The Chappas from Central Maputo to Estadio Machava takes half an hour and costs the same as a loaf of bread. There were no barricades in Maputo on Sunday. All roads led to the Futebol.
It was difficult to detect the unease of recent days as expectant supporters cracked open bottles of "Doshem'', ripped into tetra pak cartons of cheap red wine and exchanged predictions. This was not a day for the usual colonial replica shirt. No Benfica. No Porto. No Sporting. You had to be wearing the Mambas red, and you especially meant business if your scarf or shirt was wrapped around your head.
My mini bus was bursting as it passed the monumental Mac Mahon brewery, home of the 2M, the "Doshem". City blocks gave way to cabbage fields. Palm trees waved in the distance. It could have been a scene from "The Thin Red Line" were it not for the sight of four floodlight pylons. We were now immersed in a red sea of supporters, not even Moses could part, but the Chappas found a way.
What was it the man said, "Porque Goshem de futebol". He forgot to add they also like their chicken. The barnyard creature was being crucified overroaring charcoal fires in fields all around the stadium. Coolers crammed with cervejas provided perfect pre match company. The women of Mozambique certainly understood the business of football.
No far flung cordons or corporate hospitality tents. Police cadets made sure no missiles or AK47s were taken inside the stadium. It was organic and organized.
The crowd were calibrated for celebration, but after the initial exchanges it was also clear they possessed a collective connoisseurship of the game. Yes, they loved magic football, and there were great roars for every twist and turn, flick and trick, but more interestingly, the "ohhs'' and "ahhs" were in time with the ebb and flow of the game. There were no flashing of cameras or waving at the cameras. The crowd was actually watching the match! This was not your Barclays Premier League or FIFA World Cup were real fans are marginalized or increasingly used as props. The stadium was full with supporters, not corporate sponsors or day trippers.
Mambas supporters had their own props. A wiry character with a cigarette in one hand and a dried, very dead Mamba in the other, waltzed around the stadium. Occasionally he placed the cigarette in the eye socket of the snake and lifted it high to encourage the team. The dead reptile would have been turned into a ten thousand dollar handbag in another country, but not here in Mozambique.
A military brass band blew out a few tunes. Some cadets sang like Welsh miners. Nearby, a few dozen Libyan fanatics waved green flags. It was almost half time. They knew the game plan. Libya had come the for the classic away draw.
Halftime was more memorable as the ball-girls took it upon themselves to have a kick around. A girl in blue shorts was chipping shots in the top corner for fun. I have been to pitches up and down this country. Mozambique women can play! The toilets were not classic 'Art Deco' as you find in much in Maputo, but functional for half time relief.
Would the Mambas make a substitution? The crowd wanted one. Mozambique turned in a flat first half performance, and though defensively inclined, it was Libya who created the best chance of the half. Kampango, Mozambique's ''Flying Warthog", earning his keep, despite much mocking from the crowd.
Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Or was it a lumpy Mambas supporter in his kit limbering up as close to the pitch as the police would allow? He had holes in his socks, but no hole in his heart, and was going through all the proper substitute stretches androutines. His sidekick waved a flag like a proper linesman to attract the attention of the ref.
The second half saw some minor commotion in the stands. A supporter was forced flatto the concrete. His offence was not clear, perhaps he was caught trying a cheeky transition from the cheap seats. A section of crowd took great umbrage to this and the officer sensing he was outnumbered straightened up his collar. The lad was now being dragged up the steps for a early bath. Section12 began agitating again. And then in a moment of pure common sense (possibly with the recent riots fresh in the mind) the officer found the offender a new vantage point and issued a stern verbal warning.
The Libyan No. 23 was not so lucky. At about the same time he was getting a yellow card for time wasting. Another offender was Mbinho, Mambas' No. 9. His crimewas a pair of shocking pink boots. He could not score in the Beira Moulin Rouge.
A bearded, pregnant, transvestite in a yellow leotard and wearing a Diego Lugano style, blond wig appeared in injury time to rally the crowd. Domingues went wide.Domingues went inside. But wherever the Mambas No. 7 went he had two Libyan bodyguards.When the final whistle blew the Libyans collapsed in exhaustion, all praises were issued, and auspicious celebrations began.
This would be the last time the Mambas would play at Estadio Machava. An impressivenew Chinese built national stadium will be ready on the other side of town for the next home fixture.
I watched the final hour of daylight disappear from a busy intersection as buses and coachesdeparted for various districts of Maputo and to the provinces. The Xai Xai charabangwas packed beyond Guinness Book proportions. Meantime, hard core supporters were engaged in some stout exercises of their own, consuming Pretas in the friendly ale shacks dotted all along the side of the road.
I could not squeeze in a Chappas for love, nor money. I even tried to hitch a ride with Libyan team bus, but it wasn't going my way. The Libyans had their digital devices rolling inJapanese tourist mode. There was no police escort or if there was it was stuck behind half a dozen Chappas. A Toyota pick up truck loaded with about 50 Mambas supporters snaked alongside the Libyans. All sorts of funny, gruesome gesticulations were made. I thinkthe idea was to send the Libyans back to Tripoli as eunuchs. It was classic gest, and theLibyan players were clearly enjoying the banter.
I finally dived headfirst into a Chappas and made back it to town for some prawnsand a nice ice cold Preta at Milanos, the Lebanese spot with the cheapest pizza in town. I was nursing my night with a Johnny Walker Black when four Mambas materialized with their FINE lady friends. Soon enough a bucket of the finest champagne arrived at their table. Ferroviaros' Jeremias "Jerry" Sitoe was wearing his bright yellow official away from the 2010 CAN in Angola. He was No. 23, in case you needed any reminding. Edson Sitoe or "Mexer" of Sporting Olhanese was rocking his red NY Yankees cap. He had business and was in and out. The brother was cool and collected. The type who didn't need to prepare to pass his 'Blood' initiation in East New York. Costa do Sol's Josemar Machiasse was representing and I think it was Carlos "Carlitos" Chimimole of current Mocambola league leaders, the most merciful of Maputo clubs, Liga Muculmana de Maputo, who rounded up the posse. I choose not to interview the players. They were off duty. They were relaxed. They were quiet and enjoying some decompression time. And they were just sipping. But YO...C'MON NOW...Save the champagne for when you have issued a serious beat down. Maybe they didn't check Facebook for updates on how to act out on the street.
Rumours persists through the now usual sources of SMS and Facebook for more Manifesticoes or riots in Maputo. The rumours proved largely unfounded during the weekend. The tension seems to have eased, though Tuesday is a national holiday commemorating the Lusaka Accords. Who knows what today will bring. It is cool and cloudy and the Chappas are moving, so trouble is unlikely, but one never knows what time "they" may schedule a Kick Off.
Last night a post mortem took place on TV M, Mozambique state television. Four football commentators and the host were gathered to grill, Mambas head coach, Dutchman, Mart Moolj. I have seen Moolj give press conferences. He speaks some pigeon Portuguese, but here he fielded questions in English. Two of the correspondents spoke English, the other two had their questions translated by the host. It was ridiculous. Moolj was slippery, and Sven like. One can only wonder what gets lost in translation during training. Why so many African nations persist with dour, defensively minded, grey haired European characters to run their national teams is a continental disgrace.
Maybe the Mozambique Football Federation should set up their own Facebook page to hear from supporters. I would join that Facebook Group. I would set up a page promoting the firing of that Dutch fella and replace him Maria Taju, the Mozambique woman's football coach. I would also draft in that girl in the blue shorts to help Mbinho with his shooting.