What would a man choose on a Saturday afternoon between a romantic evening and a male-bonding session out with the boys? Forget all that crap about Valentine’s Day that has lately driven all sane members of the male gender bonkers, boys will be boys and men will be men!
Much as I don’t subscribe to the farfetched superstitious belief that the 13th day on any month falling on a Friday is enough reason to shudder, on the contrary, the 14th February on a weekend is surely hell-sent. But thank God for football! Yes, football is what let me off the hook last Saturday from that overly commercialized charade of love and romance. Not so for many other men out there who begrudgingly chose to conform to this foreign concept whose origin none has a clue. Many are the long faces you’ll bump into in the next few days on the streets after having blown up a tidy sum of their savings all in the name of making an impression.
Needless to say, I too was caught up in a similar predicament, but I chose treachery over sentimentality. Actually, I have the gods of football to thank for a timely and miraculous intervention in the face of an impending emotional crisis.
Saturday morning finds me bilaz and plotless, thanks to the global credit crunch. That’s really a mild way of saying that I’ve literally been running on shoe-string budget for the last couple of weeks. Then here I find myself torn between making a phone call to a certain missus to either confirm that dinner date or alternatively calling the bluff and making up a lie about last minute engagements. The rational? The Zambians are in town for the return leg against Mathare United in the African Champions League encounter. Its been ages since I last watched a ‘live’ football match in a real stadium full of screaming fans. The temptation is just irresistible. Besides, by absconding my presumed dinner date, I’ll have dispensed off all those unnecessary costs of flowers, cards, chocolates, lingerie and all. So lie I do.
Amazingly and contrary to all my preconceived expectations, my lady actually swallows my stupid lie, hook line and sinker. Am not sure though, if this seeming act of naivety is actually one of her neatly concealed smart tramp cards which will ultimately be used against me in future. God forbid, she doesn’t read this public exposé of my wily and errant ways… any way, sticking to the business of the day, I still have a match to catch – one down, one more to go.
For some strange reasons, virtually all Kenyan football stadiums have witnessed a gradual exodus of fans that used to pack these arenas to the rafters on the big occasions. There are no surprises either this afternoon at the re-branded Coca Cola National Stadium. Only a few minutes to kick off time, a sparse crowd accounts for the yawning slab seats. A few more continue to trickle in. Obviously, that token of a free rose for each fan through the turnstile failed to turn on the love after all. I make my way to a vantage position on the terraces to the left of the VIP stand. As usual, the pre-match sideshows effectively lighten up the mood. And in keeping to the spirit of the day, reggae renditions of popular love ballads are blurring out from the loudspeakers on the running track. Right behind me there is this joker who keeps going on and on with a hilarious tale about a certain old driver of a bus full of ‘pickpockets ’. With the passage of every mile, the driver is increasingly getting incensed by the presence of these pilferers amongst his passengers. Trouble is that he can’t forthrightly eject them having ‘stolen’ the bus himself a few miles down the road… “What an irony!”, concludes our stadium comic. Then when a small contingent of noisy, flag-waving Zambian fans arrive at the VIP stand and the stadium announcer, tongue-in-cheek, clarifies that Zesco (Zambian Electricity Supply Company) is the equivalent of our own Western Stima in the KPL, the home fans are all left in stitches.
But when the real action gets underway on the field of play, it’s the Zambians who have the last laugh. The much-talked of Mathare United defense turns out to be precisely that – mere talk. Within the first quarter of an hour, Enock Sikala casually lobs the ball over the badly positioned Mathare custodian following a defensive lapse. Tragically, for all their possession, the Mathare United strike force time and again comes short infront of goal. And they are duly punished yet again for all their ineptitude in the 48th minute. A swift counter attack from an abortive corner gives the Zambians an unassailable 2-0 lead on the day and a 4-0 margin on aggregate. Thereafter, all the huffing and puffing by Kimanzi’s overly subdued men is all to naught. A consolation spot-kick slotted in by the burly Kevin Ochieng in the 65th minute proves to be too little, too late. Justifiably, with 10 minutes still left on the clock, and a certain victory beckoning, the small traveling Zambian party breaks into song and dance. The final nail, however, is driven into Mathare’s coffin in the 88th minute when diminutive striker Clifford Chipalo taps in a free-kick from the right flank. Game over! Its time to leave – I quickly join the beeline for the exit.