Not having seen a live soccer (football) match since our thrilling experience in Istanbul back in August, I jumped at the opportunity to catch a game on Saturday at Kampala’s downtown stadium. We had passed it on the way into town on our return from the Murchison Falls area. Confirming yet again I have a great wife, CeCe volunteered to take our backpacks to our hostel so that I could go watch. She and our two large packs crammed on the back of a boda-boda motorbike – our friend Bentha once saw one with four goats on board so anything’s possible – and she quickly disappeared in a diesel haze.
For a ticket costing 1,000 Ugandan shillings ($0.45) I gained entry into a reasonably large stadium with a set of concrete bleachers on one side, and some more ramshackle boxes on the other. The field is set in a surprisingly picturesque part of town, in a valley beneath a stunning modern mosque named after Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – a patron to Uganda’s Muslims – and wedged between a colorful market and the throbbing minibus terminal. A group of men quickly beckoned me to sit with them and I eagerly took my place. As the only mzungu in the stadium out a total 750 spectators, I drew quite a bit of attention. My hosts explained that I was witnessing the final game in a semi-pro tournament featuring two teams representing employees from two sections of the city’s Taseke market. Those in yellow were Nuts and Bolts FC and our boys in blue represented a series of auto parts dealers.
Recent rains had covered much of the barbed-wire encircled field in puddles. Play was spirited if technically unimpressive. The crowd was clearly into the action, vodka in single-serving plastic bags serving as fuel for many. Dancing and chanting erupted periodically. Enthusiasm ran so high that few seemed to notice the young man at the fence’s edge in a Bob Marley t-shirt who appeared to be in the midst of an epileptic seizure. No emergency personnel were in sight – no uniformed presence of any sort was visible – so the poor man was left alone, foaming at the mouth, writhing on the ground. Mercifully, I passed him at match’s end as he walked in the opposite direction, looking stunned and muddy but otherwise none the worse for wear.
After a scoreless first half, Nuts and Bolts scored the game’s only goal on a powerful free kick ten minutes into the second stanza and held on for the victory. A group of supporters mobbed the victors prior to the trophy presentation. The winner’s share? A long-horned cow. (At first I thought they said “car“) The losers got a goat.
After receiving an invitation to visit the auto parts section of the market the following day, I said goodbye to my hosts and made my way in near darkness to the taxi and minibus stand. I found a boda-boda in the fading light and after we agreed on a fare I noticed that at least one of his eyes was hazy with cataracts. I couldn’t check on the other before we zoomed off, narrowly squeezing between a tractor trailer and a belching bus into the chaos of Kampala.