The team had just finished practicing and the players were now sitting in a circle right in the middle of the playground. A handful of supporters had come to watch the team go through their paces. This was in no way reflective of match day attendance. On the day, a van with a loud speaker would drive through the village announcing the game. By midday the small make shift stadium would be filled to the brim. As the coach was giving the team his brief, the supporters were busy putting together old sacks which were being tied to some poles. This was the make shift stadium to be dismantled as soon as the game was over. Although the team was officially known as Real Fighters, the villagers referred to it simply as "Home team". Whenever the team passed by our yard coming from the coach’s house where they had gone to don their gold and black kit we will either scream 'Ma Home team’ or "Banna ba match" and they will excitedly wave back. The players were mostly from our village save for the post master and one teacher and we knew them by their nicknames. While a good number of them had copied South African legendary players’ nicknames there were a few who had their own. Amongst such names were "Molter", “Jack 7" and “Radae”, to mention but a few. Having finished his brief, the coach then read a letter addressed to the team. It was a "challenge” from a team called Eastern Sweepers in Selebi-Phikwe. Over the years, the village had watched its team play and easily win against easier opponents like Golden Arrows of Seolwane village or Ditswametheng from Sefhare. Never had the team played an opponent from that far. The news spread very quickly. Letters were dispatched to a few mines in South Africa to alert sons of the village that they were needed back home for a very big game. The rumor mill was also on over drive. Those that had been to Phikwe were telling all and sundry that Eastern Sweepers was a big team and that our Home team stood no chance against them. The village was pregnant with excitement. So big was the game that it was announced at assembly in the two primary schools in the village. Entrance fee was pitched at 50 Thebe a head and not the usual 25 Thebe. For this was indeed a huge game.
Match day came. By lunch time everybody was patiently waiting. The children were all sitting down while the elders stood in neat lines behind them. An occasional yellow umbrella was spotted here and there as sophisticated village girls showed their support. Songs praising the mighty Real Fighters were being belted by the team choir clad in yellow dresses and black pants. Suddenly the entire village screamed in excitement. The boys had run into the field to do light exercises as they awaited the away team. In no time Eastern Sweepers trotted into the ground and joined in the light warm up as well. The children tried to stand up but were sternly rebuked by their elders. They stretched their tiny necks in an attempt to see their heroes. The referee blew the whistle, and the match of the century was underway. Being the away team, Eastern Sweepers kicked off the game. Instead of shooting the ball aimlessly forward as it was common in village matches, the town boys were passing the ball amongst themselves. The singing stopped suddenly as for close to five minutes, none of the home team players touched the ball. The handful away supporters were making more noise than the entire village. Shockingly, I noticed my sister amongst them. She was screaming loudest particularly whenever a player wearing jersey number 8 had the ball. Still our boys were chasing shadows, as the town boys kept moving towards the goal posts, passing the ball so effortlessly it was difficult to fathom that the men huffing and puffing were the mighty home team. From outside the eighteenth yard box, the player wearing jersey number 8 unleashed a surprise shot at goal. Our goal keeper known only as KB dived and punched the ball away. The village erupted into a wild cheer for suddenly our boys had the ball. In the field there were three brothers. The eldest one nicknamed Pepe was a dribbling wizard. Operating from the middle of the park he waltzed past two defenders and sent a pin point pass to the left flank where one of his twin brothers received it and sprinted towards the corner before delivering a cross into the box. The goal keeper out jumped our strikers and easily collected the ball. The choir broke into song. The boys were beginning to assert themselves in the game. Outside the field of play something exciting was taking shape. One of the visiting fans decided to use the loud speaker and was trying his hand at commentating. He was not doing a bad job at it, for he could be heard repeatedly shouting Pepe’s name. The visiting team’s jersey number 8 was tormenting our defense so much that one defender had already been substituted, having grievously injured himself in a reckless attempt at tackling him. The commentator called him Linga, and almost all balls were played towards him.
The more our boys had the ball the more our goal keeper kept moving toward the centre competing with the coach in shouting instructions to the boys. The coach had screamed himself hoarse trying to advise the goalkeeper against such but he was too absorbed in the game to hear him. Perhaps the choir and the entire village cheering were also compounding the problem. Suddenly the ball was played to Linga who flicked it over Radae and was galloping toward our goal. Radae, known for his robust tackling, attempted a late tackle form behind but Linga was long gone. Taking one look at the keeper he looped the ball over him. Before the ball could hit the ground, Linga sprinted to the far right corner of the field to join his team mates in celebration. KB tried to back track, tripping and falling twice in the process as the ball dropped behind him and landed in the open goal. The entire village went silent! Sensing that the game was almost over, the away team resorted to show boating. Our boys were completely lost as the town boys embarrassed them with their dribbling skills. Their body language showed total defeat as for long spells the away team was passing the ball amongst themselves but not before performing some tricks. Linga was having a field day. He bounced the ball on his head, carried it on his back before tapping it several times while our defenders desperately tried to dispossess him. Defeat was eminent and the home team needed a miracle. The coach pulled out Pepe and introduced “Jack7”. The fans protested loudly. Pepe had been the only player who seemed not to have been intimidated by Linga. Time was ticking and dusk was falling. “Jack 7” decided to tackle Linga himself. As Linga continued with his tricks, Jack patiently waited for him to make a mistake. The referee looked at his watch. The commentator had long stopped his task and was packing his tools of the trade. Suddenly, “Jack 7” managed to kick the ball upwards dispossessing Linga in the process. As they tussled for the aerial ball the unthinkable happened. “Jack 7” stretched his T-shirt wide and holding it with both his hands allowed the ball to drop into his T-shirt and he bolted towards the goal posts. The away team was stunned. They all rushed towards the referee who spread his arms wide to indicate that he saw nothing wrong. Meanwhile Jack 7 was galloping towards goal. Linga tried pulling him by the T-shirt but it was too late. Upon reaching the penalty spot, “Jack 7” dropped the ball and unleashed a shot sending the ball into the top right corner. The entire village rushed into the field. The referee pointed towards the centre, before blowing his whistle three times in succession. The game was over. As the away team attempted to protest, the choir joined by the whole village broke into song, drowning the voices of protest in the process!