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Football Fever June 8, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Food, Home and away, Namibia, Sport.
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Africa is currently in the swing of the second leg of football qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations 2008, to be held in Ghana. And in support of my current home country, we trooped along to cheer Namibia on as they took on Libya last weekend at the Independence Stadium. The whole city was in high spirits as last Friday was Pay Day. Namibia are in a group with Libya, DR Congo and Ethiopia. After the first leg, Namibia aren’t looking too good (bottom of the table) so they have a lot of ground to make up. My housemate Matthias had arranged to go with a Namibian colleague and friends, and so I tagged along.

Festivities got started at Nandi’s house, where he and his friends were getting some pre-match beers in. We then set off to the stadium, well in time to get tickets and seats before kick-off. There really was no need. Being Namibia, with a very small population and not a particularly strong sporting prowess, there is no grand fancy stadium like other nations, but instead a concrete bowl with a patch of grass in the middle and a small stand on one side. Tickets were N$10 (70p) on the door, there was no queue, and we could sit where we liked in the big concrete bowl that is the national football stadium. At 20 minutes before kick-off, the stadium was not even a quarter full – a combination of people with an African sense of time-keeping as well as Namibia having a very small population and therefore unlikely to fill the stadium even on a serious match day.

We got places on the concrete steps near the middle, basking in the winter sun as we cracked open the first of many beers of the day. The whole set up was incredibly informal. People, mainly men, were drinking and laughing and walking around with beers and food, clambering over one another to shout to a kinsman. A whirl of languages intermingled as the different cultural groups collected together for the match. Security was also quite funny, with the odd man kitted out in riot gear, looking bored until people threw their empty beer cans at him. There was also a trench laced with barbed wire surrounding the pitch: good for keeping out over-excited fans but not so good for the ball. There was a slight moment of stupidity as three of us girls realised that we were (totally by chance!) all wearing green t-shirts, the colour of Libya! As if being white didn’t make us stand out enough, we were also sporting the opposition’s colours! Oh no!

The pitch looked very small as the players ran out for the anthems. The Libyan anthem sounded out across the speakers for barely half a verse before it was crudely cut. Then the Namibians proudly belted out what they knew of their anthem, all coming together for the line, “Beautiful Namibia….our country”.

It wasn’t the highest level of football I’ve ever seen, but the crowd were enthusiastic and energised. Namibia scored within the first 15 minutes, although it wasn’t so much as a Beckham-belter, but more where’s-the-goalie as the ball trundled over the line. The crowd went wild all the same, with people running up and down with Namibian flags, and tooting horns. One guy even stole a Libyan flag off some supporters and ran away with it!

At half time, people were still streaming in through the gates, in true African time. We squeezed out to get some food from the informal sellers outside the gate. I had probably the best hot-dog I have ever had, and also bumped into a football crazy friend that I hadn’t seen in ages. He joined the party with us for the second half. Part way in, attention was drawn away from match and all eyes were on two guys having a fight in the crowd. The military made a half-arsed intervention, but this was soap-opera entertainment for a good 15 minutes, getting more cheers and photos taken than the match.

Namibia came out winning 1-nil. The car park was pumping, with people dancing and singing and piling into cars back to party in the township. Our friend Nandi wanted to take us to the “Herero Mall” in Katatura. I’d never heard of it, and he described it as “a place we go, where you can buy anything, and we drink and destroy stuff”. Err,… whatever you say…let’s go.

We pulled into a patch of wasteland in the middle of the township, filled with cars and people. The smell of cooking beef and mutton wafted through the air. The dim street lamps show lots of people standing around in the cold, drinking and partying on. We meet up with a lot more of Nandi’s friends, who turn out all to be from Ovitoto. They all know the project and were asking lots of questions, and I managed to gain some pretty useful local knowledge as well.

We left quite early, partly due to the cold, but also because we were warned that “it won’t be safe for you people to be here later”. Pay Day Weekends are known for being pretty riotous, and along with the football result, things were already getting a bit rowdy. We shuffled our way through the dark grounds to our car, and drove back to “the other side of town”. Driving back highlighted the stark contrast between the neighbourhoods, which are just a few kilometres away from each other. I’ve been warned that Katatura isn’t a place for white people to go at night without good company, which is a great shame because it was great fun and far more interesting than the places we go normally.

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