Archive for September, 2015

Middlesbrough v Brentford, Tuesday 15th September 2015, 7.45pm

September 29, 2015


Within a day of arriving back in England I was able to get along to the Riverside for my first Boro game of the season. Jen and I stayed about half an hour away in a cottage at Ingleby Greenhow. It was close enough to Teesside to be convenient, but with the benefits of being out in the countryside. It also had an open fire so I was able to burn stuff, something that Travelodges tend to frown upon.


We’ve been walking the Cleveland Way in stages for a couple of years now and on the morning of the match we slogged up a hill from the cottage to Battersby Moor, where we joined the trail and then covered a section to Kildale and back. I’d been hoping to spot a deer or two but over the course of eleven miles we saw nothing more exciting than a rabbit. Plenty of sheep and grouse, though.


As Tom and I approached the Riverside that evening I noticed the Tuxedo Royale was moored next to the stadium again. It looks as if it someone has started scrapping it, a far cry from its days as a pre-match drinking venue where the barmaids would step in if the strippers didn’t turn up.


The upper tier of the South Stand has sold out to season tickets this year and so Tom and I bought tickets for the lower section. I felt fairly confident of a result against Brentford. We’ve improved our team substantially from last season, particularly up front, whilst Brentford’s results to date suggest that they’ve gone backwards a bit. I wonder how long it will be before their owner realises that Mark Warburton hadn’t been doing such a bad job after all.


We looked by far the better team, going a goal up early on before a mistake from Dimi let them back into the game. Two more goals in the second half, including a cracker from ‘back in the fold’ Albert Adomah secured the points and kept us up at the right end of the table.


Hellenic v Tshwane South College, Saturday 12th September 2015, 11.30am

September 13, 2015


After spending some time in Swaziland Jen and I returned to South Africa for a few days at Kruger. I’m generally happy just driving around even if we don’t see much, but on this occasion we did pretty well for wildlife.

A fella passing by very kindly tipped us off about some lions a few kilometres away and whilst there were a few cars at the scene we were still able to get within a few metres for some photos.


Later that day we stumbled across a spotted hyena and some cubs. They weren’t all her own judging by the variances in size but she kept an eye on them all despite the youngest looking to be no more than three weeks or so old. The next day we returned to the spot on a night drive and saw more of the clan.


All too soon though it was time to head off to Pretoria for a flight back to the UK. I hadn’t been expecting to see any more football but as luck would have it we stumbled across a game whilst driving.

Hellenic FC seems to have had a chequered history. They were formed in 1964 but it looks as if they went bust for a while before having a successful season in the fourth tier a couple of years ago. Or maybe it was the fifth tier. It’s all a bit vague to be honest and I’m not actually sure that they even have a senior team at present.


They do have an under seventeen team though and it was their match with Tshwane South College at the Belgrave Square Park that I called into. There’s not much to see stadium-wise, a brick building with the changing rooms down one side and a couple of small structures that I suppose you could call stands.


The game was already into the second half with Hellanic two-one down but as I had stuff to do I only stayed for twenty minutes or so and can’t tell you how it ended up. Not that it matters. Still, it was pleasing to unexpectedly get to another ground.


That’s it for the time being as far as African football is concerned. It’s been a fascinating couple of years with forty-six games spread over thirty-eight different stadiums and seven separate countries. The cricket and rugby have been pretty good too, whilst the time spent in the national parks and game reserves has been fantastic.

It looks as if Australia will be our location for the next couple of years, so hopefully the A-League is worth watching. Before that though we’ve got ten days in England with the Boro games against Brentford and Wolves to look forward to.


Swaziland v Malawi, Sunday 6th September 2015, 3pm

September 13, 2015


After deciding to not go any further north into Mozambique than Inhambane, a few nights in Swaziland looked like a good idea. We stayed in the Ezulweni Valley which is between the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.

Uzulweni is ideal for doing some walking as there are a few marked routes in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. There’s nothing with big teeth in Mlilwane, apart I suppose, from crocodiles, but they seem scared of humans so I don’t really count them.


There’s plenty of less dangerous stuff though and we got up close to impala and warthogs. We also found a bug that was easily noticeable whilst on the ground but had it been sat in the right coloured tree would have been very difficult to see.


A couple of days before the game we hiked up to the 1,020m Nyonyane Peak. I don’t think a thousand metres is all that high in Swaziland, but it was good enough to give us decent views of the surrounding area.


In the distance we could see the Somhlolo National Stadium in Lobamba that was hosting the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Swaziland and Malawi. I wouldn’t like to have to watch a game from our seats on the summit as it’s probably on a par with the view afforded to away fans at Newcastle.


The build up to the game had been dominated by the position of the Swazi manager and one morning the two main Swazi newspapers had led their sports coverage with conflicting exclusives, one revealing that he had signed a new contract and the other announcing that he’d been fired.

He was still there on the day of the game so I’d recommend getting your news from The Times of Swaziland rather than the Swaziland Observer.


Tickets for the game were E30 (£1.50) a pop and we bought a couple outside from a fella selling them from his car. I’ve no idea if he was official or not but with the game extremely unlikely to sell out I can’t see there being much scope for touting.

We took up seats in the North stand behind the goal, partly because we hadn’t sat there on our previous visit to the stadium earlier in the year and partly because if we looked to our right we could see the Nyonyane peak above the West stand.


Malawi, in red, started the better of the teams when Phiri’s shot from the corner of the penalty box beat the Swazi goalie at his near post. The goal celebrations revealed that there were around thirty Malawi supporters in the West stand.

The home side levelled after a quarter of an hour when Malawi’s keeper hesitated over whether or not to come for a cross. He eventually made his mind up but then slipped and left Badenhorst a free header into an unguarded net.

The goal of the game came a few moments later when Msowoya put the visitors back in front with a bicycle kick that he’d teed up for himself. Very impressive.

At half-time there were still people arriving, many of them taking up positions in the new East stand to our left. A few fellas were standing on what remained of the open terracing in the corner, watching the game in the traditional way.


Swaziland equalised in the second half with another unchallenged header and despite plenty of chances at either end that’s the way it stayed. One of the misses was so bad that a fan near us kicked out in frustration and sent his shoe flying.

At the final whistle the Malawi players slumped to the floor as if they’d just lost a cup final so I suspect that they had expected more than a point from the game.

Maxaquena v HCB Songo, Wednesday 19th August 2015, 3pm

September 11, 2015


After Tom’s departure for England, Jen and I drove on to Mozambique. The initial plan had been to spend a couple of months driving through Southern Africa, but a job offer that required an earlier start date meant that the trip would be reduced to a three to four-week journey up to Malawi and then back down again through Zambia and Botswana.

The first eight-hour day of driving on the Mozambique roads was sufficient for us to revise the plan to a fortnight at the beach in Mozambique and then a week each in Swaziland and South Africa instead. It wasn’t that the roads were bad, Lesotho was certainly worse, but the traffic meant for slow progress and the Police speed checks would have had us bankrupt in no time.

I only drove on four days in total in Mozambique and was ‘ticketed’ on three of them. Twice when it was unclear what the speed limit was supposed to be and once when my South African number plates suggested a payday. By the third ‘offence’ I’d learned that by pointing out that I didn’t need any paperwork I could have a fifty percent discount on my ‘fine’.

We stayed on the coast, initially at Inhambane and then at Bilene. Both places provided ample opportunities for wandering around the beach watching fishermen and crabs.


The football took place in Maputo, or rather in a suburb just outside of town. I felt quite lucky to have made the game, particularly as my previous two attempts had failed. On the first trip, a year or so ago, we had got no further than Johannesburg Airport where we were told that new visa rules prevented us setting off.

On the next trip, armed with the correct visas, a combination of an international weekend and some last-minute lower league cancellations meant that we didn’t get to a game.

Third time lucky though. There was a match scheduled at the Estadio do Maxaquene and I knew where that was. However, knowing the venue listed doesn’t necessarily mean that there will actually be a match there and when we turned up an hour or so before kick-off it was apparent that nobody had played there for a while.


I asked around and was told that the game was actually taking place half an hour’s drive away at the Campo de Afrin. Fair enough. A taxi fare of 800 Meticais (thirteen quid) each way was negotiated and half an hour later we were there.

For a midweek afternoon game it certainly seemed busy enough. I suppose with the ground not having floodlights all the games would have to be over by tea-time, even the mid-week ones. There were lines of people outside selling food, drinks and replica shirts, whilst a steady stream of fans were going inside.


Tickets were 100 Meticais and as our taxi driver had decided to wait for us we got him one as well. We sat behind the goal, as close as we could to a large palm tree in the hope that we might benefit from some shade. Most people made their way over to the main stand to our left, whilst the open terracing on the opposite side of the pitch was reasonably popular too.


Maxaquena, in the blue and red stripes, started the game second in the table, whilst Songo, in the turquoise kit were a little lower down. The Mozambique season runs from March to November and so is currently about halfway through.

The right winger for Maxaquena was on the receiving end of some abuse from his own fans that made the old Ayresome Park Chicken Run look like a welcoming and supportive environment. I though some of the fans might come to blows over him, in what seemed to be a dispute over who would get to kick his head in first.

They were, however, all in agreement that the said player would be more at home as a sex worker rather than a footballer. As would his Mam.


With a few minutes remaining and the light starting to fade Songo won a free-kick on the edge of the Maxaquena box. Someone curled it into the top corner to take the points and really give the home supporters something to cry about.


Despite having been subbed by that stage, I imagine Bob the Puta still got most of the blame from the fans on the way out.

South Africa v New Zealand, Sunday 16th August 2015, 2pm

September 10, 2015


The T20 game between South Africa and New Zealand in Pretoria just about brought Tom’s visit to South Africa to an end. After the rugby the previous weekend we’d spent most of the time in between up at Lake Jozini catching tiger fish. Before leaving Durban though we’d done some sea fishing. It’s the wrong time of year apparently for big fish but we caught some small stuff, including this sea barbel, and had an enjoyable morning not too far out from the shore.


At Jozini Tom caught a different type of barbel, but it was tiger fish that we were after and we got quite a few of those too. The hooks were baited with frozen pilchards and a small piece of chicken liver. Probably around a third of the bites became successful strikes and some of the tiger fish were a decent size.


We also had time for a drive around a wildlife park nearby and in what was looking to be a fairly quiet day spotted a group of four cheetahs. I don’t think Tom appreciated what a big deal cheetahs are but in the last two years  Jen and I have probably spent a few weeks in total in national parks and we’d not seen a single one.


Back in Pretoria Tom and I were able to walk from our hotel to the T20 game at Centurion. We had grandstand seats which gave us the benefit of the shade and they were close enough to a bar to make the drinking easy.


After watching South Africa’s innings we had a wander around the ground. I still love the idea that braais are encouraged to the extent that free fuel is provided. No way would people ever be allowed to light fires at a sporting event in England.


Whilst our grandstand seats had been decent, it was good to watch the game from different vantage points. Most of the seating at Supersport Park is on the grassy banks and it creates a relaxed atmosphere where eating, drinking, kids playing their own cricket games and occasionally even sleeping goes on with the main event providing the backdrop and the reason for the day out.


South Africa posted a decent total, but New Zealand never really threatened to come close. They did, at least, manage to bat out their full twenty overs in a much appreciated effort to avoid an early finish.


South Africa v Argentina, Saturday 8th August 2015, 5pm

September 9, 2015


Id like to think I’m a pretty quiet person who doesn’t cause any annoyance to anyone. Maybe that’s not the case though. I remember being told off by Johnny Bramwell for talking at the back of a Kloot gig at The Knights in Middlesbrough a few years ago. That’s fair enough I suppose.

Mind you, he told me off at a more recent gig in Crewe as well for leaving before the end. Jen and I had been sat on a sofa right at the front of his Square One gig, but after being there for four hours and getting through a bottle of wine in each of those hours, I was feeling ready for bed.

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Apart from Johnny though, nobody ever tells me off. Except that is for the Afrikaner bloke in front of Tom and I at the Springboks game. Apparently we were laughing too much in our conversation. To be fair, the Kings Park Stadium was like a library, but it’s a rugby game! You go to the rugby for a drink and a laugh. We were only halfway through our first jugs as well, the miserable git.


Considerate fellas that we are, Tom and I limited the laughing to whenever Argentina scored a try. Unfortunately for Mr Sensitive Hearing in front of us, that was far more frequently than the Springboks or the crowd had been expecting.


I annoyed the old misery guts a bit more in the second half when I clambered over him to go for a piss, but it’s the rugby, there are generally more people in the toilets at Twickenham than there are in their seats.

He left just before the end, hopefully the Springbok defeat being responsible for his scowl rather than anything we’d done. If I see him at a Kloot gig someday I’ll buy him a beer and we can have a chat at the back.

Arsenal v PSV Eindhoven, Saturday 8th August 2015, 3pm

September 8, 2015


I finished my contract in South Africa at the end of July, but as I didn’t have another job to go to we thought we might as well spend some more time in southern Africa until something turned up. My son, Tom, was heading over for a few days holiday in August and as we couldn’t go too far whilst we waited for him to arrive Jen and I headed off to Moloka National Park for a while.

Moloka was good. We stayed in a tree house well away from everyone else with just the various animals that visited the nearby waterhole for company.


There was plenty of variety including rhinos, which we hadn’t realised were in the park. If we’d known we might not have spent a couple of hours wandering around the bush on foot in defiance of the rules. There were fighting squirrels too that were well worth watching.


Driving around the Moloka made a pleasant change from some of the bigger, busier parks. I don’t think they allow day visitors and so there were very few other cars. There aren’t any lions or elephants so I suppose a lot of people probably wouldn’t be too keen to visit. One evening we saw meerkats and a bat-eared fox and as we hadn’t yet seen either of those creatures in the wild they trump any of the big five in my book.


After Moloka we spent a couple of nights on a boat on the River Vaal. Whilst not as remote as the treehouse, we still had the river pretty much to ourselves and just tied up to some rushes in an inlet for the two nights. I did some fishing and caught a carp but as we had plenty of food I put it back.


We picked up Tom from Johannesburg airport on Friday and drove across to Durban. Jen and I had been there a few times before but we’d always flown. The six-hour drive was fine until the final stages when the rush hour traffic seemed to start thirty miles outside of the city.

The plan for the Saturday had been to watch the Springboks take on Argentina but I’d noticed that the final of an Under 19 football tournament was scheduled for three o’clock in the Moses Mabhida stadium just across the road from the rugby ground. The five o’clock kick-off in the rugby meant that Tom and I had time to watch the first seventy minutes or so of the football first.


The Durban Tournament is an annual under 19 competition with six top international sides (or rather five plus Celtic) joining the South African U19 National side and a Kwa-Zulu Natal Academy select in a week-long competition.

We’d timed our arrival to coincide with the final between Arsenal and PSV Eindhoven. I’d hoped for a decent crowd, partly because there were twenty thousand people arriving for the rugby who might just pop in, but mainly because Arsenal seem to have a decent fanbase in South Africa.


Unfortunately the smattering of Arsenal shirts in the crowd was no more than I’d expect to see at a Chiefs or Pirates game and I doubt there were more than three hundred people in the stadium, despite the free admission.

A few rugby fans had wandered over, but by half-time had cleared off back to their car-park braai.


Arsenal, with Steve Gatting coaching them, took the lead in the first half when one of their kids wellied it home from a good few yards outside of the box. The Dutch lads levelled after the break and it was still even when we left mid-way through the second half.

Whilst I haven’t got around to checking the score, I did see a photo in the paper a day or two later of Arsenal with the trophy so presumably they won it.


South Africa v New Zealand, Saturday 25th July 2015, 5pm

September 7, 2015


The Four Nations Rugby Championship for the southern hemisphere teams was cut a bit short this season due to the World Cup and so there weren’t the usual home and away fixtures. Fortunately the single All-Blacks v Springboks game was scheduled for Ellis Park and so Jen and I had the opportunity of going along.

Just like last year we stayed in the Maboneng district, an area close enough to walk to the game but with plenty of restaurants that can also be walked to. That’s a rare event on an evening and we took full advantage with a visit to an Ethiopian place on the Friday night.

For a pre-match lunch on Saturday I ordered rib-eye steak, but what I think I actually got was a rib of beef. Either was it was pretty good. I’ll miss steaks like that when we’ve gone.


We got to the ground early enough to be able to queue for beers. At one stage I think the line was around twenty yards long and four people wide. Best to buy your beers a few at a time then.


As we sat with our drinks in the concourse, a couple of blokes in their seventies staggered past. One was in a New Zealand shirt, the other in the green of South Africa. They were so ratarsed that they relied upon each other to stay upright. I d like to think that I’ll still getting in that state when I’m their age.


The game was sold out and we had lower tier tickets in one of the corners. The view was ok, certainly better than last year when we were up in the back row of the upper tier.


South Africa were coming off a defeat to Australia and put a decent effort in against the visitors. They were leading going into the final stages but that rarely counts for anything against the All-Blacks who, as they so often do, nicked it at the death.

Twenty minutes after the final whistle we were in a roof-top bar making the most of an opportunity for a night out in town.

Mamelodi Sundowns v Bidvest Wits, Sunday 12th July 2015, 10am

September 6, 2015


After our trip to Moruleng Stadium for the Maize Cup and the subsequent drive around Pilanesburg, Jen and I stayed over nearby at Kedar Lodge. I hadn’t realised at the time when we booked it but it had a fantastic collection of Boer War memorabilia, better than that of a lot of museums that we’ve been to.

Unfortunately, with arriving late and then leaving early for a 10am game we didn’t get to give it much more than a cursory glance. Maybe next time.

The game was at Dobsonville Stadium, home of Sowetan team Moroka Swallows. I’d been trying to see a match there ever since we’d arrived but the fixtures invariably seemed to be scheduled for an evening and a daytime drive past the ground had suggested that it wasn’t the place to be after dark.

It didn’t really seem to be the place to be at 9.30 in the morning on this occasion either as some protesters had set up a roadblock of burning tyres close to the ground. I didn’t hang around to take a photo, but got one on the way out when just the smoke remained.


There was a women’s international scheduled for 3pm, but we were there for the 10am curtain raiser, the final of the national under 17 competition. Entry was free on production of a voucher, which someone very kindly handed to us as we approached the turnstile.

The ground was close to empty as we took our seats in the main stand, although I’d like to think that by the time of the main event a few more people would have taken advantage of a free day out.


Sundowns were in their usual yellow with Wits in navy. Both sides had their share of players who looked far too big to be seventeen, but I suppose that’s the nature of age-group football. You wonder whether the bigger lads are only there because of their size and then whether the smaller fellas will grow enough to have a chance of making it in the professional ranks.


There wasn’t a lot of support coming from the stands, with the most noise being made by the Sundowns squad members who hadn’t made the bench. They stood and sang for the whole of the second half;


The game was goalless under a couple of minutes from full-time. With penalties looking likely the Sundowns left winger cut inside and curled a right footed shot beyond the Wits keeper and into the corner of the net. That was sufficient to take the cup and, as far as I was concerned, to finally bring the 2015/16 season to an end.

Platinum Stars v Township Rollers, Saturday 11th July 2015, 10am

September 5, 2015


It’s difficult to know sometimes when one season ends and the next one starts. The promotion play-offs from the third tier hadn’t taken place yet so it felt as if it’s still 2014/15. However, with the new South African Premier League season just four weeks away, the Maize Cup certainly had the feel of pre-season about it.

It was a four-team tournament taking place at Moruleng which, by happy coincidence, is very close to Pilanesburg National Park. I’m not one to miss the opportunity of combining a visit to a new stadium with a drive around a national park and so we spent the afternoon in Pilanesburg looking at the wildlife.

Sometimes you see a lot, sometimes you don’t and this had been a fairly quiet day up until late on when half a dozen rhinos ambled past. Rhinos do a lot of ambling, but more often than not they do it out of sight. Or at least out of my sight. On this occasion though we were able to watch them make their way along the edge of a lake, no more than fifty yards ahead of us.


Prior to the rhinos, I think the most interesting thing we’d seen were some cormorants feeding their young. Or not so young. It seemed scarcely believable that the ‘chicks’ weren’t ready to feed themselves.


Earlier that day our forty rand tickets had entitled us to watch three games in the same stadium. Two semi finals at 10am and noon respectively, followed by the winners of those games meeting at five o’clock. With Pilanesburg beckoning, we were happy to stay for just the first of those matches, the clash between local Premier League side Platinum Stars and Township Rollers from over the border in Botswana.

Forty rand is generally the minimum pricing for a top-tier game in South Africa and so for those with the staying power the chance to see three games was pretty good value. As a further incentive we were also given a Maize Cup branded beanie and a bag of popcorn each. This almost made up for having our bottles of coke and water confiscated on the way in.


Moruleng Stadium is very similar to a lot of stadiums in this part of the world, with a single covered stand along one side and an open bowl around the remainder. There’s space for a running track, but it looked as if someone had forgotten to construct it.


We took up seats in the main stand to take advantage of the shade provided but the arrival of a brass band early in the first half meant that we didn’t spend long in them.


Rollers, in blue, took the lead after around twenty minutes and then added a second just before the break. They had brought a few hundred fans with them and in the second half we moved to the other side of the stadium on the basis that the fans would be quieter than the band.


Ten minutes from time Platinum Stars knocked in what I thought at the time was nothing more than a consolation goal. Five minutes later they had another and had forced a draw that had rarely seemed on the cards. The tournament schedule left no room for extra-time and so we went straight to penalties.


The momentum was with the home side and they won the shoot-out five-four, leaving the Rollers fans to drift out seven hours earlier than they’d been expecting to leave just a few minutes before. A chorus of “Bye Bye Baby” from the home support wouldn’t have gone amiss.

That evening we watched the final on the telly in our nearby hotel bar. I imagine that the Rollers fans will all have been back in Botswana by that time with the complimentary popcorn long gone.