I’ve never really liked the beginning of the new season. I should like it, because, you know, it’s the beginning of the new season. There’s new hope, old arguments, predictions to watch crumble and of course the promise of a weekly dose of medicinal football, for ever and ever and ever. It should be great. But after all the hype It’s almost inevitably anti-climactic.Newspapers automatically print formatted back pages and waste space on league tables, goal differences and top scorers even though only a child, a dim child, would bother to look at them. We all know it takes a long while for them to become even remotely significant, and even then any reasonable prediction you may make can easily be refuted with lines like “there’s a long way to go yet” or “shut your fat face”.
No. The beginning of the season is basically a hurdle that needs to be bypassed before we can get into the meat of the league: the gritty, winter, week-in-week-out yo-yoing of table positions.
So I was quite pleased when I found out that I was going to miss the first few games of the season by being out in Zambia. No posturing football for me. I’ll get stuck into some of the gritty Zambian stuff and then come home when the show’s really started. First thing to do when I arrive is buy a replica Chipolopolo shirt, I decided.
As a personal rule, I don’t think you can really claim to have visited a country unless you’ve got drunk there, littered and tried to buy a replica shirt of the national team. Six hours into the trip and with two out of the three boxes ticked, I was all the more eager to find the shirt since I’d discovered it was emblazoned with an African fish eagle, talons dug deep into a black and white seventies football. To use the journalistic parlance of the day: a sartorial must-have.
Zambians love their football. The Chipolopolo boys or Copper Bullets as the national team is known, are not the most threatening outfit in African Football but they put up a good fight and against the odds qualified for the last Cup of Nations. And yet in spite of this, I couldn’t find the shirt anywhere. It turns out that although they love their national footy, what Zambians are really passionate about is the Premiership. Arsenal has strong support here, as does Man U, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the most loved of all is Chelsea. The well-publicised tour of Ghana coupled with outstanding performances from Essien, Kalou, Mikel and Drogba mean that the Blues have a dedicated and fanatical following in sub-Saharan Africa. It wasn’t long before we were recreating the Drog’s left footed winner against Liverpool and Essien’s ludicrous equaliser against Arsenal with bottle caps and sugar sachets.
Pretty much wherever you go in Zambia you’ll find a ramshackle bar bowing under the weight of an oversized satellite dish, where someone called Enoch will sell you a Mozi beer and say:
Robinho has transfered to Manchester City.
You don’t mean Manchester United? No. Robinho has transferred to Manchester City. Berbatov has transferred to Manchester United.
And Kevin Keegan has resigned,
And Alan Curbishley has resigned.
And then a vervet monkey runs in and steals the sugar sachets and we have to chase him out with catapults. Not such a dull season’s opening after all.
Has it taught me anything? Have I learnt from the experience? Well, let’s see. For one, I’ve learnt not to pre-judge where you might be able to catch a game: just because it’s on Setanta doesn’t mean they give a shit in Ndola.
Also, I’ve learnt that monkeys are cheeky, some damned cheeky, and that most of them need a slap. I’ve learnt that the best place to get a replica Chipolopolo shirt is in the airport on the way out. And most importantly, I’ve learnt that you don’t have to have visited Stamford Bridge to be a genuine Chelsea fan, which is not something I ever thought I’d hear myself say.