Jen and I had been spending the weekend at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland and with the football game I had in mind not starting until ten we had time to go for a walk beforehand. Swaziland is hot and humid at this time of year and so our 6am start made it a lot more enjoyable.
There was a seven kilometre trail that looped around a lake and so we just followed that. Early on we got up close enough to a bok that I could probably have touched it if I’d wanted. Fiddling with the wildlife is frowned upon by the authorities though and so I just stared it out.
Later on, as we walked by the edge of the lake we got within a few feet of a crocodile. Not quite close enough to touch it, but I was fine with that. It seemed less impressed with us than vice-versa and submerged all bar its nostrils under the water.
After checking out we headed for the Manzini Club in Mbabane for a game in the Premier Reserve League. It’s a newish competition, I think, intended to give more competitive action to the under twenties at the Premier League clubs.
There was a sign outside the gate stating that the Manzini Club was a members-only institution. I’m not really one for joining clubs, I was a junior member of Norton Cricket Club as a kid and signed up to Lyndhurst Working Mens Club a few years ago when working down by the New Forest. Even if either of those clubs had reciprocal arrangements with the Manzini Club, my memberships had long since lapsed.
In the end, it didn’t matter as there was nobody on the gate and we pulled into a car park behind one of the goals. The game had just kicked off and there was a policewoman watching from a few feet up a tree with her semi-automatic rifle was hanging from a branch nearby. Hopefully that would deter any potential car thieves.
There was a temporary stand to one side of the pitch and we joined the thirty or so people sitting along the one shaded row at the back. As the game went on a few more spectators arrived with most of them preferring to sit under the trees behind the goal at the car park end.
Leopards, in the blue strips, took the lead with a penalty midway through the first half and then added a second just before the break. At half-time the players didn’t use the dressing rooms but instead camped out under separate trees. Not surprisingly they were keen to get on with the game and it was only ten minutes before the second half started.
Whilst I was doing my best to keep up with play I was frequently distracted by Billy Casper in the Highlanders goal. He looked far too slight to be a keeper and his kit seemed on the large side for him. The Casper connection was enhanced by him swinging on the bar at one point.
His shirt didn’t help any hope he had of being taken seriously, with it turning brown about a third of the way down. It looked as if he had stuffed it down a drain the night before and then retrieved it on the way to the game.
The Highlanders fought back early in the second half, pulling one back when one of their players chased a long ball and poked it past the Leopards keeper. Two minutes later a diving header put them on level terms.
Leopards restored their lead with a quarter of an hour remaining via a twice-taken penalty and then spent the remaining fifteen minutes wasting as much time as possible. Their goalie was the worst culprit, probably because the ref couldn’t make him leave the field for treatment. He didn’t even need the ball to come near him to sustain an injury, dropping to the ground on two occasions when the action was in the other half.
Justice was done in the ninety-fourth minute when the Highlanders got their equaliser, again through a twice taken penalty. By this time I’d lost patience with the Leopards tactics and whilst I didn’t celebrate quite so enthusiastically as the Highlanders supporters around me, I was very happy to see them snatch a point.