Botswana v Burundi, Sunday 1st June 2014, 3.30pm

01 - botswana

I’d thought that the football season in Africa had finished, but then I stumbled across the fixtures for the first round of qualifying for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. South Africa didn’t feature, so I assume that they don‘t take part until later in the competition.

Jen and I didn’t have anything planned for the weekend and so I had a look  at neighbouring countries to see if there was a game that we could get to. Swaziland were playing away so that ruled them out. Lesotho had a home game, but the flights were a couple of hundred quid a pop and I thought that was a bit much for a game that didn’t involve the Boro.

Botswana were also playing at home, against Burundi, and as the flights were  a fair bit cheaper that’s what we went for. We booked a room for the Saturday night that was handy for the National Stadium in Gaborone and everything looked all set. Or at least it did until I discovered that the National Stadium had already been booked for the African Youth Games. Bloody kids.The national team’s qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations had been put back a day and shunted seventy kilometres out of town to the New Lobatse Sports Centre.

I wouldn’t care, but a similar thing happened last month to Botswana’s game with Swaziland after someone had booked the National Stadium for a car boot sale or something. You’d think that the country‘s football team would get first dibs.

National Stadium, Gabarone.

National Stadium, Gaborone.

Still, at least there was something going on at the National Stadium. The African Youth Games appears to be quite a big deal, with fifty four countries represented by a couple of thousand participants. By the time we arrived on Saturday morning though, there were only a couple of athletics events to complete before the closing ceremony.

We couldn’t park near the stadium and were directed to a Park and Ride. The bus driver told us that it would be at least half an hour before the bus would set off and so as it was only a ten minute walk back to the stadium we left him to it.

The stadium looked fairly empty as we approached, with no one going in other than gangs of teenagers in matching tracksuits and accreditation around their necks. A security guard told us that the only way to get tickets was by finding a particular chain of supermarket and buying tickets there. As we weren’t too fussed about catching the under fifteens three thousand metre steeplechase we gave up and had a wander around the market that had been set up nearby instead.

The condom shop seemed popular.

The condom shop seemed popular.

I don’t think that many of the stall holders had made the killing from the games that they’d hoped for. Ticket sales to the public were poor and a couple of thousand teenagers on a trip away from home  are more likely to nick your stock than pay for it.

I couldn’t help but admire a suit that had a strip of animal hide running down the spine of the jacket with more skin decorating the front pockets. I knew that it wouldn’t fit and even if it did I’d struggle to find the right occasion to wear it to, but when the bloke selling it suggested that I try it on I didn’t need to be asked twice.

If only it had been made entirely of zebra hide, I'd never have taken it off again.

If only it had been made entirely of zebra hide, I’d never have taken it off again.

With a day to go until the Cup of Nations qualifier we had time to make sure that we had match tickets in advance and so we popped into Gaborone town centre. It seems a safe enough place, although we were targeted by one of those fellas selling paintings to fund a day care centre for one legged orphans. We’ll be able to open our own gallery one day.

I’d read that the match tickets were being sold at Orange shops and so once we’d found one it was easy enough to pick up a couple of fifty Pula seats for the shaded stand.

In case you've never seen a ticket before.

In case you’ve never seen a ticket before.

We’d booked into a backpacker’s hostel, mainly because it was right next door to the Mokolodi Game Reserve where we’d intended to track rhinos on foot. Unfortunately the rhino tracking was the last thing in my list of things to arrange and they were fully booked. As we were staying nearby we visited the reserve anyway and settled for a two hour game drive instead. We still didn’t see any rhinos.

There were a few giraffes though and as we were driven around I quietly dropped the raisins from my complimentary bag of nuts and raisins for the warthogs to eat.

That bush doesn't provide much of a hiding place.

That bush doesn’t provide much of a hiding place.

I noticed an advert in the paper the next day for some of the livestock on the reserve. It certainly beats your standard gift shop, although we’d have struggled to have got any of them on the plane back to Johannesburg.

They'll even gift-wrap them for you.

They’ll even gift-wrap them for you.

The hostel was ok, mainly because we had the best room, one of those roundel things with a thatched roof. As well as having the only en-suite bathroom on the premises it came complete with peacocks and the fattest pig I’ve ever seen.

I can only hope she was heavily pregnant as dragging your stomach along the floor isn’t a good look. Despite that, we fed her more leftovers than I suspect is healthy.

Fattest pig ever.

Fattest pig ever.

Next morning we drove down to Lobatse. We’d planned to call in at some game reserve with vultures but couldn’t find it and so spent most of the morning driving around the town looking for the stadium before stretching out our lunch long enough to read every section in a couple of Sunday papers.

The upside of having not much to do was that we got to the New Lobatse Stadium early enough to get a prime parking space just outside of the turnstiles. The downside, however, was that we had almost two hours to wait until kick-off.

New Lobatse Stadium

New Lobatse Stadium

We were in the only covered stand and were able to take our pick of the seats to the left of the central VIP section. It’s a nice enough ground in a modern sort of way, the best feature probably being the hills in the background.

Hills are always good.

Hills are always good.

As kick-off neared we were treated to a dance trio. They roped in someone who looked like a bigwig in the FA at some point and he added to the entertainment by playing air guitar on the stick that the bloke with the robes had been wearing.

You don't get that at the Boro.

You don’t get that at The Riverside.

By the time the game kicked off I’d estimate that there around five thousand fans in the stadium. As ever, they kept arriving throughout the first half and probably a bit beyond that. One of them had brought what looked like a full-sized stuffed zebra. Perhaps he’d picked it up from the Mokolodi Game Reserve.

The zebra arrives.

The zebra arrives.

The standard certainly didn’t seem like an international match with plenty of tackles flying in early on that missed both ball and man. The game was finally balanced at nil-nil after the first leg and it stayed that way throughout the first half, with just the single shot troubling the away keeper.

A Botswana corner.

A Botswana corner.

We had to leave at half time as the change of date meant that we’d have struggled to have caught our flight otherwise. Our quick getaway meant that we missed the Botswana goal that clinched their passage into the second round and a tie with Guinea-Bissau. Who? No, me neither.

If the National Stadium isn’t already booked for some kid’s birthday party we might very well head back and see how they get on in that one.




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