Friday, January 29, 2010

African Cup of Nations: Party Time



I am not a football fan – in fact I avoid football (or soccer as I’ve always known it) as much as possible. However, the African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Angola & it is unavoidable. The competition started while we still in Thailand, so we missed the opening ceremony that the other teachers got to see. What we didn’t miss, as it made front-page news, was the shootings at the Togo team in Cabinda. Not good publicity just as the school was trying to hire new teachers. Hard to explain that no sane person would consider going to Cabinda & quite why Angola thought it would be a good place for the Cup of Nations, who knows?

Once we got back, it was all excitement as it seemed Angola had a real chance of getting into the quarter-finals, & from there, well anything was possible. Bill succumbed (he is a real football fan) & paid over the top to go to the Angola vs Algeria match that would determine Angola’s fate. I was happy to stay at home. I saw the last 15 minutes of it on TV & even I could tell that it was abysmal – some sort of match-rigging had taken place & neither side was trying to do anything except waste time & play out a 0 – 0 draw that would guarantee both of them a spot in the quarter finals. Bill’s comments when he got home are mostly unrepeatable, except for “it’s the worst football game I’ve ever seen in my entire life” – which is saying something for someone who has been going to live games since he was about 4!

Despite this ill omen, we had already put our names down for tickets to the quarter-finals – for me it would be my first ever live match (remember I am a kiwi & soccer doesn’t count for much back home). The game was on Sunday & as luck would have it, the Monday was a school holiday (City of Luanda day), so there was no stress about getting home at a reasonable hour. In fact, the consensus was that the traffic jam back into Luanda would be so bad (2 hours the night Bill went) that we would have a barbeque at the stadium after the match & only attempt the drive home a couple of hours after everyone else.

So, on Sunday we got dressed for the game – me in an Angolan T-shirt & Bill in an Angolan flag! We got to the stadium early (also in an attempt to avoid the jams), so Bill & I took our camera’s into the crowd. Bill had learnt from his experience during the week that any camera of decent size (ie bigger than a cigarette packet) was not being allowed into the stadium – he’d come home without a single photo as he’d had to return the camera to the bus for the game. We’d come prepared – our SLR’s for the before the game shots, and a couple of small cameras to try to get into the stadium.

The atmosphere outside the stadium was typical Luanda on a party day – everyone was dressed up & having a good time. People were asking us to take their photos or happily posing – just like at Carnival. The most outrageous thing we saw was a goat on a lead dressed up in Angolan colours! (We saw this outside the stadium – I doubt the goat was allowed inside!). (Bill disagrees and thinks the guy in drag who did the “hula hoop” for us to photograph was more outrageous)

The place was a sea of red and yellow and black (the colours of the Angolan flag). After about half an hour of taking photos, we had to retire our good cameras & then try our luck with getting the smaller cameras through security. It was touch and go – I had a compact camera with a 200mm lens that they just didn’t want to let in – but eventually they gave up trying to tell us it wasn’t OK & let us go. Security was very tight & everything was very well organised. I was impressed with the new stadium – lots of toilets, lots of places to buy water & food etc & tight checking of tickets so that you had to sit where your ticket was & not just where you pleased.

The stadium was a sea of red & yellow (it turned out that the few Ghanaian supporters at the match were sitting underneath us, so we couldn’t see the little patch of orange that was there). When the game started, there were still a lot of empty seats (traffic jams) but by 20 minutes into the game, most seats were filled. We wondered how much most people paid for their tickets – we were on the very back row, right behind one goal & our tickets said 300 kwanza (about $US3) – but we paid Kw 1000 each and I am sure others paid much more.

I can’t comment much on the game, except it went much faster than I’d been dreading & it wasn’t nearly as bad as the other game (but still quite dismal, with many good chances badly missed). Angola had the most opportunities, but failed to do anything with them. Ghana had one real chance and scored – and that was the end result: 1 - 0 to Ghana. The crowd wasn’t happy, but the mood was still good as we exited the stadium. Considering Angola was out of the cup, everyone seemed to take it very well.

We got our barbeque going & as the coals burnt down, we watched the traffic crawling back towards the city. Despite the fact that it made it a very long day, the barbeque was a great success and when we finally packed up to come home, the trip was less than half an hour and we were able to collapse into bed having already eaten.

So, such was my very first live football match – and frankly, probably my last! Lots of colour and atmosphere, not much excitement on the pitch, but still a great day out. I’m sad for Angola that it won’t go further, but if you play that badly…..

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