Monday, September 7, 2009

The Richmond Cup and High School Memories

From the most recent edition of "RICHMONDNUUS," our local newsletter, sold for 25 cents at Percy's Grocery Store:

"Richmond Cup 2009: Coach Mandla Vilakazi of All Stars is confident that his side will win the Richmond cup on the 4th and 5th of September 2009. Despite poor performances against Wonderboom Young Tigers, where they lost home and away. Wonderboom beat All Stars 2-1 at Richmond and 1-0 at Wonderboom. "I am confident my side will win the cup. The last game against Wonderboom we were unlucky because we lost a lot of clear chances due tot he lack of discipline and commitment form some of my players. The problem has been solved and my players are ready for the tournament" said coach Mandla. The tournament will be held here at Richmond, which will include netball as well. It is supported by Richmond Councillor Ms. Lorna Adams, and it is planned to be a BIG event!!"

So this past weekend was the Richmond Super Cup, featuring 5 teams: 4 from Richmond (All Stars, Celtic, Leeds United and Chiefs) and the hated Wonderboom Farm Young Tigers. As I've learned more about the town's soccer politics, I've found that All Stars and Wonderboom have a bit of a rivalry going back quite a while. Wonderboom is this massive sheep farm about 45 minutes outside of Richmond on a dirt farm road; most of the guys who work on the farm also live there with their families. There are enough workers out there that they can field a fantastic team which wears brand new, fancy maroon Nike jerseys with the patronage of the wealthy farm owner (who, though I've never met the man, I like to think of as Mr. Wonderboom, if only for the mental image that it conjures). The All Stars, on the other hand, are a grittier, urban (or as urban as you can get in a place like Richmond) team with hand-me-down jerseys of a variety of colors, makes and models. We have a coach, and he's this crazy, washed-up former pro who is now a construction contract manager but still seeks to relive the glory days of yore. Depending on who and when you ask, it seems people go back and forth between who the best local team is: All Stars or Wonderboom.

All this All Stars vs. Wonderboom rivalry talk takes me back to my high school soccer days, playing at ol' Ballard High in Seattle. Back then there was a significant Urban Seattle vs. Suburban Seattle soccer rivalry raging. Seattle's top high school soccer division, in which Ballard played, had 10 teams in it, 6 of which were located in the wealtheir suburbs. Even in our best season during my tenure, we took something like 6th or 7th place. One of the problems was that we always had to play against these rich, suburban high schools with names like Redmond High, Woodinville High, Lake Washington High, etc. These high schools and the neighborhoods around them, located in the Eastlake suburbs, were the kind of places that the kids of Microsoft folks went. They played on elite, expensive club teams and usually destroyed cute, urban Ballard. That was one side of the suburban teams. After you get thrashed enough, you start creating a fictitious mental narrative of your assailants. Eventually, I set upon an agricultural narrative to explain Ballard's poor fortunes. You see, I told myself, once you get east of Lake Washington, out in the suburbs, that there's farm country (well, all that land in between the mansions, that is). I could close my eyes and get this picture of monstrous farm boys who rose in the morning with the roosters to bail hay, drove tractors to school, and THEN went to their elite club team practices, stowing their spades on the sidelines. So, regardless of its factual accuracy, that was the story I set upon. And, I'm telling you, some of those eastlake guys really did work on farms. And some of them were HUGE.

This is the psychologically traumatic history I brought to the All Stars/Wonderboom rivalry, a relationship with some actual urban/rural grudges (or, more accurately, rural/really rural grudges). That's not to say that the Wonderboom Farm has anything to do with suburban Seattle, but it's just worth pointing out that as the Richmond Cup got underway my weird old high school delusions came flying right back at me. And Wonderboom's captain is seriously this MASSIVE farm boss named Shakes; think of a 6 foot 4 inch black guy built of solid muscle and you get a feeling for the type of man we were dealing with.

It's first necessary to say that I injured my groin on Wednesday in the Police vs. Teachers community benefit game (they had Anna and I playing for the teachers, since we work in the school). So I wasn't playing this weekend, but when we showed up on Saturday morning at the dusty Khaya field in the black part of town things were not going well. In the group stage of the tournament, All Stars drew Wonderboom for their first match and, when we arrived halfway into the game, All Stars were losing 2-1. Wait, make that a 3-1 blowout and a terrible start to the tournament. Wonderboom and All Stars were the far-and-away favorites to meet in the finals since the other Richmond teams are more-or-less considered "just for fun" enterprises. So it was with great confidence that All Stars went into their second game (out of four in the group stage) against Leeds. A 3-1 catastrophic defeat left us aghast and Coach Mandla screaming out the window of the cab as he carted the team, loaded entirely into the back of his pickup truck, to the convenience store to load up on some needed Gatorade and dignity.

At this point All Stars had to win its final two games to have any chance of advancing to the semi-finals. The third game of the day was against Celtic, and we scraped out a 2-1 win to stay alive. Our final game saw us face Chiefs; when I asked assistant coach Sticka how he thought it would go he promised a victory, stating that "All Stars haven't lost to Chiefs since 2005. How can we lose?" A 5-1 win saw Sticka vindicated and All Stars through to the knockout-round semis on Sunday morning. Against whom? Ah, against Wonderboom Farm.

I woke up early Sunday and ate a big breakfast hoping my groin might be playable for the semi-final game against our despised rivals. The two semis and the final were to be played in the Richmond stadium at the community center, and I suited up in the team kit but--after trying to warm up--realized it would be stupid to play on it and risk getting hurt even worse. I told Mandla about the situation and he said he understood, but to stay ready just in case. African soccer teams around here have the AWESOME tradition of leaving the designated field well before the start of their game, preparing, talking and warming up elsewhere, and then arriving just barely on time in a big show as they dance and sing their way onto the field in front of the assembled crowd. Someone told me that all the gusto is to show how coordinated and together the team is even before they've touched a soccer ball. Regardless, even as a big, uncoordinated, talentless white guy it was a joy to be a part of our entrance show. The game started poorly enough. Shakes, the massive Wonderboom captain, rocketed a free kick from 40 yards out straight into the upper corner of the goal to give the Young Tigers a 1-0 lead within the first 20 minutes of the game. A fortuitous header gave All Stars a goal and a tie game going into halftime. Nearing the end of the second half Masinga, the All Stars center back, laid into a corner kick that bent and dipped magically into the far side of the goal and gave us the lead. A stout Wonderboom attack kept things interesting but before any disasters the ref thankfully blew the whistle, and we'd (finally) beaten Wonderboom. The home-town Richmond crowd went wild, and Wonderboom's normally-annoyingly loud shrieking fans were refreshingly quiet.

The final saw All Stars play Leeds, the cinderella pick of the tournament after beating Wonderboom on Saturday and knocking off Celtic in a high-strung 17-kick penalty shootout earlier that day in the other semi-final match. Despite ridiculous refereeing which left a lot to be wondered about the biases of the official, All Stars led 2-1 with 10 minutes left in the Championship Match and light fading quickly as the end of the day neared. Just then, and with all our reserve players except me in the match plugging holes left by injuries throughout the 2-day affair, one of our center backs went down screaming after a bad tackle and had to be helped off the field. Mandla and Sticka approached me asking if there was any way I could go in so we could finish out the game with 11 men. Defying my better judgment, I agreed to hobble on with my injured groin and positioned myself squarely in the middle of our half of the field, like a motionless defensive emplacement planted there to protect some river mouth. In my 10 minutes of hobbling around I managed to get myself to one stray ball and launch it in the other direction, getting not only a few minutes but also a touch in the championship match. With the match time and light fading, Leeds received one last free kick just outside our goal area. Piso, the All Stars keeper, had to scream to the other end of the field for the assorted cars to cut their lights since, by then with darkness entirely fallen, the light was in his eyes and blinding him at this critical moment. The Leeds player somehow made strong contact with the ball despite the dark, but Piso parried the ball up and over the crossbar just as the referee, mercifully, blew his whistle for full time. The All Stars had won the Richmond Cup in a disjointed, though definitely enjoyable fashion; it killed me I couldn't actually play in the tournament, but making an appearance on field in the final was awesome.

And the RICHMONDNUUS prediction by Mandla? All the beloved coach would say at the end of the tournament was, "I told you so."

1 comment:

  1. Kaimmer,

    These blog posts are truly amazing! After you finish your work down in South Africa, you should really consider a career in writing. I hope your doing well and it sounds like your having a real blast. Take care, Captain.

    Juan Carlos Olivares