On Saturday, I listened resignedly to the BBC World Service as Fulham were relegated from the English Premier League. On Sunday, when I should have been trying to follow the Cambridge score (they made it to the Conference play-off final again) I instead went to watch a live football match at Uganda’s Mandela National Stadium.
The stadium itself is an impressive sight as you approach along the main road from central Kampala, elevated above the city. It is shaped like many modern sports grounds: an oval structure resembling a grounded flying saucer, but instead of the more common metal frame it is cast in an earthy concrete that looks almost gold in the sunshine and dusty like an African road up-close.
There weren’t actually any turnstiles in place at the entrance, but the narrow ticket gates gave that impression. The queue to pay the 5,000 shilling entrance fee (just over a pound) was short, and the only difficulty was in trying to find out what would be the benefit of buying a 10,000 shilling “executive” ticket (I may never know). Only two sections of the ground were open, and the rest of the stadium contained layers of bare concrete benches that probably look more appealing than rows of empty plastic seats. The toilet facilities had fallen into disrepair, though the loos at Craven Cottage are hardly luxurious, I suppose. Refreshments on offer included cold soft drinks, nuts, bananas, and popcorn.
There were probably a couple of hundred supporters in attendance, and I would say that there was a more even gender mix than you would find at the average match in the English leagues. Rival supporters were not separated and there was no obvious stewarding. Consequently, there was a small group of people at the front of the stand who were loudly shouting and gesticulating at each other throughout proceedings. I counted two vuvuzelas, which were mercifully silent except at kick-off and in the approach to the final whistle. The overall atmosphere was like that of a county cricket match, with clapping and the odd bit of shouted advice rather than sustained chants or songs. The substitutes sat on a row of plastic patio chairs in the middle of the athletics track that surrounds the pitch. This track got quite dirty as the ball often landed in the sandpit, making something of a mess when retrieved. West Ham can look forward to that if they ever move into the Olympic Stadium.
The match was between Kira Young FC and Kampala Capital City Authority FC. I was nominally supporting Kampala, who were the better team and I believe are top of the league. The standard of football wasn’t great, and I say that having watched my fair share of Conference matches at the Abbey. Almost every home attack was cut short by a blatant offside, and the visiting strikers failed to connect with a number of crosses that just bounced across the penalty area and out into touch. It was an interesting experience, though, and the Kampala keeper made one blinding save, tipping a powerful shot over the bar. It finished 0-0.
I was glad to see that some Ugandans enjoy the experience of live football while so many are watching European matches on the telly. It was a familiar, communal experience, especially as we filed out of the exit at the end towards parked cars and waiting buses. The chaos of Kampala’s traffic seemed appropriate in the aftermath of a football match, even if in truth the two were unrelated.
“Almost every home attack was cut short by a blatant offside…”
So that’s where Pipo Inzaghi ended up playing.
Made Berbatov look like a well coordinated team player.