Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012: Six Countries, Six Stadiums

This year I managed to get out the house a bit more than usual, taking me to some new places, and also back to some more familiar ones. It's sad but true - the easiest way for me to remember where I was, and when, is to mentally archive the football games I went to.

Nakivubo Stadium, Kampala - the
 crowded section (pic: SAHIP)
1. Saturday May 5. Nakivubo Stadium, Kampala, Uganda. Competition: Bell's Ugandan Super League. SC Villa v KCC. Entrance: 5000 Ugandan schillings ($2).
I enter the former national stadium at 2.45pm for a 3pm kick-off, because I'm always prompt, and you never know if there will be a rush on tickets. No worries, I'm the first person there in the 15,000 capacity ground, and the only way I know there's a game on is because there are two teams warming up. The match kicks off at 3.15, and a few hundred profoundly unenthusiastic fans drift in, reacting only to goals with begrudging applause, but never cheering good play. By half-time, a few lads have finally affixed the sponsors' boards to the perimeter fence. At the final whistle no one moves, maybe because there's lots of space in here compared with the cramped, chaotic city beyond, or maybe because someone's setting up a sound system next to a barrel of cold beers. Final score: SC Villa 2 KCC 0.

Hand-crafted seating at the national
 stadium in Bujumbura (pic: SAHIP)
2. Wednesday May 9. National Stadium, Bujumbura, Burundi. Competition: A cup game between two unidentified teams. Entrance: free.
After a meeting in one of the government buildings close by, I walk across the road late in the afternoon to take a look at the ground. The gate's half open, so I peer in, expecting to be shouted away by a groundsman, as would happen in England. Except there's a game on, with about 150 people watching. It's a neat ground, surrounded on three sides by mosaic stone seating, with a less alluring covered main stand. I see the last 20 minutes of the match, then it goes to penalty kicks, at which point, strangely, half the spectators leave. One goalkeeper aggressively taunts an opponent who's missed his kick. Bad karma, dude - the goalkeeper's team goes on to lose, prompting wild celebrations among the victors, while the remaining spectators shuffle out wordlessly. One man hits the fence in frustration, the only visible display of fan emotion. Final score: someone won on PKs.

Bukavu's Stade de la Concorde: Built in Mobutu's
 name, on this day host to honky house-dads (pic: SAHIP)
3. Saturday May 19. Stade de la Concorde, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Competition: Great Lakes Peace Cup, DRC quarter-final, second leg. Espoir du Grand Lac v Umoja. Entrance: free.
In the sparse but spacious former President Mobutu Stadium, two teams of former combatants and community members battle it out on a testing surface. As by far the whitest person there, I am invited to take the ceremonial kick-off, for the first and possibly the last time in my life, praying that the anti-diarrhea tablets I had to take earlier that morning will remain effective. A clutch of small boys spend the entire game staring at me while I make small talk in broken French with the South Kivu Minister for Sport and Leisure in the VIP section (six plastic chairs on the concrete terrace cordoned off from the masses). "Tricky surface," I venture. "They're used to it," he replies tersely. Final score: Espoir du Grand Lac 1 Umoja 0 (3-1 on aggregate). More pictures here.

Offenbach: where they make
 proper terracing (pic: SAHIP)
4. Wednesday August 8. Bieberer Berg, Offenbach, Germany. Competition: Bundesliga Division 3, Offenbach Kickers v Arminia Bielefeld. Entrance: €18.
A few stops down the Frankfurt S-Bahn from my mother-in-law's, Offenbach's newly rebuilt stadium offers the chance to appreciate one of the few sideline standing areas in a sizable European ground, and to cheer on the team I spent a year watching as a lazy student in 1985-86, Arminia Bielefeld. Bielefeld score twice in the first five minutes, delighting both me and my daughter, who starts to laugh uncontrollably at the crapness of Offenbach's defence. The home supporters around us don't seem to find it quite so hilarious. Reasonably priced tickets and good view, grub, beer and atmosphere (especially when Offenbach threaten a comeback), as always in Germany. "How was it?" the in-laws always politely ask, then leave the room before I start to answer. Final score: Offenbach 1 Bielefeld 3

The sun barely shines on another
 Lincoln City season (pic: SAHIP)
5. Saturday August 11. Sincil Bank, Lincoln, England. Competition: Blue Square Premier League, Lincoln City v Kidderminster Harriers. Entrance: £18. 
There's nothing like the unblemished optimism of opening day. See the lovingly cultivated, unspoiled surface almost Day-Glo green beneath the struggling east midlands sun! Best to freeze this moment when all teams are equal, preserving hope and holding at bay the inevitable, wintry despair. Barely 2,000 people can summon the will to watch Lincoln embark on their second consecutive non-league campaign, and the game is appropriately dire. Still, there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Not because it's good or fun or anything, but because that's how I've been conditioned. "Bloody rubbish," says my Dad accurately from the seat next to me, and then it's my part of the script to respond, "Yeah, but we won." You should treasure the smallest of rewards, because it's another eight games before Lincoln get three points again. Final score: Lincoln 1 Kidderminster 0

End of the day, end of the football year
at Ludwig Field (pic: SAHIP)
Saturday December 1. Ludwig Field, College Park, Maryland, USA. Competition: NCAA quarter-final, University of Maryland v University of Louisville. Entrance: $8.
The Louisville keeper paces around his area. The fans behind the goal commentate his every step. "Left right left right left right left right." He pauses. "Right left right left right left..." In Major League Soccer a lot of supporters strive just a bit too hard to ape European fan mores. In college soccer, there's more spontaneity and wit. It's a rushed game, brimming with pace, youth and fitness, while lacking technique and individual flair. Reminds me of the lower league English game, which might be why I feel so at home in crowds of 3-4,000 gagging on shite food but revelling in the community feel. Final score: Maryland 3 Louisville 1.


taylor said...

£18 for Blue Sq Prem football? Oh my word.

Ian Plenderleith said...

I know. But that was the most expensive ticket in the ground, and my dad got in for £11 as a pensioner. To be fair to Lincoln, they recently offered a flat rate £5 entry for the Woking game. The crowd was up by a few hundred over the average... and they lost 0-2.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Ian. Can I just take a second and say that I love your life!

Anonymous said...

I have a free extra ticket for you to see DCU play on 6/29 and it's a referee clinic night as well. email me if you have any interest.