Last week, the Swaziland National Football Team returned home after drubbing Djibouti 0-6. Unfortunately, the Djibouti team got stuck in Kenya on their way to play the second leg at Somhlolo, Swaziland’s National Stadium. They made it with a day to spare, but it must have disrupted their concentration and preparation.
I must admit, I went to the match hoping to see lots of goals. I wanted to grab a good vantage point. It looked as though there were plenty of free seats in the central part of the South Stand, but when I got there, this area was reserved for VIPs. The very best seats were reserved for VVIPs, but hardly anyone was sitting there. I sat half a dozen rows from the back among a group of serious Chelsea fans. Well, they were wearing Chelsea livery, anyway. A few minutes later, the Royal Swaziland Police Band marched out onto the pitch. A fat sweaty copper ran down the side-line, opened his music case and hastily assembled his trombone. He just managed to join the band before they struck up.
After the national anthems, the RSPB were led off by a majorette, twirling a long silver topped baton. Instead of marching with military precision, she was adding lots of funky moves to her repertoire, while beaming at the Swazi crowd. We cheered her to the rafters. She alone was worth the price of admission. That’s not saying much as it cost less than £1.50 to get in.
Djibouti kicked off, with their centre forward cheekily trying a long punt, hoping to catch the Swazi keeper off his line. It wasn’t difficult to see the Swazi keeper because he had white kit, with fluorescent green and yellow flashes. In the event, the kick was blocked.
The opening minutes were frantic. It was like watching a kids’ game, kick and run. The ball seemed to run in favour of the Swazi team. After just six minutes, the centre forward, Hlatjwako, got the ball in the net. The crowd went wild. It seemed as though we were in for another goal-fest.
The players’ ball control skills were lacking. They could hardly string three passes together. Tiki-taki this was not. Perhaps the poor quality of the pitch contributed to the errors. Sihlango, the King’s Shield, started to become cocky once they had the lead. But on 22 minutes, Djibouti got more players into the penalty area, and Liban scored. The crowd fell silent, apart from a dozen Djibouti fans (one of whom was cunningly wearing a Somalia shirt), who went crazy.
The crowd grew anxious. Obviously, it was time for a snack. Not content with a bag of nuts, Swazis wanted something more substantial, such as boiled corn on the cob. The lady next to me bought one. She ate it like a typewriter platen, starting at one end and gobbling down to the other end. I was half expecting a “ding” telling her to throw the carriage. When the game became more exciting, she nibbled faster. Just before the end of the half, Hlatjwako nodded the ball past Djibouti’s keeper to restore Swaziland’s lead.
At half time, the stadium’s loudspeakers screamed into life with some catchy Afrobeat rhythms. Half the crowd stood up to dance. After the humdrum first half, the spectators were certainly getting their moneys worth with the musical entertainment.
The players came out for the second half, but the dancing in the stands continued in true African style. In turn, one of the crowd of dancers would shimmy down the steps, throw some super shapes and then return to the group for another to take over. The action on the pitch was so scrappy that the spectators in wheelchairs on the side-line twisted around to watch the dance action in the stand. Even the TV cameras swivelled to take in the show instead of recording the game.
Neither team managed a shot on target in the second half. Sihlango seemed happy to sit on their slender lead. Whenever a wayward shot missed the goal, a man in front of me blew his vuvuzela making a loud raspberry. Swaziland’s “big number 9 shirt” squandered several chances, causing the rowdies in the crowd to make a rolling over gesture with their hands. They obviously wanted him to be substituted. Despite having scored both goals, he went off with ten minutes to go.
At 5:50pm, the final whistle blew. Bring on Nigeria’s Super Eagles in the next round. Everyone filed out of the stadium, apart from me. I had to wait 50 minutes for a driver to come from Manzini to Lobamba to pick me up. By then it was dark, and most of the stadium lighting had been turned off. But I got home in time to see New Zealand demolish France in the Rugby World Cup.