Saturday, September 9

Now he's gonna write about soccer?

I’ve waiting long enough to shamelessly steal the running diary of a sporting event, so why not start with the most anticipated/weirdest/most interesting/scariest/most unsafe thing I’ve seen so far in Africa, none of which is any kind of understatement.

Mid July: Rumors start appearing that the new stadium will open in September, with a match against Cameroon. From this one could gather that the stadium might open this year, and that there’s a possibility a soccer match may be played against some African nation. Still no way to be sure.

Early August: Word holds steady that the match will be in September, but now it’s versus Liberia, with whispers that Real Madrid is coming to town. This is approximately as likely as a Division III NCAA team telling their fans that the 1986 bears are holding a exhibition match in their stadium next week and having it happen, in 2006.

Late August: Tickets are on sale! September 4th, 4pm versus Liberia. Tickets range from three bucks up to fifteen. Beautiful. Hook me up with some four dollar fun.

September 4th, 1:30: Head out towards the stadium, planning to grab some food on the way.

1:45: The town is comprised almost completely of hole in the wall or open door one-room stores. The restaurants are marked by the words “Hay comida” on the wall outside, letting you know they “Have food.” Very welcoming. My dad decided that they are all part of the ‘Hay Comida” franchise, I guess you could say that they are Africa’s Bob’s Big Boy, with the main exception that no matter how extensive their menu is on any given day, they only have two dishes, and you probably don’t want either of them. I step in and order chicken with rice. Santi, my buddy I’m going to the game with, orders fish with plantains, and is told that don’t have any fish. Ok, how about beef with plantains? Sorry, no plantains. Beef with rice please. And a coke? No coke. Stellar.

1:49: While destroying a drumstick I proudly pronounce that Guinea will win 2-0, with a goal in the 25th and 85th minutes. ‘Uh, I hope… you are right,’ says Santi.

1:54: The waiter’s head explodes from eighteen kids screaming at him for some chicken. Free meal.

2:00: We begin our ascent to the stadium, along with 15,000 other people who are either in the midst of, or preparing to lose their minds.

2:30: Arrive at the stadium, are well pleased to find that there is in fact a game, and that they’re letting people in. Looking good.

2:40: Find our seats, learn that the extra dollar we paid put us under the awning. And here comes the rain! I Immediately am pleased about our purchase.

3:00: Still reveling in the joy of the new stadium, notice that there is a leak in the roof two seats to my right. About every two seconds little kid is getting walloped by a inch-wide drop of rain. Our luck continues.

3:15: The cops have done a stellar job of keeping beer out of the stadium, but the small handful of guys that did their work beforehand are more than making up for their 14,000 sober friends. Beautiful spectacle.

3:30: Interest in the new stadium subsides and I notice that there are 15,000 people in the stadium and only 50 cops. What’s the Spanish word for mayhem?

4:00: Players come out on the field, on time! Miracle of miracles. Also, the sky is open like church on Sunday. Very well spent extra dollar.

4:10: No cheerleaders, no mascots, but we do have eight year old kids acting as ball boys. I think hip-hop would have worked this game for free, but that’s just a guess.

4:15: And we’re off. Guinea pushes the ball up the right wing, centers and… GOAL! Nope, offsides. My prediction is holding. Approximately 14,762 dudes curse in a language I don’t speak. I stick to English with a bit of Spanish mixed in.

4:20: If you know anything about sports, it doesn’t take long to figure out who’s the dog and who are the studs. I don’t know a lick about soccer and I can tell you definitively that #25, a defenseman, is not making it through this game. I’ll bet 2000 FCFA on it. No one accepts.

4:22: #25 falls down, barely avoids letting up a goal.

4:30: #25 falls again.

4:35: Some dude fakes being hurt, gets in the stretcher, gets to the sideline, immediately jumps out and sprints back on the field. Could this ever work in America? Ever? Have these people seen Jeremiah Trotter?

4:40: GOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!!! 15,000 people promptly lose their minds. I think the city is about to collapse. 25th minute. One down, one to go. Police barricade the field. Thankfully no one jumps on.

4:43: Scratch that, here comes the first idiot.

4:44: Still running

4:45: Got em. Players don’t miss a beat.

4:55: #25 gets burnt terribly, goalie falls down trying to dive, goal, Liberia. 1-1. No police presence needed. Yet.

5:02: Halftime. You can be pretty sure their won’t be any guys coming on the field to do Frisbee dog tricks. I’m not counting on a $500,000 goal from 100 yards out either. Not ruling it out though. The halftime show mainly consists of fans yelling at the cops not to arrest people who come on the field. Is there anywhere in the world that you don’t get thrown in jail for running on the field? I’ll bet the Swiss even have a rule against it. Come on.

5:30: Second half begins. Some poor fan with his whole body painted tries to get the wave going. Not happening.

5:35: Mercifully, #25 is pulled. Easy money.

5:40: zzzzz.

5:45: zzzzzz.

5:50: Red card, Liberia. Half a garbage call, but we’ll take it. 11 on 10 from here on out.

5:55: GOOOOAL! Nope, offsides. Just an awful, awful rule. Why not let the dudes behind the defense? Does cherry picking work in any other sport? There’s no NBA team sitting one man under the other basket and heaving outlet passes. Come to think of it, is Kyle Korver’s defense really that much better than if he wasn’t there at all? Hmm.

6:10: 40th minute, fans are losing spirit. Eerily similar to the last innings of a Phillies game, only if every time an infielder took a ball off their chest they rolled around for two minutes and waited for a stretcher. So I guess it’s more like a Mets game. Did I mention this sport is all I have here?

6:12: Corner kick, no luck.

6:13: Corner kick, no luck.

6:14: Corner kick, centered, quick shot on goal, and it’s in!! Immediately hits a Liberian dude standing about two inches inside the goal line, bounces out, every single person is out of their seat screaming and no one has any idea if they’ve called it a goal yet. The players are in some sort of half-celebration, half- mortified mode, and then it hits the screen. Open the floodgates.

6:15: Liberian team is livid. One dude punches a Guinean player in the face, both teams break into an all out brawl until the military comes on to separate them. We’ve still got five minutes of game time left. I’m interested to see how this’ll play out. I’m also interesting in getting out alive.

6:16: Complete pandemonium continues. Play does not.

6:17: Still no sign of a soccer ball.

6:19: Ball is now back in the center of the field, Liberian goalie is now egging the fans on. Apparently he didn’t get a good security count.

6:24: And its over! A Guinean player runs to the sideline, throws his shirt into the crowd and fruitlessly begs the fans not to rush the field. Three guys jump on, run at him, hugging him and trying to steal his shorts while giving him a photo. I take a look at that the fans, then at the cops, and mention it might be a good time to leave.

6:25: And here comes the flood. Thousands on thousands rush onto the field as we find the side exit. Playtime’s over, back to the real world.

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