Monday, November 21, 2011
Ten Nam Dollars Worth of Fun
Even though I’ve read and heard previously that European league soccer, especially the English Premier League, trumps local soccer in Africa, I’ve come to find that in Rehoboth there exists a balance: you have your Premier League team (usually one of the “Big 3,” and the majority claim Manchester United) and you have your local team. In the time I’ve been in Rehoboth, my family has exposed me to the Riverside United Tournament, which is a local, amateur soccer league with a unique format of 18 teams and 20 weekend tournaments with a cash purse for the winning team. Each game draws 50 fans at the most. The team my host family supports – and that I subsequently “am” (for any sort of team you are a fan of, people say “I am Manchester,” “I am Bokke,” “I am All Blacks,” etc.) is Hellenic FC. One of the many charming things about the league is the diversity in team names e.g. Happy Hearts, Spiders, Flamingos, and Dream Team. My host dad played for Hellenic back in the 90’s and my host mom’s brother now plays for the “Greek Gods” as well.
I’ve been to half a dozen games now but a particular one bears mentioning. Two of my Peace Corps friends were in town for the weekend and I thought I’d expose them to some Rehoboth soccer. After we paid for our tickets, we walked around to the usual friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) jeers of “boere!” and “Mr. White Man!” along with a little boy who walked by, touched each of our heads and said “beautiful hair” in Afrikaans. We watched a little bit of one game before my host dad rolled up in his bakkie and told us that Hellenic was playing in a few minutes on the other field. We walked over and I introduced my friends Neil and Kirby to the other Hellenic supporters I had met previously. We settled in behind the goal on tailgates and foldable chairs – there are no spectator stands.
In terms of the game itself, the opposition, Happy Hearts, took the lead with a laser of a shot after about 20 minutes of even play – I can’t be definitely sure of the time because is no scoreboard. But, it was tied going into halftime when Hellenic found the back of the net after a medley of shots in the penalty area. After the half, Happy Hearts regained the lead with a pretty impressive header off a corner kick. The non-existent clock winded down and it felt quite late in the game when Hellenic rattled a shot off the crossbar that bounced straight down. The team and the fans went wild. The official and linesman indicated a goal, much to the protest of the red-clad Happy Hearts. With the score at 2-2, it looked as if we would be heading straight to penalty kicks in a few minutes. Eventually though, the goal was overturned, leaving the score 2-1 with very little time left. Hellenic players swarmed the referee, yelling and pointing, some even going so far as to shove him. Meanwhile, Hellenic fans ran up to the fence and were similarly yelling and cursing the ref – who eventually escaped the players and blew the whistle to continue the game. In the chaos, Happy Hearts took possession and dribbled down the field while the Hellenic players rushed to their goal and tore it down, ostensibly to protest the decision as much as keep them from scoring.
Following that segment of confusion and the official conclusion of the game, a fan from Happy Hearts and the coach of Hellenic somehow got into an altercation where the latter angrily chased the former around for a few minutes. When the fan stumbled and fell, the coach stood over him, told him to get up and fight like a man and when he wouldn’t, he simply walked away. Seconds later we saw the same fan, who had newly found courage, doing the universal “hold-me-back” dance with his friends. Obviously, the commotion attracted quite a crowd that consisted of people previously just loitering around and fans watching another game on the next field. The Hellenic players, to show their disapproval for the officiating, remained on the field, sitting, to prevent the next game from taking place. Apparently, this very same form of activism happened the week before when Hellenic’s opponent scored the winning goal after a neglected offside call. We left remarking how that was certainly N$10 worth of fun while the players continued their sit-in.
Later that day, my buddies and I were walking around in town when I saw a fellow Hellenic supporter. “Did you like the game?” he asked. I laughed and told him yes except for the end result and ensuing bedlam. “You must come to the game tomorrow,” he said, “maybe there will be a boxing match.”