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Royal Leopards v Petro de Luanda, Saturday 14th March 2015, 3.30pm

March 31, 2015

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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.

Beehive hut

Beehive hut

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.

View from the South Stand

View from the South Stand

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.

Hat of the day.

Hat of the day.

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.

One each.

One each.

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.

Half-time snacks.

Half-time snacks.

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.

Tap water and nuts.

Tap water and nuts.

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.

The Platinum Cup, Sunday 3rd August 2014

August 14, 2014

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This should have been an entirely different story altogether as the intention for the weekend had been for Jen and I to go to Mozambique and take in their national team’s African Cup of Nations Qualifier against Tanzania. It was all going to plan until we reached the airport check-in desk and were informed that American nationals now need a visa issued in advance rather than obtaining one on arrival.

I’ve seen enough airport programmes on the telly to know that arguing never works and my attempts at charming the check-in staff weren’t anywhere near good enough to circumvent the new rules. Fortunately we were able to re-book the flights for a month later and so the only real loss was the cost of the Maputo hotel.

So, what to do? Well, we’d recently acquired a Land Rover from a bloke at work and so I thought we might as well head over to Pilanesburg National Park and take advantage of its 4×4 capabilities to see what we could spot in the way of wildlife.

Despite hotels in Pilanesburg being even more expensive than the one we were missing out on in Maputo, they tend to fill up early. That meant that we ended up staying about an hours drive away on a small game farm. It worked out fine though, as I got the opportunity to go into a cage with a couple of caracals. You might know them better as lynx, those cats with the big ears. Big teeth and big claws too.

The owner let me feed one of the caracals with a chicken and encouraged me to tease him a bit. That’s pretty much my default position with cats anyway and so I made him work a bit before I released my grip on his dinner.

I stopped teasing him at this point.

I stopped teasing him at this point.

The next day we spent a few hours driving around Pilanesburg. We didn’t encounter any bigger cats, but we did see some rhinos and a few elephants. There are rules about not feeding them chickens though.

Zebras in the background too.

Zebras in the background too.

On the way back home we passed through Rustenburg and as we reached the Olympia Stadium I noticed a couple of games taking place next to each other on the pitches nearby. As you might have expected I pulled off the road and went and had a look.

Blues v Yellows.

Blues v Yellows.

The pitches weren’t in the best of condition, with the goalmouths in particular being more solid earth than grass, but there were a couple of hundred people watching. That size of crowd seems de rigueur for lower league football, no matter where in the world it takes place but in this case it was a more than decent turnout for games that were taking place on pitches that most English Sunday League teams would refuse to play on.

Red v Green.

Red v Green.

There are certain circumstances in South Africa where an Englishman wandering around taking photos attracts a fair bit of attention. This was one of those times. I tend to try to keep a low profile when I’m out and about but everyone wanted to know what I was up to.

It turns out that I’d wandered into a tournament that had been running for a few weeks and was now at the last sixteen stage. Whilst it seems plausible to me that someone could just like watching football, the people who I spoke to all seemed convinced that I was there to assess the suitability of their competition for sponsorship.

Fans down the side.

Fans down the side.

I was quickly introduced to someone’s boss and then to the bosses boss. They were all keen to assure me that they could produce presentations and plans detailing all the equipment and funding that they would need.

Rustenburg is a poor area. It’s predominantly a mining community that has recently been through a five month strike and I was told that whilst some of the players were miners, most were unemployed.

Whilst I’d have loved to have helped, I’m just a bloke who watches a bit of football now and again, not some corporation with a charity budget to dispense. I made my excuses and we headed off further down the road.

 

 

Choongnam v Doosan, Sunday 23rd September 2012, 2pm

October 9, 2012

I’d been to watch the tennis at the Olympic Park and as I was heading back to the subway station afterwards I noticed a few television trucks outside of the Fencing Gymnasium. There was a sign outside mentioning handball and as one of the doors to the venue was open I went inside to see if there was anything going on. I could hear noises from behind a curtain and a closer look revealed that there was indeed a handball game taking place.

Behind the curtain.

To be truthful handball isn’t a game that I’ve ever given very much thought to. I occasionally stumble across a match as I’m flicking through the tv channels, but I rarely watch for longer than the time necessary to establish that it’s, well, handball.

I’m usually quite happy to watch most sport, but handball just seems like an unnecessary version of football, albeit not so good. Sports like rugby or basketball are different enough from football to make them interesting, handball though is really just a rip-off of a game of five-a-side with your mates. The only difference seems to be that you use your hands rather than your feet.

I’ve read that it’s popular in Scandinavia, but then again, so are fermented shark burgers. It still doesn’t make it right. Curiosity trumped reticence though and I joined around five hundred other spectators. A team in red that I later discovered to be Choongnam were playing a team in blue that turned out to be a side owned by Doosan. The game was ten minutes into the second half and Choongnam were ahead by a few.

Choongnam on the attack.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with any of the rules other than you aren’t allowed to kick the ball, I’ll pass on what I spotted. If you imagine five-a-side football, but with seven players on each team that’s it. So, seven-a-side football. I couldn’t work out whether outfield players were allowed in the box or not and I’m not sure the ref knew either. Maybe the players just decide between themselves before the start, but don’t really pay much attention to it. Whatever. They’ve borrowed two minutes suspensions from ice-hockey but that’s about the only difference that I noticed.

It’s quite an aggressive game, or at least this one was, with players regularly getting clattered. I kept an eye on the keepers as apparently it was during Peter Schmeichel’s time as a handball goalie that he developed his famous ‘star-jump’ shot stopping technique. Both keepers spread themselves in a similar way whenever the ball was hurled towards goal but, unlike Schmeichel, rarely seemed to know where the ball was going until it either hit the back of the net or smacked them in the chops.

Interestingly, Schmeichel’s other trademark activity of bollocking the defence whenever he made a mistake didn’t seem to be something that he’d picked up from his handball days.

A Doosan player tries the ball concealment tactic known as ‘Drug-smuggling’.

Choongnam kept their lead until the end, running out 28-22 victors. Oddly though it was Doosan who celebrated, receiving a trophy, throwing their coach in the air and lining up behind a banner where one fella mixed up his V for Victory gesture with something else altogether.

Harvey Smith celebrates another win.

The mystery was solved when I discovered that this match was the second leg of the Championship play-off and so I assume that Doosan must have gone into the game with at least a seven goal advantage from the previous encounter.  I’ve no idea whether it was close or not. Doosan could have just nicked a thrilling aggregate victory or they could have strolled through a match made meaningless by the first leg. The air-conditioning was good though and that’s what mattered most.