This is a short tale of a weekend’s football in Swaziland.
Swaziland is only a small country. It’s maybe 125 miles from north to south and just over 80 miles east to west. There’s maybe a million people living there, and the people are often friendly too. It’s a beautiful place, with a varied and dramatic landscape of mountains, plains and bush. It’s landlocked, but it’s bordered by Mozambique to the east and South Africa everywhere else and it’s relatively easy to get to the sea. Its land is rich and fertile, there’s often plenty of rain and, with a bit of effort, this could be a much richer place.
Unfortunately it’s ravaged by HIV / AIDS. Over 25% of the population is estimated to be infected and more than one third of all deaths are HIV/AIDS related. It’s also ravaged by government incompetence. It’s one of the last remaining monarchies in the world and the civil service is the largest employer so the country’s essentially bankrupt. The king has thirteen wives and is just about to start building his eleventh palace. Just what the country needs, another palace. On top of that, it was the king’s birthday a few days ago and he received a jet aeroplane from “anonymous sponsors” to ferry the king and his wives around. Of course, it wasn’t really anonymous sponsors. It was a present from himself.
The king used to have fifteen wives but one ran away to South Africa and another was caught in flagrante delicto with the King’s best friend and justice minister.
So that’s some of the bad side of Swaziland. That, and the rather oppressive state and the fact that the king is backed by the army and police force, to the extent that it is sometimes suggested that he is actually beholden to them. One person I spoke to compared the King to Louis XIV and declared Swaziland to be a feudal state.
But this is supposed to be about football.
On Saturday, Royal Leopards FC played Club Africain from Tunisia in the second round of the African Confederation Cup. Club Africain were the runners up in last year’s tournament and so the outcome of this match looked pretty much certain.
I took a taxi to the stadium in Manzini and paid my thirty Lilangeni to get into the Mavuso Stadium. That’s about £2.50. Royal Leopards are the police force team and, as you’d perhaps expect, are not the most popular team in Swaziland. In a stadium that holds five thousand people, there were maybe 1,500 people there. The police brass band played some rather jolly music and a rather addled transvestite wandered in front of the stand waving to the crowd. I guess it makes a change to pre-match entertainment elsewhere.
Needless to say, the game went as expected. The Tunisian’s won but it was closer than I had predicted. I was expecting a terrible humiliation for the Swazis but it was only 1-0. Having said that, it could’ve been maybe 3 or 4-1 at half time. In the second half, the Tunisians shut up shop, played with a flat back four along their own 18 yard line and the midfield as another row of four maybe ten yards further forward, leaving two strikers near the centre circle. And that, largely, was that. The Swazis were, by and large, reduced to long range shots and they missed their only couple of real chances. This was game that was low on quality. The ball control was woeful and the passing was terrible. At least the Tunisians had some semblance of an approach and played as though they had played together before. The Swazis hit the post shortly after going behind to a 14th minute goal from Eziechel but that was really as close as they got.
As I wandered I off, I realised I was walking in the way of the players coming off the pitch, but so were many others and it didn’t seem to really matter, everyone just pushed and jostled and everyone got to where they were going.
On the Sunday though, things were a little different. I wasn’t at this game, so I’m reporting what I’ve heard and what I’ve read. Back at the same stadium, the Pigg’s Peak Black Swallows were playing Sea Birds in an important game at the end of the MTN First Division season. Sea Birds were already promoted but could win the title and the Black Swallows could win promotion to the Premier League depending on the result between Midas City and Hub Sundowns. Black Swallows won what seems to have been an exciting game 4-2 but it wasn’t enough; MIdas City had won 1-0. The Sea Birds walked off to their dressing room and the Black Swallows stayed on the pitch for a team talk. As they walked off the pitch and crossed the athletics track that runs around it, someone started shouting abuse at the Swallow’s goalkeeper Chicco Mayisa and someone else then threw a beer bottle at him, which hit him on the head, cutting him and knocking him to the ground. Immediately after, someone stabbed Amos Mthembu twice in the neck with what seems to have been a broken beer bottle. Unusually, there was no ambulance at the ground and the two players had to be driven to hospital in a supporter’s minibus. Mayisa has been discharged after treatment but Mthembu is still unconscious in hospital. There are suggestions that if he does regain consciousness, he will never play again and he may well be paralysed.
Obviously I wish Mthembu every strength and I hope that the culprits are caught. What’s to say after that? Nothing really. There’s nothing that can be said.