Wednesday, February 13, 2013 (Day 35)
Wusum stadium, Makeni
How the hell did my life reach this point? There’s a mini pitch invasion with around thirty kids going wild all around me: hugging, jumping for joy and rolling around on the football pitch, some of them doing cart wheels. I can’t help roaring aloud. You see I am referee of the match between SLMB and Our Lady Primary School at Makeni Stadium. There are 688 paying spectators in here – more than you often get for Scottish First Division matches - and another three or four hundred kids and adults have swelled the crowd in the second half after the gate people stopped collecting tickets. Yes, I find myself refereeing a Sierra Leonean football match with a crowd of one thousand roaring on the two sides. Brilliant. I am never going to forget this experience.
I think I managed to get through that without any real clangers. SLMB have run out 3-1 winners but I did have to book three of their players in the closing minutes: one for blatant time wasting (pretending he was injured when he wasn’t); the second boy for an awful tackle from behind; and the third yellow for one of the players in the wall running at the Our Lady free kick taker and deflecting the ball away. As the floodlights are switched on, I remind their captain that the game is already won and if any of the boys are red carded they will miss the next couple of matches in the tournament.
I enjoyed that but I am glad it is out of the way. I feared making some terribly bad decision that ended up breaking the hearts of several hundred school kids and being ever remembered in Makeni as ‘Justin the refereeing clown’.
Leaving 'the stadium of light', the high-five and shaking hands count must stretch into the hundreds on my walk home. I have also made friends with a group of young boys who are all holding on to me with dear life and don’t want me to leave them.
“Well done Sir! Good, fair performance!” One passing gentleman tells me. What a day!
Back at the house, I lie on the floor of the veranda chatting to Charlie, who has come up from Freetown to visit his Collective volunteers and bring the cash for rent and meals. I feel exhausted from my amazing day: national radio, meetings, coaching and refereeing.
Cheers and roars are coming from every corner of the pitch dark bush.
“Seems like United have just taken the lead against Real Madrid”
Charlie checks his phone and yes Welbeck has put United 1-0 up; thousands of football fans all over Makeni celebrating in unison as they watch the match at the dozens and dozens of football cinemas across the city.
The Real Madrid equalizer is a whimper in comparison but is still audible across the bush. A fitting end to a remarkable day.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.