Archive for August, 2014

South Africa v Argentina, Saturday 16th August 2014, 5pm

August 28, 2014


This weekend saw the start of the Southern hemisphere version of the Six Nations Rugby Championship. It’s just four nations taking part down here though, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. It seems a bit harsh on the likes of Fiji and Western Samoa, but I don’t imagine they bring much to the table by way of telly money.

I like the inclusiveness of the northern hemisphere Six Nations tournament, particularly the insistence that, despite being crap at rugby, Scotland and Italy can continue to participate so that the fans of the proper teams can enjoy a weekend in Edinburgh or Rome.

The 2014 competition kicked off with a draw between New Zealand and Australia which I watched on the telly whilst Jen and I had lunch somewhere. The other fixture of the weekend saw South Africa host Argentina at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria and so we popped along to watch that one live.

We’ve been to the rugby at Loftus Versfeld before and so I now know how it works. There’s a small bar inside the ground, but you can‘t take your drinks away from it. Far better to drink on the field outside and then head in just before kick-off.

Outside drinking.

Outside drinking.

I’d bought tickets for the stand nearest to the outside bar and shortly before kick-off we went in through gate eight to our seats in Row A of the upper tier. They were fine but our view was slightly obscured by a safety railing and so next time I’ll probably go for Row B.

The Argentinian national anthem was largely ignored by the crowd, most of whom continued to chat away indifferently. The South African tune was better received with quite a few of the home fans joining in. I’ve listened to a lot of different anthems lately and have concluded that most of them are absolute bollocks. Why do we bother with them?

If we are going to keep on with the nationalistic nonsense then lets at least update it a bit. I’d quite like to hear The Jam’s ‘Liza Radley’ sung before England matches. Weller seems a pretty good example of Englishness to me, can you imagine a packed Twickenham and a line of twenty-three burly players bellowing out the rising crescendo of the last couple of lines?

“She’d kiss my face and say love means nothing at all,

She’d kiss my face and say life means nothing at all”

Maybe just me then.

The rain started as the anthems finished and unfortunately our front row seats in the upper tier were beyond the shelter of the roof. Luckily the game was nowhere near sold out and so we just moved upwards until we were under cover. As the rain got heavier and the wind blew it inwards we kept moving further back. Eventually we were perfectly placed to the extent that any further back and we’d have felt the rain from behind.

The view from in the dry.

The view from in the dry.

My mind wandered back to an Scotland v England clash at Murrayfield that my friend Paul and I had been to a few years ago. We’d hiked up Arthur’s Seat on the morning before the game and had been caught in similar torrential rain. As we were only in Edinburgh for the day we had no spare clothes and had to pop into Jenners for a complete new set each.

Our seats at the ground that day were exposed to the elements and once the rain returned we decided to skip the remainder of the game and clear off to watch it in the pub instead. No way could we have turned up soaking wet for a second time at Jenners.

I'm not sure if I've ever been wetter.

Arthur’s Seat – Possibly the wettest I’ve ever been. Except for in the bath.

My mind also wandered to the feral kittens that live beneath our decking. I wasn’t sure if they’d ever been rained on before. If they had, it won’t as been anything like as heavy as this rain.

I’ve taken to feeding them tins of pilchards, which strikes me as somewhat indulgent when you consider that at twenty rand a tin, pilchards wouldn’t be something that a lot of the locals could afford to buy to eat themselves.

To tell the truth, I’d feel awkward giving tinned pilchards to random locals and have even less desire to watch some African fella eating them on the patio. I enjoy it when the cats turn up for their tea though.

There's four altogether, plus the parents.

There’s four altogether, plus the parents.

Anyway, the game. The heavy rain made ball handling difficult and standing up even harder. South Africa opened the scoring with a first minute try and then the sides traded a couple of penalties each in a 13-6 home win.

View from the back of the stand.

View from the back of the stand.

We stayed until the end in the hope that the rain would stop and thankfully by the time we left it was down to the odd spot of drizzle in the air.



Boxing at Emperors Palace, Saturday 9th August 2014

August 26, 2014

opening shot

This was far more of an arse on than it should have been. The date had been mentioned a few months earlier by the promoter and so I tried to be clever and book a hotel room well in advance. Unfortunately the boxing clashed with a flower-arranging convention or something that was popular enough to sell out half the hotels and double the prices in the rest.

I eventually got fixed up by trying far more accommodation websites than I suspect would be regarded as normal and then by some crafty manipulation of the ticking system managed to obtain two central ringside seats. All good. So what was the problem? Well, one of the scheduled boxers suffered an unexpected defeat in a warm up fight whilst another was rumoured to be somewhat reluctant to take a drugs test. This resulted in the bill being called off and our tickets being refunded. I cancelled the room.

Three days later and the promoter announces a new boxing bill. At the same venue. On the same night. Oh great. So I have go through it all again and secure what was possibly the same hotel room and then another pair of front row tickets.

Emperors Palace is a strange place. Primarily a casino, but with hotels, restaurants and a few shops adding to the options. I’m not too impressed with it as a gambling venue as despite the roulette wheels, black jack and poker tables, it’s much more penny arcade than James Bond. Mind you, that’s exactly what I thought of Las Vegas too.

You'll have to imagine the noise.

You’ll have to imagine the noise.

Like many casinos, they aren’t keen on natural light. Emperors Palace addresses the issue by having a fake sky for a ceiling and then remaining in a permanent state of dusk. As someone who falls asleep far too readily these days I reckon it works pretty well. In fact, I’d install it in houses. There have been times at Emperors Palace where we’ve been eating and drinking into the early hours and it’s felt as if it were no later than teatime.

It's indoors, yet outdoors.

It’s indoors, yet outdoors.

Our seats turned out to be the best we could have bought. We were centrally placed meaning that we didn’t have a cornerpost cameraman blocking the view and we were in Row A. The only downside was that we were behind a section of six rows of complimentary seating occupied by people who spent the whole evening wandering around their section hugging all of the other ‘faces’.

I’d have liked to have been able to wander around and change seats too, that way we wouldn’t have had to put up with the prick sat behind us who amused himself by shouting non-stop ‘advice’ to the boxers or ‘compliments’ to the ring girls. The tedium of hearing the same comments yelled round after round meant that I ended up hoping that every boxer he was supporting got sparked out cold at the earliest opportunity.

The first bout involved a featherweight called Ramagole who had lost the last time we were here. I got the impression that his defeat wasn’t something that the promoter had intended and this time he was given an easier opponent. By the time it reached the third round the other fella had lost interest in being bopped on the nose and so turned his back and quit.

It didn't last much longer.

It didn’t last much longer.

Next up was a lightweight fight between Ashley Dlamini and Thanduxolo Dyani. Dyani had made a promising start to his career by winning his first eleven fights but had then lost his last three. Make that four defeats in a row as Dlamini put him on his arse in the first round causing the ref to wave it off.

This one was over even quicker.

This one was over even quicker.

We then had a contest over eight rounds featuring local cruiserweight Kevin Lerena. You might not recognise the name from Boxing News, but if you’ve been following the Pistorious trial he’s the fella that Oscar accidentally shot in the foot whilst fiddling with a pistol under the table in a restaurant. Marcos Antonii Ahumada caused him fewer problems than the Olympic sprinter had done and Lerena took a one sided decision.

Lerena is the Pirates fan.

Lerena is in the Pirates shorts.

In the fourth fight of the evening the reigning IBO super-bantamweight champion Thabo Sonjica had failed to make the weight. Actually, not only did he fail to make the super-bantamweight limit, he didn’t even manage to make featherweight either, weighing in five pounds heavier than he needed to be.

He forfeited his title, but the fight went ahead anyway and not surprisingly his additional bulk made all the difference against a smaller opponent who, when he wasn’t being smacked in the chops, spent too much time grinning at the people behind us shouting advice.

The added advantage of a ref who appeared to favour the home fighter meant an easy points win for Sonjica who no doubt made straight for a restaurant to scoff a few more pies.

Big fella on the ropes.

Big fella on the ropes.

The main event saw the WBC light-heavyweight silver champion Ryno Liebenburg take on Denis Grachev, a Russian who modelled himself on Ivan Drago, even to the extent of having ‘Drago’s Son’ on his shorts.

At a pre-fight press conference, Ryno, who somewhat oddly chose to ignore the obvious nickname and opt for ‘The Lion’ instead, threatened to knock the Russian’s teeth out. Staying in character, son of Drago limited himself to a curt “You talk too much”.

Liebenburg sustained a nasty cut in the first round, but evened things up soon after. Again, I thought the ref favoured the home fighter. The judges didn’t seem any better and with it being a WBC title fight their scores were revealed after four and eight rounds. Or rather they were announced half-way through the fifth and ninth rounds. How distracting must that be for the boxers? Surely it isn’t beyond the officials to tot up the scores within the minute break between rounds?

Ryno 'the lion'.

I had the fight a lot closer than the 116-112, 117-112 and the laughable 120-108 scores, but the crowd went home happy, whilst the promoter‘s plans for Liebenberg remained on track. And despite it being close to midnight, we were able to head back out into the dusk.


The Platinum Cup, Sunday 3rd August 2014

August 14, 2014


This should have been an entirely different story altogether as the intention for the weekend had been for Jen and I to go to Mozambique and take in their national team’s African Cup of Nations Qualifier against Tanzania. It was all going to plan until we reached the airport check-in desk and were informed that American nationals now need a visa issued in advance rather than obtaining one on arrival.

I’ve seen enough airport programmes on the telly to know that arguing never works and my attempts at charming the check-in staff weren’t anywhere near good enough to circumvent the new rules. Fortunately we were able to re-book the flights for a month later and so the only real loss was the cost of the Maputo hotel.

So, what to do? Well, we’d recently acquired a Land Rover from a bloke at work and so I thought we might as well head over to Pilanesburg National Park and take advantage of its 4×4 capabilities to see what we could spot in the way of wildlife.

Despite hotels in Pilanesburg being even more expensive than the one we were missing out on in Maputo, they tend to fill up early. That meant that we ended up staying about an hours drive away on a small game farm. It worked out fine though, as I got the opportunity to go into a cage with a couple of caracals. You might know them better as lynx, those cats with the big ears. Big teeth and big claws too.

The owner let me feed one of the caracals with a chicken and encouraged me to tease him a bit. That’s pretty much my default position with cats anyway and so I made him work a bit before I released my grip on his dinner.

I stopped teasing him at this point.

I stopped teasing him at this point.

The next day we spent a few hours driving around Pilanesburg. We didn’t encounter any bigger cats, but we did see some rhinos and a few elephants. There are rules about not feeding them chickens though.

Zebras in the background too.

Zebras in the background too.

On the way back home we passed through Rustenburg and as we reached the Olympia Stadium I noticed a couple of games taking place next to each other on the pitches nearby. As you might have expected I pulled off the road and went and had a look.

Blues v Yellows.

Blues v Yellows.

The pitches weren’t in the best of condition, with the goalmouths in particular being more solid earth than grass, but there were a couple of hundred people watching. That size of crowd seems de rigueur for lower league football, no matter where in the world it takes place but in this case it was a more than decent turnout for games that were taking place on pitches that most English Sunday League teams would refuse to play on.

Red v Green.

Red v Green.

There are certain circumstances in South Africa where an Englishman wandering around taking photos attracts a fair bit of attention. This was one of those times. I tend to try to keep a low profile when I’m out and about but everyone wanted to know what I was up to.

It turns out that I’d wandered into a tournament that had been running for a few weeks and was now at the last sixteen stage. Whilst it seems plausible to me that someone could just like watching football, the people who I spoke to all seemed convinced that I was there to assess the suitability of their competition for sponsorship.

Fans down the side.

Fans down the side.

I was quickly introduced to someone’s boss and then to the bosses boss. They were all keen to assure me that they could produce presentations and plans detailing all the equipment and funding that they would need.

Rustenburg is a poor area. It’s predominantly a mining community that has recently been through a five month strike and I was told that whilst some of the players were miners, most were unemployed.

Whilst I’d have loved to have helped, I’m just a bloke who watches a bit of football now and again, not some corporation with a charity budget to dispense. I made my excuses and we headed off further down the road.