I don’t often get to games on a Tuesday afternoon but I’d taken some time off work and extended the weekend to a far more preferable five days. It should be like that all of the time, two days a week at work is sufficient for anyone.
The third tier ABC Motsephe League game at Temba was the final event of a break that had started at Pretoria Station the previous Friday lunchtime. Jen and I travelled from there to Hoedspruit on the Blue Train. It’s very posh. We’d been on a Premier Classe train last year where we had a fancy sleeping compartment, but this was another level. In fact, it was so posh that I had to buy a tie in order to be permitted to have my dinner.
The journey eastwards could probably have been done in around four hours in a car, but it stretched to twenty hours on the train, stopping for what seemed like no good reason at any number of places on the way where locals on the way to or from work stared in though the window at over-dressed people glugging champagne.
And whilst champagne is all very nice, it wasn’t the best part of the journey. Oh no, the best bit was having a bath in our cabin. A bath! On a train! Does life get any better than that? I don’t think it does.
The water slopped about a little at times as the train picked up speed but I didn’t care. I was hoping we’d pull in at a station just so people could see me lying there and then faint in shock at sight of someone having a bath on a train.
Fresh from bathing on a train we spent the next three nights at the Thornybush Reserve, which borders Kruger. We had a bath there too, but it’s not the same as having one on a train. Where it did hold the advantage was in the wildlife.
There was so much good stuff around that we even had a lion wander into the camp to chase around and kill an impala on the decking where we ate lunch. We didn’t see it as we were still in bed a few yards away but we saw the still-warm aftermath when we got up for breakfast half an hour or so later.
As for stuff we were out of bed for, the leopard was probably the best. We managed to get up close to one that was dozing in the shade when the guide drove his truck through a few bushes. I was amazed at how big it was. It had a head the size of a basketball.
When basketball head tired of being stared at and wandered off we then managed to loop around to meet it and see it out in the open. Sighting of leopards have been pretty rare for us in our two years in Africa, the best we’d managed up to then was when a much smaller one paused for a couple of seconds, stared at us and then disappeared. This was much better.
After three days of similar stuff we flew from the tiny Hoedspruit Airport to the somewhat larger OR Tambo in Johannesburg. As I still had one more afternoon off work we headed for the Temba township an hour or so away up the N1 to squeeze in a match.
Most of the fixtures in the third tier ABC Motsephe League had been completed by this time of year but the North West Region had a backlog and they had used the public holiday to round off their season.
We actually been to the Temba Stadium a couple of weeks earlier, but it had been a wasted journey with the game having been called off at short notice. This time though we parked the car as the players were warming up on the pitch and the main stand was beginning to fill up.
I had a chat with a bloke who assumed that we were there in some sort of official capacity. When I revealed that we were just there to watch the game he commented “You must really like football then.” Fair assumption, I thought, considering that it was a meaningless end of season game in the lower leagues.
We took up a position on the back row of the bench seats and watched the fans come in. Most had a few cans of Castle, others a couple of large bottles of Hansa. It’s a public holiday. Football, beer and a seat in the sun. I doesn’t get much better than that. Unless there were leopards as well, that is. Or arriving on a train with a bath.
The clock ticked around to three and the players continued to warm up. I wasn’t unduly concerned as games often start a little late, but with a desire to be out of town before dark I didn’t want too much of a delay. By three-thirty the warm-ups had gotten somewhat ragged with some of the players putting more effort into slapping each other than focusing on the drills.
Three forty five came and went, as did four o’clock. The problem, it transpired, was that there were no match officials. Did that matter I thought? Would it really be an issue if one of the staff reffed the game? At quarter past four the ref and his linesman pulled up in an old Corolla. They were partially changed and completed the process next to their car.
The crowd showed an impressive amount of patience as the linesman arsed around with their sock-ties. I doubt it would have been the same in England if Clattenburg had turned up a couple of hours late and then fannied around bosticking his wig to his head.
Eventually, everyone was on the pitch and ready. Or almost ready. One of the nets wasn’t quite properly fixed and so kick-off was delayed for another couple of minutes whilst the necessary repairs were made.
The game eventually started at twenty five to five, a quarter of an hour or so before the time that it should have been finished.
I don’t usually include a lot of match detail in these posts, mainly because nobody cares, even me. After all, it’s not the Boro. This time though the lack of information is because we only saw the first ten minutes of action. Temba isn’t really a place to be after dark, especially when everyone has been drinking all day, and so we cleared off at the time I’d originally intended.
Our plan for a daylight getaway was almost thwarted as someone had blocked our car in. Or at least they almost had. With some very careful manoeuvering I was able to reverse it through a gap with no more than a centimetre to spare on either side. Jen said it was the most impressive thing I’d done in the five years we’ve been together. I think that’s probably a compliment.