

Boland had the best of a tight first half and led narrowly at the break. It all went a bit sour for them after that though as the home side scored half a dozen tries to end up convincing winners. It wasn’t quite as entertaining as the ostrich riding, but it ran it close.