Saturday, January 19, 2013 (Day 10)
I almost make it all the way to the New London mosque before I get my first recognition of 'aporto' ('White man!'); on this occasion care of a little girl with a big genuine smile who has her hair covered by a veil and looks like the sweetest little thing you have ever seen in your entire life. It is 7.45am on a Saturday morning and not only am I on my way to work but I am going to work in Sierra Leone. I read that sentence back in my mind and conclude it sounds absurd.
I make it in to the office at 8 as agreed with the lads but there is no sign of anybody. Africa time strikes again. This isn't a purely an African phenomenon though - I've got a very good Russian mate called Nikolai - God bless him - who is often far worse with his timekeeping. 'Yes, mate, I will be there after twenty minutes,' he will tell you and arrive 90 minutes later, blaming the traffic.
We are observing Craig Bellamy Foundation league matches today. What Bob doesn't tell me until we reach the gravel pitch is that a few of the CBF staff think it would be an excellent idea if I referee the first match. The referee who was originally due to officiate this match gives me his little notebook with the teams inside so that I can scribble down the names of the goal scorers and any players who receive yellow or red cards. I've even got a couple of pocket-sized yellow and red cards ready to flash. The damaging irony is that there is a bigger crowd watching me referee than has ever watched me actually play a game of football.
The first match is extremely competitive with the players fully committed in every challenge. I warn a couple of the boys about mistimed challenges and then pull out my first yellow card. A further two yellow cards follow for off-the-ball incidents. High Mountain under 12s run out 1-0 winners. The main things I had to pull up for during the match were foul throws and off-the-ball retaliation. It is astounding how good the boys' ball control is on the gravel pitch.
I am feeling pleased with myself; job well done and no shocking decisions to blacken my name. "So please Justin, referee the second match for the under 14s."
Damn. High Mountain under 14s are as good a young boys' football team as I can ever remember seeing. They pass and move; retain possession and make the beautiful game look even more beautiful. There is no silly speculative shooting from thirty yards out; no try-to-beat-five-men-dribbles. This side plays football the way it should be played. 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0. It is half-time and the hot sun is taking its toll on me more than it is on the boys. I feel like I have been playing rather than refereeing.
And then, in the second half, when everything was going so well...High Mountain are attacking down the right wing. To avoid getting in the way of the pacey right winger I jog backwards on my heels to the touchline. But the touchline has a concrete divot on it which sends me stumbling backwards. Unfortunately, a little boy is stood spectating by the touchline with his bicycle. I fall on top of the boy and the two of us tumble to the ground. The incident is the kind of comedy moment that would instantly get half a million hits on YouTube if somebody were to video it and post it. But it is not funny because the unfortunate little boy has got a huge gash just above his left ankle where me and his bike landed on top of him. He looks shocked by what has happened.
Fortunately, I am able to blow the final whistle a couple of minutes later. High Mountain played the second half in third gear which is reflected by the final score of 5-1. My main concern is finding the little boy and getting his wound cleaned up.
I manage to track him down and Bob cleans up his nasty deep cut and puts a plaster on it. The fall also took a chunk out of my wrist so I am keen to get it properly cleaned up before it gets infected. I am absolutely caked in dust and sand which quickly finds its way inside the cut. I feel so guilty about the little boy's injury and insist that he reports to his link teacher at SLMB tomorrow to make sure his cut hasn't been infected with germs.
More Than a Game joined The Collective and the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone for a seven-week voluntary placement in January 2013.