Posts Tagged ‘Swaziland’

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

September 13, 2015

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Superstars v Hungry Lions, Sunday 15th March 2015, 1.30pm

April 17, 2015

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As we were driving north towards the Jeppes Reef border post between Swaziland and South Africa I noticed a match taking place in the field to our right. There were signs for Mkhuzweni High School and so I presume the pitch was something to do with that. We had plenty of time and so I thought I’d stop for a look.

View from behind the goal.

View from behind the goal.

My yardstick as to whether something is a proper game rather than a kickabout is whether there are linesmen or not. This one had them, but the grass down one side of the pitch was so long that you could only see that particular fella from the knees up.

Note the length of the grass behind them.

Note the length of the grass behind them.

The subs and coaches were sheltering under separate trees and after taking a few photos I wandered over to have a word. One bloke introduced himself as the boss of Superstars, the team in the red. He went on to clarify that he was the owner of the team, not just the manager and then tried to tap me up for sponsorship. One thousand, five hundred rand would buy ten pairs of boots. Maybe one of the players already had a pair.

Superstars dugout.

Superstars dugout.

I noticed that one of his subs was in bare feet and so gave him the hundred and fifty rand that would apparently buy him a pair. There weren’t many spectators, but maybe they had been on the receiving end of ‘sponsorship‘ requests in the past. One fella was sat in the back of his pick up, but everyone else could very well have been with the teams.

The main stand.

The main stand.

It seemed that the boss of the Superstars had been paying more attention to his business development duties than the activities on the pitch as whilst he was able to tell me that the opposition were the Hungry Lions, he wasn’t sure what the score was. Oh, well.

View from the side.

View from the side.

With a few hours drive ahead of us, we took the opportunity to move on fairly sharpish before my wallet got any lighter.

 

Mbabane Highlanders v Royal Leopards, Sunday 15th March 2015, 10am

April 8, 2015

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Jen and I had been spending the weekend at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland and with the football game I had in mind not starting until ten we had time to go for a walk beforehand. Swaziland is hot and humid at this time of year and so our 6am start made it a lot more enjoyable.

There was a seven kilometre trail that looped around a lake and so we just followed that. Early on we got up close enough to a bok that I could probably have touched it if I’d wanted. Fiddling with the wildlife is frowned upon by the authorities though and so I just stared it out.

Later on, as we walked by the edge of the lake we got within a few feet of a crocodile. Not quite close enough to touch it, but I was fine with that. It seemed less impressed with us than vice-versa and submerged all bar its nostrils under the water.

Somewhere should sell a plastic version for fish ponds.

Somewhere should sell a plastic version for fish ponds.

After checking out we headed for the Manzini Club in Mbabane for a game in the Premier Reserve League. It’s a newish competition, I think, intended to give more competitive action to the under twenties at the Premier League clubs.

There was a sign outside the gate stating that the Manzini Club was a members-only institution. I’m not really one for joining clubs, I was a junior member of Norton Cricket Club as a kid and signed up to Lyndhurst Working Mens Club a few years ago when working down by the New Forest. Even if either of those clubs had reciprocal arrangements with the Manzini Club, my memberships had long since lapsed.

Highlanders v Leopards

Highlanders v Leopards

In the end, it didn’t matter as there was nobody on the gate and we pulled into a car park behind one of the goals. The game had just kicked off and there was a policewoman watching from a few feet up a tree with her semi-automatic rifle was hanging from a branch nearby. Hopefully that would deter any potential car thieves.

There was a temporary stand to one side of the pitch and we joined the thirty or so people sitting along the one shaded row at the back. As the game went on a few more spectators arrived with most of them preferring to sit under the trees behind the goal at the car park end.

The Main Stand.

The Main Stand.

Leopards, in the blue strips, took the lead with a penalty midway through the first half and then added a second just before the break. At half-time the players didn’t use the dressing rooms but instead camped out under separate trees. Not surprisingly they were keen to get on with the game and it was only ten minutes before the second half started.

Half-time

Half-time

Whilst I was doing my best to keep up with play I was frequently distracted by Billy Casper in the Highlanders goal. He looked far too slight to be a keeper and his kit seemed on the large side for him. The Casper connection was enhanced by him swinging on the bar at one point.

His shirt didn’t help any hope he had of being taken seriously, with it turning brown about a third of the way down. It looked as if he had stuffed it down a drain the night before and then retrieved it on the way to the game.

Billy Casper

Billy Casper

The Highlanders fought back early in the second half, pulling one back when one of their players chased a long ball and poked it past the Leopards keeper. Two minutes later a diving header put them on level terms.

Leopards restored their lead with a quarter of an hour remaining via a twice-taken penalty and then spent the remaining fifteen minutes wasting as much time as possible. Their goalie was the worst culprit, probably because the ref couldn’t make him leave the field for treatment. He didn’t even need the ball to come near him to sustain an injury, dropping to the ground on two occasions when the action was in the other half.

Another penalty.

Another penalty.

Justice was done in the ninety-fourth minute when the Highlanders got their equaliser, again through a twice taken penalty. By this time I’d lost patience with the Leopards tactics and whilst I didn’t celebrate quite so enthusiastically as the Highlanders supporters around me, I was very happy to see them snatch a point.

 

 

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.