Swaziland is less than four hours drive from where we live but after a year and a half in South Africa, we still hadn’t got around to going there. I think I’d subconsciously been hanging on to try to combine any visit with the Reed Dance. You know the one I mean, it’s that ceremony where as a way of helping the King select another bride the local women dance around their handbags without their blouses on.
I’ve no time for the monarchy, but if we had events like that outside of Buckingham Palace I imagine I could probably put my Republican sympathies to one side for the afternoon.
In the absence of any royal events involving girls in states of undress it was the prospect of seeing the Swazi Police team Royal Leopards in the equivalent of a UEFA Cup game against a side from Angola that proved sufficient to tempt us over the border.
We stayed at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in what was described as a beehive hut. I can’t imagine anything worse than staying in a giant beehive, perhaps except a giant wasp or hornet‘s nest, but as there weren’t any bees inside it worked out fine.
The Somhlolo National stadium in Lobamba was only ten minutes drive away from our hut and there was plenty of parking on the field outside. Soon after paying our thirty Swazi wotsits on the gate we heard our car alarm going off, but fortunately we were close enough to be able to use the remote to silence it. I spent the rest of the game wondering what might have been nicked.
We watched the first half in the South Stand behind one of the goals. The main West Stand housed most of the spectators, with a handful in the North and one or two loitering on the grassy terrace to our right.
We attracted a little more attention than we usually do, starting with a fella in a Kaizer Chiefs shirt who was insistent that I tried some of his home-brewed morula. It was a cloudy beige liquid and he had two litres of it in an old coke bottle. I detected a hint of apple in my quick swig with perhaps the slight bouquet of anti-freeze. Whatever it had been made from, it certainly had a kick to it.
We were then joined by a small girl who quietly exchanged pleasantries with Jen before asking her for money.
The game kicked off five minutes early at twenty-five past three. They wouldn’t get away with that at the Riverside where people have the timing of downing their final pre-match pint down to a fine art. Mind you, missing the first five minutes at the Riverside due to an earlier than scheduled kick-off wouldn’t be as bad as the game kicking off later than planned and you arriving in your seat to discover that you have five minutes of Me Mark Page’s gobshitery to contend with.
Royal Leopards had done well to be in the current round of the CAF Confederations Cup. They’d lost the away leg of the previous tie at Bidvest Wits three-nil, but had then rallied at home to turn it around and get through. Oh Massimo.
The hosts looked to have their work cut out in this round too as with game no more than five minutes old the Angolans, in yellow and blue, converted a cross from the left at the near post.
Leopards equalised midway through the first half with a penalty after a contentious handball. The linesman flagged for it just a few minutes after ruling that a shot that had bounced down from the Petro crossbar hadn’t crossed the line. I felt that each decision could have gone either way and suspected that the linesman felt under pressure not to rule against the home side twice in quick succession.
At half time I bought a couple of pieces of grilled chicken. I could have had beef or pork, but I couldn’t peel off the skin from those as I could with the chicken and as the lad on the stall seemed to have minimal interest in chasing away the flies that kept landing on the food, chicken seemed marginally safer.
For the second half we moved to the South Stand, mainly to avoid the prospect of any more morula. We were successful, although we did end up handing over twenty rand each to a six year old girl selling what we subsequently discovered was probably tap water in re-filled plastic bottles.
Ten minutes after the re-start a goalmouth scramble ended up with Leopards taking the lead and a mass celebration that included all of the bench and a couple of the ball boys. They couldn’t hold on though and Petro squared the game with a quarter of an hour to go to set themselves up nicely for the second leg.