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The Maddest afternoon of my whole life…

June 16, 2013

Wow. I’m sorry to be quite so annoyingly effusive, but that was the most amazing experience of my life. Uganda 2 – Angola 1. See match report here –

You can see a brief highlights package here (1 min) – Where the players ran to after the 2nd goal – that’s where I was. These pictures are from a game two years ago, but they give you a flavour of the stadium and the atmosphere. If you want more pics, do a Google Image search for Namboole

In a nutshell. Both teams had to win (a draw was useless) to have any chance of qualifying for the world cup. Half-time, nil-nil. They scored a beauty early in the 2nd half. We then got a man sent off. Not looking good at all. We then absolutely fluke an equaliser, and Angola fall apart. They get a man and the manager sent off, and we, in the 89th minute, score the winner.

I’m going to write down some random thoughts, interesting I hope to football and non-football fans.

  • ATTENDANCE: The stadium is Chinese built (1997) and is just 10 mins from our house. There’s no seats, it’s just a crucible of concrete steps and you sit (in theory) on the edge of one step with your legs hanging down to the next step. The stadium is a complete bowl, so you can walk, on the same step, all the way around 360 degrees. That basically means there is no way of controlling how many people are in the stadium, or where they sit. To say it was a squash is an understatement. I have no idea how many people were there. I doubt even the stadium managers do, to be honest. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any fuller, another 5,000 people wandered in and you had to squeeze even closer to the person next to you.
  • COIN-THROWING There is an athletics track around the pitch. At half-time, a (very talented) Ugandan ball-juggler came around doing skills in front of the fans. His friend had a bag to collect the money. The idea is that you, and the 100 rows of fans behind you, hurl coins down to him to appreciate him. Of course, from the back of the stadium, it’s impossible to throw a coin onto the track, so you chuck it as far as you can and rely on the goodwill of the fan it hits to give it another lob forward, and so on and so on. That just meant for me, at the front, it was raining coins. All sanctioned and official and encouraged by the authorities. Think of the fuss made in the UK when just 1 coin is thrown! I had one hit my ear. It hurts.
  • SAFETY The whole experience is chaotic. To get into the stadium, there was thousands of fans crushing against a gate until it was opened, at which point everyone surged forward. There’s cars and motorbikes weaving around outside the ground within mm of your feet. I frequently just burst out laughing with the absurdity of it all. And yet I never felt in danger.
  • NATIONAL ANTHEM Uganda has the shortest national anthem in the world. Apparently it’s just 8 bars of music. If it lasts 15 seconds I’d be surprised. It’s hilarious. By the time you’ve worked out its playing, it’s over.
  • DEMOCRACY When a government official came out to greet the teams, he was widely booed. I love the fact that, despite Uganda being a long, long way from being a fully-functioning democracy, people  still feel it acceptable to publically (when anonymous, of course!) boo a leader. That bodes well. People weren’t able to do that 20 years ago here.
  • BRAZIL 2014 This game was a 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifier, but it felt a million miles from Brazil. Apart from one small banner, there was no FIFA presence, no sponsorship, no pictures of the World Cup anywhere. If this was the FA Cup, Uganda v Angola is like Accrington Stanley playing Tamworth. A million miles from the fame, glory, exposure, and money of the actual tournament itself. We are a far-flung footballing outpost here, and it feels like we’ve been forgotten completely. But it also feels like no-one here gives a monkeys, and I love that. In one sense this isn’t about the World Cup. It’s just about supporting your team through the ups and downs, wherever it takes you.
  • RIOT POLICE When the Angolan player got sent off, he was not a happy chappy (it was 1-1 at that point and he’d just given away a free kick that we blasted into the wall). He argued and argued and argued. In the end some Ugandan soldiers came on and marched him off the pitch. Hilarious. He then had riot police who had to cover him with their shields as he left the pitch because all the stuff raining down on him from the Uganda fans by the changing rooms. The Angola manager then went ballistic at something, and stormed onto the pitch ranting. He then got sent off. Cue more soldiers to escort him off, and more riot shields to protect him. It was gloriously and hilariously chaotic. I was in hysterics.
  • NOISE The noise is astonishing. Utterly breathtaking. I’m writing this almost 24 hours later and my ears still aren’t functioning properly – it’s like I’m permanently wearing earmuffs, and Ros is getting tired of me saying ‘pardon?’ It’ not singing, or chanting, or unified. It is just a 4-hour long, deafening, intense, continuous, mind-blowing cacophony of noise. Pure, loud, inseparable, noise. It really is indescribable. I never once got close to hearing any noise on the pitch – in football games in the UK you normally hear at least the referee’s whistle, perhaps some shouts from the pitch, the booting of the ball even. Not here. Not a chance. A lot of the noise is whistles, horns, and Ugandan-style vuvuzela’s. But a lot of it is just people’s non-stop shouting, cheering, and making all sorts of hooping and whooping noises that no Westerner could ever hope to replicate. Just extraordinary.
  • POSTERS People bring home-made posters to the game. I saw several in support of Nelson Mandela (‘The King of Africa’, and the stadium is called ‘The Nelson Mandela Stadium’) and one artistic efforts of a Crested Crane (the Ugandan national bird, and symbol) beheading with its claws an antelope (the name of the Angola team). Awesome.
  • UNITY This is not meant to be a profound theological point, so please don’t read anything into it, but there is something tremendously uplifting about watching a country so wrecked by poverty, crime, dictatorships, and corruption, come together for an afternoon to just be proud. I can only remember two pieces of happy news since arriving here. Kiprotitch’s marathon gold medal at London2012, and this. After the second goal went in, for the remaining few minutes of the game, the scoreboard gave up on showing the score (as if anyone wasn’t aware!) and just read “We are proud of our team and our nation”. And you know what, for an afternoon, they really were. Sometimes I feel so much despair for the future of Uganda. And yet yesterday, even just for a few hours, 56 tribes and languages came together in the stadium, around little radios, and around TV sets in bars, to feel Ugandan again.
  • ACCEPTANCE The 3 students I went with decided it was most fun to sit with the ‘ultras’, the hard-core fans. When the goals when in, I was surrounded by flares, and semi-naked, head-to-toe body-painted insane Ugandans hugging me. They LOVE it when an outsider cares for their team as much as they do. I had hundreds of people trying to shake my hand as we left. It was the most Ugandan I’ve ever felt. It was perhaps he first time I felt truly accepted here as an insider, and not just an outsider that people are fascinated by and want to gawp whilst imagining my non-existent fabulous riches.
  • FOOTBALL It must be said, the quality of football was pretty poor. Energetic, frenetic, attack-minded, but poor. It largely consisted of 22 players trying to move the ball up to the opposition goal as quickly as possible. Not necessarily long-ball, but just lack of patience, vision, and strategy. It made for a thrilling watch, but the thought of Uganda coming up against Spain is absolutely terrifying.
  • THE FUTURE It is still desperately unlikely that Uganda are going to qualify for the world cup. Depending on the Senegal result today, it is very likely that we’re going to have to go there, to Dakar, in September, and win. Against a team containing Ba, Cisse, Diouf, Diop, Faye, another well-known stars. If we do, amazingly, get through that, then we have a two-legged play-off against another group-topping team in Africa, probably a team like Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa etc.  But oh let’s dream. The Ugandan team in Brazil 2014. It takes my breath away just the thought of it. Do you know what? If I had a choice right now, I would honestly, truly, hand-on-heart, prefer Uganda to qualify for the world cup then England. I think, probably, I’d rather Uganda qualify for the World Cup than England win it. Little by little, as the months roll by here, my identity is starting to change. And, as always when it comes to feeling ‘at home’, the footy has much to do with it.

GO CRANES!ImageImageImage


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  1. Tim permalink

    Fantastic blog post – what an amazing day this must have been. I’d love to see the Cranes in the WC. Much more so than any of the complacent European teams who think they ‘deserve’ to be there: Denmark, Greece, and yes, England! Keep up the great posts! Lots of love to you all over there xx

  2. Pauline Brough permalink

    Brilliant – thanks for sharing that!!! Brought up in Tottenham, one of 3 girls – Never been to a football match – we used to wash the cars that parked outside our council house while the matches were on for a bib or two. Pauline

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