Africa Gets Football Right

Soccer has been my game since I played on my high school team.  And by “played,” I mean sat the bench 95% of the time.  There was the one tournament when all of our good players got injured or were sick, so on a fluke I played an entire game and scored 4 goals.  Of course, 3 of those goals were meant to be passes and accidentally went into the goal, but they still counted, right?!?  That stellar tournament performance was quickly negated a few weeks later when I was put in as 3rd string goalie and let a couple of shots pass right between my legs. 

All that to say, I love a good soccer (here, it’s football) game.  Some of the Peace House guys and I have made it to 3 games together so far, and the games have not disappointed.  While the players are skilled and the games are good, the real action is in the stands.  Crazed, American sports fans have got nothing on African football fans.  Between the many vuvuzelas, African drums, scary Halloween masks, and giant team flags, it’s major sensory overload.  Throw in the 6 teenage boys that I go to the games with, and you’re basically surrounded by pure crazy. 

Game 1: Dance Party

Dancing is a huge part of the Rwandan culture, so I should have expected it to be a big part of the football games.  Still, I was surprised when the first goal was scored and every single person in the stands, except me, broke out into crazy dancing.  It was seriously one enormous dance party for a solid 10 minutes after every goal was scored. Sometimes there was even one after just a good attempt on goal.  I am not exaggerating this part…people were sitting up in the trees that surrounded the stadium, and even they were dancing and making the trees shake. After that first game, a DJ led a dance party on the field to celebrate the game being over.  Dance, dance, and more dance.

Game 2: Mobs

Our second game was at the big stadium here in Kigali.  Because it was between the country’s 2 top ranked teams and rivals, people came out in droves.  It was one giant mob at all times.  The Peace House boys took on the role of bodyguards for my friend Heather and I, surrounding us on all sides while we were trying to get into the game.  Riot police were stationed throughout the stadium and kept a close watch on everyone.  As we were walking along the road after the game, trying to catch a ride out of there, a group of several hundred rowdy fans all ran by together, filling up the entire road.  We saw public buses rocking back and forth because of the fans leaning out the windows, dancing, yelling, and beating drums.  At one point, we stopped on the sidewalk, waiting for the craziness to die down but it never did. 

Game 3:  Injuries

Rwandan football players are “drama llamas” when it comes to injuries. Even if he barely falls and scrapes a knee, a player will lay on the field and yell until someone finally stops the game for him. Eight players were escorted from the field due to “injuries” during this game, and a stretcher was brought out each time!  Three of those times, the player rolled off the stretcher as soon as it hit the sidelines and ran immediately back into the game.