Archive for August, 2015

Zimbabwe v Comoros, Sunday 21st June 2015, 3pm

August 29, 2015


The second game of our Zimbabwe trip was an African Nations Championship qualifier between Zimbabwe and Comoros. In case you were wondering, the African Nations Championship is a sort of little brother to the better known African Cup of Nations. It is limited to players currently turning out for a club in their home country whilst the bigger tournament is the one that causes your Ghanaian winger to disappear every second January for a month or so.

And if you were also wondering about Comoros, yes, it’s a real country. By my age I should really have heard of all of the countries in the world, but that one had passed me by. Too much emphasis on ox-bow lakes and the like in geography, I reckon.

The drive to the Rufaro stadium took us through some of Harare’s poorer areas and an enormous market where it looked as if you could buy anything you fancied. There was a coffin shop on one corner which, after seeing how the Zimbabweans drove their cars, probably did a roaring trade.

We’d chosen to hire a car despite the warnings that the Zimbabwean Police were likely to issue you with an on-the-spot fine every twenty yards for whatever reason they fancied. We didn’t have any trouble at all with them though and arrived at the Rufaro Stadium with a similar amount of dollars to that which we’d set out with.

There was more than an hour to go to kick-off and the area outside of the stadium was already busy with vendors selling food, drinks and national flags. There wasn’t a car park and so we had to leave the car by the side of the road in the care of a fella who assured us he’d take good care of it.


Tickets were two dollars each which I thought was pretty good value when you consider that we’d paid a dollar to watch a second division domestic game the previous day. However, there were also some ten dollar VIP tickets and so we thought we’d take a gamble that whatever undisclosed benefits they offered would be worth the uplift.

Initially they appeared poor value with the only noticeable difference between the concrete terracing in our stand and the other three stands was that we had a roof. Luxury indeed, although not really worth five times the price or remotely worthy of the VIP designation.


As the stand filled up with people who looked like they would have more pressing ways of spending the eight dollar differential between seats in the sun and the shade I started to wonder if we really were in the right place. We weren’t. The VIP section was downstairs and if we’d got there early enough then our ten dollar tickets would have allowed us to cushion the terracing with a thin mat.


We did get to sit right next to the Extremely Important Person Section which actually had armchairs in it. They were reserved for the various bigwigs from the Zimbabwean government and Football Association, some of whom, somewhat ungratefully, didn’t show up until well into the second half. Maybe they hadn’t been able to resist a browse around the coffin shop.


The rest of the thirty-five thousand capacity stadium had filled up nicely by that time, with probably around twenty-thousand fans in total spread over the stands.


The standard, as you might have expected, was a lot higher than the previous day’s game and Zimbabwe had a neat passing game on the artificial surface. They took the lead ten minutes in with a shot from the right.


It looked as if Zimbabwe might rattle up a hatful but despite the decent stuff in the build-up they were less than clinical in front of goal with one particularly wasteful miss sufficient to cause me to exchange wry smiles with a government minister to my left.

Comoros seemed quite happy to slow things down and keep the deficit to the single goal and their plan worked until the final minute when a scrappy home effort made the game safe. On the way out I was jostled in the crowd a couple of times as if someone was after my wallet, but I managed to hang on to it. The car was still there too, so overall I’d call the day a success.



Zimbabwe Republic Police v Ngezi Platinum, Saturday 20th June 2015, 3pm

August 19, 2015


It’s taken a while but we finally got around to visiting Zimbabwe, or at least got around to visiting Zimbabwe officially. We’d been in Kruger a few weeks earlier and whilst out walking one evening I’d waded across the Limpopo to stand on the Zimbabwean soil on the opposite bank.

There wasn’t much to see or do whilst stood there and so I waded back across before I got into trouble.

Illegal Immigrant.

Illegal Immigrant.

This ‘official’ visit was much better. We flew to Harare and had three nights there before moving onto Bulawayo. The plan had been to catch the overnight train between the two cities but on arriving at Harare station we were informed that there were no sleeper compartments on that night’s train. We caught a flight instead.

Harare Station

Harare Station

We had a further three nights in Bulawayo, staying at the colonial style Bulawayo club. I’ve never seen so many sepia photographs of blokes with big whiskers. We then managed to make an overnight train journey to Victoria Falls. We’d been on the posh Blue Train in South Africa a few days earlier but this journey was very different.

The Zimbabwean train used carriages built in Birmingham in the 1950s and I doubt they’d been cleaned since. We booked a first class compartment designed for four people and whilst it was a bargain at a total of $48 I was never really comfortable. The guard warned us of gangs of thieves wandering the train and suggested that we double lock the door to try to prevent them jemmying their way in whilst we slept. I didn’t sleep as much as I might have done after that advice.

Bulawayo station

Bulawayo Station

The views through the window were spectacular though, or at least they were once I’d cleaned it. In defence of Zimbabweans and their railway, everyone we spoke to was very friendly and didn’t give the slightest hint that they might have murder or robbery in mind.

View from the window.

View from the window.

At Victoria Falls we did just as you’d imagine and watched the water cascading down. We took a boat trip down the Zambezi and Jen ran a Half Marathon in her second best time ever. So, all pretty good stuff.

Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls.

And what about the football? Well, we got to two games, both in Harare. The first one featured the Police team who are more commonly referred to by their previous name of the Black Mambas rather than their current official ZRP moniker. They play at the Morris Depot ground inside a police compound which was very conveniently situated around five minutes drive from our hotel.

We had to hand over our passports to the armed guards at the entrance, presumably to deter us from getting up to any mischief and then hand over a further dollar each to watch the game.

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

Zimbabwe has used US dollars for a few years now after some pretty impressive inflation left their own currency virtually worthless.

In fact, whilst we were there, the banks were finally getting around to changing the old currency for the new at a rate of so many quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars to one US. We were frequently offered old notes and whilst I bought a few of them I didn’t manage to get a quadrillion dollar bill. The highest I got was a ten trillion dollar note. Hopefully their currency will recover someday and we can retire on it.

"This time next year, Rodney..."

“This time next year, Rodney…”

The Morris Depot had a concrete terrace that went around one side and end with a run-down scaffolding-like stand built on top of it and a further stand opposite. It has a five thousand capacity but that wasn’t remotely threatened by the turnout for this game.

The pitch wasn’t in the best of condition with odd sections of grass that showed more growth than other parts of the playing area in a look reminiscent of those straggly areas that dogs have on their wrists.

View from the Main Stand.

View from the Main Stand.

The battered dugouts fitted in well with the rest of the surroundings, with smashed perspex providing the substitutes little respite from the wind.

It was the dugouts that provided the highlight of the first half when in an attempt to retrieve the ball from the Mambas area one of the away players pushed it so hard that he smashed most of what remained of the perspex. It led to the inevitable spell of  ‘handbags’ before the lino intervened and made all of the subs sit down quietly, presumably with their hands on their heads.

A little maintenance required.

A little maintenance required.

One of the home players hit the bar on the half hour but that was about as close as either side got to scoring. The standard wasn’t great but I suppose that was to be expected with it being a second tier game. All of the matches in the Premier league had been called off due to an international game that weekend.

Good save.

Good save.

Neither side were able to break the deadlock and as we’d managed to avoid getting up to anything we weren’t supposed to, the armed guard on the gate was happy to give us back our passports on the way out.